People are always asking why I hiked the John Muir Trail alone. The question causes me to stutter and stammer as I struggle to offer a neat and tidy answer. The fact is, there is no easy answer. It wasn’t something I decided to do on a whim. I wasn’t acting on impulse. And no, I’m not “Wild” author Cheryl Strayed: I wasn’t running from – or to – anything or trying to find myself (although I’ll admit, there are a few similarities in our stories). No, getting to this point has been a lifelong journey of learning how to be okay with being alone. And after 47 years I felt ready. Hiking the John Muir Trail alone was a celebration – a way for me to acknowledge all that I am – and was.
My love for the wilderness and backpacking started in my early 20s. I was hooked from my very first 3 day backpacking trip in Yosemite. There was something about the purity, simplicity, and solitude of nature that instantly drew me in. This was a healthy phase of my life: I had pulled myself out of a rabbit hole and had been clean and sober for five years. I was working on my BA at Cal Berkeley, taking care of myself, and making healthy choices. But with all this positiveness, I was still trying to cope with my demons and find myself. Backpacking gave me a sense of solace that I couldn’t find in my every day life. When I was out in the wilderness I felt at peace. Pure. Unmarred. Safe. Ironically, in the silence of nature I found relief from the noise in my head that constantly told me (despite all my accomplishments), I wasn’t OK.
The truth is, I spent most of my life running from myself. I pretty much sold my soul to avoid myself and the painful truths that life deals some of us. My path led me down some pretty dark roads and ultimately, into an unhealthy marriage. I had a long track record of selling myself out with drugs, alcohol, and people. (“Selling myself out” is what I call not being true to myself, diving into drugs and alcohol and/or abandoning myself to become what someone else wanted me to be). For thirteen years I was the woman my husband wanted me to be – living his life, his way, because anything was better than being alone.
My healthy phase didn’t last. The year before I graduated from Cal I discovered meth and down the rabbit hole I went again. For the next 13 years that abyss consumed my dreams and passions. I gave up backpacking, my goal of traveling the world, and most importantly, I gave up myself. I eventually pulled myself out again, getting clean in 1999 and sober 7 years later, eating healthier, working out and even ended up losing 65 lbs (I weighed 230lbs when I quit drinking). Almost a year to the day of sobriety, I asked for a divorce. Once I made the decision to leave him I immediately did 2 things: bought a new backpack and got a passport.
On the plane coming home from my first trip to Europe a few years ago, I read Wild . I’d heard of the PCT since I started backpacking, but it was always something “other people” do – not people like me. What that meant I don’t know. Trailer trash? Fat girls? Drug addicts? Alcoholics? I’m not sure – but certainly not ME.
But the book – and having just traveled six countries in Europe for three weeks alone – inspired me. If Cheryl Strayed could do it, then why not me? After all, wasn’t she a “people” like me? And I was pretty sure I’d know better than to take a backpack I couldn’t lift (or maybe not, read “Gear Fails and Squirrel Tales“)
By the time my Lufthansa flight from Munich touched down in San Francisco, I’d read “Wild” cover to cover and made up my mind: THAT was going to be my next adventure. Now I just needed to figure out how to get 6 months off!
Last year, at 47 years old and with some arthritis settling in to my knees and hips, I realized I’m not getting any younger – it might be now or never. However, as a small business owner, I had to accept that I couldn’t take 6 months off to hike the PCT, but I could manage to take 30 days off. All I wanted was to experience living in the wilderness alone for 30 days. I figured the John Muir Trail would be the perfect way to do it and so the planning began…
The permits out of Yosemite are extremely difficult to get so I decided to go Northbound (NOBO). I started at Horseshoe Meadows and over Cottonwood Pass, about 22 miles south of Mt. Whitney. I resupplied at the Post Office in Independence over Kearsarge Pass adding another 16 miles. I ended in Happy Isles, Yosemite. In all, I ended up hiking 256 miles in 26 days. It was the most difficult, challenging, and the most awesome and amazing thing I’ve ever done.
The following posts are based on my journal entries from the John Muir Trail. It’s as much a story about hiking as it is my personal journey getting there. It’s hard to describe how something so unbelievably hard can also be so unbelievably awesome, but I think you’ll understand as the journey unfolds.
I hope you enjoy reading my blog and it inspires you to reach for your goals and dreams. Happy Trails!
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