Sweet Home woman successfully hikes all 50 states

By Ethan Hoagland
Of The New Era/Lebanon Local

Up Ames Creek Road, just outside of town, sits a family farm with no shortage of stories to tell. The legacy began with Frank McCubbins and his exotic animals. Now, it’s carried on by his daughter Susie Burns, who has finished hiking all 50 states in the U.S.

Burns’s passion for hiking began with her father, who had his own personal goal to hike all of Oregon. From 1999 to 2002, the two conquered all 456 miles of hikeable trails in the state. For Burns, that was just the beginning of a 24-year and 15,000 mile dedication to hiking the whole country.

“I first did the Pacific Crest Trail, which is only three states,” Burns said. “That took me eight years.” As a teacher, Burns would take two-month bites of the 2,689-mile PCT, before turning toward an even greater challenge.

“Then I did the Continental Divide Trail,” she said. “You go through New Mexico, Colorado, Wyoming, a little bit of Idaho and Montana.” With that 3,054-mile trek and another eight years under her belt, she considered going for the triple crown and taking on the 2,190-mile Appalachian National Scenic Trail.

“It’s the shortest one, but it’s still some 2,000 miles,” she said. “I didn’t care to do the entire thing, because hiking these other long distance hikes, the PCT and CDT, I found that a lot of other people who had done this prior– because they try to do all three and get a triple crown– couldn’t really tell me anything real unique about any particular place. They said it’s kind of a tunnel.”

Instead, she picked out all the spots along the Appalachian trail that she considered to be distinguished from the kind of landscapes found in the Pacific Northwest.

As a connoisseur of diverse landscapes, one state (aside from Oregon) stood out to her.

“Wyoming was probably the most diverse, because you start out in high desert, the basin. It’s very historic. And then you go into the Winds and it’s like the Sierras in California. It’s rugged, you can camp anywhere you want, there’s bears fishing the rivers. It’s just awesome. It’s beautiful.”

Oregon residents are no strangers to changes in elevation. But it was in Colorado that Burns found her greatest grapples with altitude.

“I hiked from south to north, the whole thing in the Rockies.”

“The lowest place I hiked was 10,000 feet. 10, 11, 12, 13, 14. So I really had to acclimate. I always went about three weeks ahead of time and got up and hiked some high-altitude [trails]. I have gotten altitude sickness a couple times because I go a certain point and jump on and go right up.”

“It’s crazy. It knocks you right on your butt,” Burns said. Altitude was only one challenge posed to hikers in Colorado. “Several storms a day. We would have to duck into our tents and lightning hitting everywhere around us.”

Outside of the three crown trails, Burns said she loved the Ruby Mountain Trail in Nevada, in no small part because of its distinction from the surrounding desert. Hiking alone, she took three days to complete that 43-mile trail.

After that, some family members tipped her off to a week-long hike in North Dakota. She then joined a friend for another 100-mile trek in South Dakota, where she enjoyed sights of Mount Rushmore and Thunderhead Mountain.

In the Midwest, Burns sampled Wisconsin’s Ice Age Trail.

“Up in here, you get these northern states here: Michigan, Wisconsin, Minnesota. They had some beautiful country that you could go in and hike up towards Canada.”

For many other states, Burns was satisfied finding shorter hikes. “I found some trails on everything that were favorites.”

As an avid photographer, Burns has carefully plotted her 24-year journey through scrapbooks, videos and even a book she may publish. She also keeps a list of distinguishing moments in her hiking career. Among them: hitchhiking, feeding snow to a camel, watching her son catch a fish with his bare hands, walking over a rattlesnake, and witnessing a migration of millions of butterflies.

“It goes on for hours,” she said of the tortoise shell butterfly migration she saw on Strawberry Mountain. “We were up on top, and as we came up we saw them all around. And then we sat there, and they just passed us for an hour.”

Another defining experience: being charged by a bear in Yosemite. Burns and her son Matt had gone early in the season to beat the crowds, right as the bears were finishing hibernation.

“The bears were cranky and just coming out of hibernation,” she said. “They [park rangers] told us that the bears love to frighten people.”

“Matt and I went on a long hike outside of the park. We’re coming back. This bear comes out and he lifts up and he does the swing,” she said, referring to the bear sniffing the air in front of it. “We thought ‘okay, this is not good’ because it can go either way.

“So, about that time– you know, you either curl up or climb a tree, and there’s no trees– so, we’re like down to curl up and he took off running full speed toward us. So, my son stood up and looked at that bear and said ‘you bad bear! Bad, bad bear!’ And the bear just went down and covered himself.”

Burns said Matt had picked up the idea from the show “Bearman,” and decided to take the risk.

“I mean, he was already coming after us,” Burns added. “Then here comes the ranger, and he had a few people following him because they heard there was a bear. He kinda stood them back and said ‘this is so-and-so bear, his name is so-and-so and he likes to charge people.”

Burns also dealt with a bear cub pawing her tent late at night on a different trip.

When it comes to preparing for her hikes, Burns treks 500 miles a year, often along the Santiam Wagon Road. She said she’s done about 8,500 miles of training alone.

For those looking to pursue long-distance hiking themselves, Burns said you can never be too prepared. One of the key challenges is keeping the pack as low-weight as possible. Burns has managed to trim her total pack down to about 27 pounds.

She said it’s also important to get shoes and clothes that will dry fast and easily while hiking.

You can read more about Burns’s hiking adventures on The New Era’s website, where we’ve covered her successful completion of the Continental Divide Trail. You can also read about the eccentric life of her father, Frank McCubbins and his impact on the Sweet Home community.