Curtis Penix Boone Trace Hike

Hiker to Trace Steps of Daniel Boone

Penix trace

Following ancient Indian and buffalo trails, Boone and his party of ax-wielding men blazed a pathway through the wilderness from Tennessee through the Cumberland Gap into central Kentucky. This pathway not only gave tens of thousands of European settlers a way into land in what would become the present day Commonwealth of Kentucky but, also, opened the gateway to the settlement of the west.

Penix will follow in the footsteps of his 5X great grandfather Joshua Penix, who helped establish Boonesborough as a permanent settlement in 1779. Although much of Boone’s original road has been lost to natural forces and land development, Penix will follow the route determined by the research of pioneer history author Neal O. Hammon in the late 60's and, most recently, by John Fox, MD, president of the Friends of Boone Trace, Inc. (an organization dedicated to historical, educational and research activities for the preservation of the Trace and its legacy).

Approximately 20 % of the route will be through privately owned land which Curtis has been granted permission to cross. “John Fox has done a great job seeking out portions of the Trace that cross private property. He has gained permission from many land owners, and I will do so as well, when possible. I am committed to not knowingly trespass and will skirt any private land where permission has not been received,” explained Penix.

Hiking alone for the first 90 miles, Penix, an experienced backpacker, plans to challenge himself by carrying “the absolute minimum” food and supplies and, like his ancestor, experience the wonders of nature. “Many changes have taken place in the 200 years since the Trace was blazed. For instance, when I ford the Cumberland River in Pineville I will be fighting my way through the choking vines of Kudzu, which was introduced to America 100 years after the Trace was established. But my plans to hike the Boone Trace are rooted in my desire to experience what grandpa Joshua and the other pioneers experienced. They were real people with desires, motivations and hardships that went far beyond mere recreational hiking. This will be a challenge for me, but I want to walk in the shadow of the mountains where Joshua walked, to wade the cold streams that Joshua waded, and sleep under the sky that Joshua slept under.

At Martin’s Station, VA, Penix will be joined by Givan Fox, son of John Fox, MD. Together, they will complete the remaining 105 miles over Cumberland Gap to Fort Boonesborough, where they plan to arrive on March 26.

Unlike his ancestor, Penix will be equipped with GPS and cellular satellite communications from which he will report his progress. On his website followers can track his progress on a map and receive photos and daily blogs on Facebook, e-mail or Twitter. Also he will send prepared posts on each historic site along the way. For example, on the day he arrives at Twettys Fort followers can access a post describing the historical significance of that site.

This project is being planned not only to promote the hike and the trail itself but also to stimulate tourism for the historical sites and communities along the route. Some have hiked portions of the Trace; others have walked farther and longer. Of the few thousand Appalachian Trail hikers each year, more than 300 complete the 2,180-miles route. In light of this feat, the Trace's 200-mile route might seem insignificant. However, as Penix explained, “The Appalachian Trail or other recreation trails do not have the history or the weight of accomplishment of Boone Trace. The Trace was traveled by warriors who fought for the land that sustained them, pioneers who searched for independence and soldiers who helped forge the greatest country in the world.

It is estimated that 47 million Americans have ancestors who traveled through Cumberland Gap seeking new lives in the west. If the Boone Trace can be reestablished and opened to the public, literally millions of Americans will have the chance to walk in the steps of their ancestors. Trail towns along the way, like Middlesboro, can serve as hosts for people who want to experience life along ‘that little road’ that helped give birth to the American dream. Other national trails like the Appalachian and Pacific Crest were created to provide a sense of recreational adventure. Boone Trace was created by true adventurers. Along the sides of the Boone Trace there were no discarded energy bar wrappers and ‘points of interest’ signs, but the bones of those who gave their lives to travel it.


On March 10, in a research and pilot project, Curtis Penix will begin an historic 200-mile trek, hiking the path marked by Daniel Boone almost 250 years ago. A 46-year old Michigan native with Kentucky roots, Penix will begin his 16-day trek at Long Island on the Holston River in what is now Kingsport, Tennessee, the site from which Daniel Boone and his party left in March 1775.

by Givan Fox

I have loved being outdoors since I was a child. I spent almost all my free time playing in the woods of Kentucky. As an adult, the jobs that I have enjoyed the most have taken me outdoors in some fashion or another. From running a camp for At Risk children in the Michigan woods, to working on the side of the mountain for the Cheyenne Mountain Zoo in Colorado Springs, CO, to the many places that the Army National Guard has taken me, I believe even more strongly now than ever before, any day outdoors is a better day than any other.

During college I had the opportunity to hike most of the Virginia sections of the Appalachian Trail, and I grew to more deeply appreciate backpacking. The ability to move far, through remote areas, carrying all that I needed to live, was a challenge that I greatly enjoyed. Through the years, I have backpacked trails not just in Virginia, but also in Michigan, Kentucky, Illinois, South Dakota and Ireland. Just over a decade ago, I moved to Colorado to be in the mountains that I had read about and seen pictures of for so many years. Since then, my love for the outdoors has only grown. I have found healing from life’s hurts and a better understanding of myself in the middle of nowhere.

Shortly after my first deployment to Afghanistan in 2011, John Fox, my father, shared his growing passion for Boone Trace or “That Little Road,” as he has taken to calling it. As we were traveling along the back roads of Kentucky, I began to think about backpacking the route from Martin’s Station, Virginia to Fort Boonesborough. How amazing that would be to walk in the footsteps of Daniel Boone and his men and at least two women! To understand the challenges and hardships with the terrain, weather, animals and native people, even if in only a small degree, I felt would better enable my father and me to find other sections that might have been blurred by subsequent development.

I pushed those thoughts to the back of my mind as a second deployment came into my world. I would get to fulfill one of my Army dreams, that of being a flight medic and do the job for real in Afghanistan. It can be difficult when the reality of our dreams does not match the hopes and expectations that we have. Needless to say, it was one of the most frustrating and challenging years of my life. I love doing the job, but I found that I could no longer align myself with the organization that allowed me to do that mission.

Somewhere in the midst of the pain and frustration, my dad said he had talked to a guy named Curtis who had an ancestor who had traveled “That Little Road” and been at Fort Boonesborough and he wanted to hike Boone Trace in its entirety. The desire to be outdoors and on the trail came back in an instant. I began to seriously consider the idea that I would take this walk.

It turned out to not be a difficult decision at all. Having helped my father find what we thought was one small section on my first exposure to the Trace and another section on a later visit just before my second deployment, I couldn’t conceive of not being involved in this expedition. I can truly understand the way this trail gets into your mind; under your skin, and you want to find and see it all. Dad always said there is something almost electric when you are on “That Little Road.” Having experienced it for myself, I want to see it through, from south to north.

On an even more personal level, I want to complete this expedition for my father since he cannot do it himself. The minor concerns of health issues and advancing age are the only things standing in his way. I know that he will be with us in spirit with each step and physically supporting us with resupply, guidance and smoothing the way through private properties. His unflinching work to preserve Boone Trace deserves nothing less than my exertion to walk “That Little Road.”

This expedition began as a simple route finding trip. The major challenge, I thought, would be to try to walk as closely as was possible and reasonable to Daniel Boone’s original Trace. While I still believe this will be a major challenge, I see now that this will not be enough. The bigger challenge will be to raise awareness of the need to preserve Boone Trace and share the compelling story of Curtis and his ancestor in the founding of Kentucky and the nation’s western expansion. I feel deeply moved by the level of interest and excitement that has grown as people have become aware of the Trace and what Curtis and I are attempting. What I thought would be a simple walk in the woods has turned into something far more monumental.

I feel very privileged to be a part of this expedition, to be making history the way we are, and hopefully to help preserve this amazing piece of history, and, I am especially privileged to be Curtis’ hiking partner on the trail. On one hand, I feel almost as if I fell into this whole experience without realizing what it really meant. But when I think about it, I whole-heartedly believe that my military training and experience, my medical background, and my impassioned history with the outdoors have, somehow, all led me to this point. There is no other place I could be than on “That Little Road” next to Curtis.

To paraphrase the words of John Muir, “The trail is calling and I must go!”


The Trail Is Calling… Or How I Wound Up On The Boone Trace in the Footsteps of Daniel Boone


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