It took about two years for Cameron Gillie to completely hike, in segments, the 1,200-mile Ice Ace Trail, taking photos along the way.
The Madison photographer’s goal from the beginning was to use the images for a coffee table-style photo book. There were already books that focused on the natural beauty of the trail that cuts through Wisconsin, so his idea was to take photos not only of the landscapes he traversed, but also the towns, businesses, and people he encountered along the way .
He finished the hiking phase of his project in 2020, and it took a few more years for Gillie, 55, to sift through his photos, write essays and captions, and do all the other myriad things required to produce a book, especially a of the qualities that Gillie had in her mind.
Mission accomplished: A few weeks ago, Gillie began unpacking boxes and mailing out copies of “Around Wisco: Hiking the Ice Age Trail – The Landscapes, Communities, and People of Wisconsin.” It is a sprawling work of art that offers layers of inspiration that entice a reader to engage in slow journeys, to experience the outdoors, to get fit, to connect with strangers. And the pictures, well, the pictures are simply terrific.
But none of it—the trek, the photos, the self-publishing of the book—came easy. Gillie is happy with the results of the project, but “I had a lot of doubts about it” along the way, he said. “During the pandemic, there were times when I thought I was done being a photographer.”
When Gillie started the project, he was working as a freelance photographer, shooting weddings and selling his work at art festivals across the region. His interest as a hiker began when he suffered a life-threatening heart attack in 2014 at the age of 47. He began walking as part of his recovery, and gradually his outings became longer and longer.
A freelance photography gig for the Ice Age Trail Alliance opened Gillies’ eyes to the possibilities of the trail, and the book idea took root by mixing it all together. Gillie struggled through the COVID-19 pandemic as his freelance gigs dried up as the nation shut down. He took on part-time jobs, but continued to come down the path, and each step also brought him closer to finishing the book.
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Through it all, he made an effort to concentrate on the journey, the process, instead of focusing on the end result. As part of it all, he also worked to make connections with the people he met on the trip.
“I’m usually an introvert,” Gillie wrote in the book. “But the best advice I can give to anyone hiking the Ice Age Trail, or any kind of journey, is to talk to strangers, listen to their stories and enjoy their company. The people you meet along the way are the best part of any journey you take.”
The book has the calm, lush aura that Gillie used throughout the project.
As he neared the end of his hike, he told a USA TODAY NETWORK-Wisconsin reporter that he took the “lazy” route to his goal.
“I think it’s all been a way to get out of work,” Gillie joked at the time. “I’ll walk 1,200 miles instead of getting a job.”
He laughed at the irony of that in a phone conversation earlier this week. His hands and arms ached from unpacking and repacking and shipping out hundreds of books as he thought about the work he had done to create them.
“Yes, not having a job is a lot of work,” he said.
To order “Around Wisco: Hiking the Ice Age Trail”
Right now, photographer/author Cameron Gillie only sells his book through his website: aroundwisco.com. The books cost $60. The website features some of the photos from the book along with blog posts about Gillie’s hike and travels.
Features reporter Keith Uhlig is based in Wausau. Contact him at 715-845-0651 or firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him at @UhligK on Twitter and Instagram or on Facebook.