About the Author: Deborah Peel is a writer, blogger, marketer, mother, lover of big trees and isolated mountain tops. Her passion is writing to build a better world and sharing her backpacking and hiking adventures, one step at a time.
Sometimes, my mind shouts, “What are you doing? You’re 56-years-old! Stay home and garden or something!” And I put my boots on, heft my obedient purple Osprey backpack, and start hiking, again.
As the final 14 days are upon me before I start NOBO on the John Muir Trail, I’m full of emotions, anxiety, ambition, and determination. My brain is struggling to turn off at night, flipping through lists and weights and mulling and mulling again what should and should not go into my pack for this 245-mile challenge. I said I was done conditioning and then went out on a fast-paced 11-mile saunter on the Cluster Lakes Loop in Lassen Volcanic National Park (Shasta County, California; avg. elev. 7,000’) with a 26-pound pack, lighter than my JMT pack weight. My hips, shoulders and the tendon in the bottom of my left foot are a bit sore. But I’d do it again today. That’s my measure. I’m ready to revel in the beauty and push through the physical tests I know are coming on the JMT.
Now I’m psyching up for the JMT, my biggest solo hike ever and my first really big backpacking adventure. It has become clear that backpacking is as much about the mind and spirit as it is about the body and putting one foot in front of the other, even when it gets really, really hard. How am I going to nurture my mental health while I feed my body and tend to its needs on the trail? How will I calm myself in the dead of night when I hear the shuffling, snuffling of a wild critter within any proximity of the tent? Even better, how am I going to sleep deeply and restore myself for the next day and the next hike? Will I be okay marching along alone for three weeks? Admittedly, one of the reasons I am glad I am going solo is I’ll have no one to freak out to, no witness if and when I fumble and break down a little along the way!
For me, this journey is about releasing emotion and grief in a way that is healthy for me. I’m prepared for sudden tears. I’m anticipating that internal swell of universal admiration as I take in a breathtaking, changing landscape at every turn. I’m expecting those conversations I have in my head with the people I’ve loved and lost, including my mom and dad. You see, this is my 2nd Annual Hike for Harvey, the hike I started to honor my dad and all others who have succumbed to Alzheimer’s Disease. I feel my folks cheering me on already and know they’ll be with me in spirit, urging me along that trail every single day. That kind of unconditional love, even if its all in my head, fills me up.
Music has always been my comfort and inspiration and I’ve decided to take some with me as my luxury trail item. I had intended to listen to the sounds of nature and chat with other hikers, and I will do that. But, to take care of my heart and my head, I’m bringing some tunes that hug my soul. I now have a little JMT playlist on my iPhone, an eclectic set that will rock me and soothe me: UFO’s “Strangers in the Night” live album, Michael Schenker Group “In the Midst of Beauty,” Michael Schenker Fest “Resurrection” and “Rock Steady,” Steve Mann’s new (to be released August 27, my start date!) single “Rocky Mountain Way,” the “Essential John Denver,” and “Tom Petty Essentials” (gotta have American Girl). Yes, I’m quite partial to the guitar artistry of Michael Schenker! If I need a little blast to push me over a mountain pass, I’ve got it! If I need something to help me wind down at night, I’ve got it. I’ll have to use it sparingly to save my phone’s battery, but my Anker brick will help me recharge a few times between resupply points where I can recharge everything.
I’ll be spending a few days in the Sierra before my hike, acclimatizing to the higher elevation. I smile inside thinking of picking up my wilderness permit, driving my trusty FJ Cruiser up to the wilderness parking at Tuolumne Meadows, and hopping on a YARTS bus to get back to Mammoth. From there, its another bus ride to Lone Pine and a shuttle up to Horseshoe Meadows campground. The very next day, the real journey begins as I step onto the Cottonwood Pass trail, eventually connecting with the JMT.
My mind says, “You can do it.” I believe in me and so, yes, I can do it! See you on the trail where we learn all about life and the secrets to our own happiness.