Every mile a gift and a challenge
There’s really nothing like hiking in the Sierras. We are lucky we get to do it every summer and it never, ever gets old. This summer, in addition to about a zillion day hikes, we did a four-night, 50-mile backpacking trip starting near South Lake Tahoe and finishing north of the big lake near I-80.
We were on the Pacific Crest Trail all but the first two miles of the hike, which was fun for my son and I, since he has decided he is going to take a gap year after high school (he’s a freshman now) and hike the whole 2,650 miles from Mexico to Canada. With so much time on and near the PCT, he met a lot of through-hikers and many of them were happy to chat and answer questions. We were “only” hiking 9-13 miles a day, so it was hard to fathom what it would be like to hike 20 or so miles a day for weeks on end.
My friend Jennifer came up from Bakersfield to hike with us. She’s also an experienced backpacker, but both of us were wiped almost every evening, and it took a concerted effort to log the day’s thoughts in our journals. There was so much to process. So much beauty and different scenes and environments each day.
If you follow thru hikes in the news or on social media (#pctclassof2019 is a great one to follow on Instagram for great stories and images) you know that this year's epic winter made for lots of tough passes in the early part of the season. Lots of people opted to do the trail out of order, saving the Sierras for last. There was still snow on parts of the trail when we hiked in August. The worst was a section just below the top of the lift at Sugar Bowl. There were a few alternate social trails but those were too steep for us. We ended up shuffling across some big snow fields and it was a bit scary at times. We were thankful for our trekking poles.
This year our trip was much different than last. We were on one of the most trafficked sections of trail around. Last year’s John Muir Trail hike wasn’t free of people, but it was far from roads so we didn’t see any day-hikers like we did this year. For some people that’s a big downside of this section. But I didn’t feel that way. It meant my best friend could join us on a long day-hike to travel a gorgeous part of the trail with us. It also meant we could end our trip at Donner Pass, at a restaurant two miles from where we were spending most of our summer.
Compared to last year, this trip felt relatively easy. There was never any doubt about our route or navigation. We were at a lower elevation and didn't have to climb any big passes. I was more confident in my trip planning and I knew Jennifer had done a number of similar trips so everyone on the trip was an experienced hiker. But I still struggled mentally on some days. I had to keep reminding myself that the miles weren't the enemy. When I caught myself thinking things like "ugh, eight more miles to camp," I made myself a mantra: every mile is a gift and a challenge. It helped me to welcome each mile and each step and remember how blessed I am to be healthy enough to have these experiences and challenge myself and enjoy these magical places with my son and my friends.