The Idea

I need to write this down because I want to remember this trip in every detail.  It’s one of the most precious times of my life.  So rarely does life play out as beautifully as it did when I hiked the John Muir Trail…

Our master plan...
Our master plan...

The fall of 2012 I was bored.  My boyfriend, Jason, and I had returned from climbing Denali earlier that summer and were in the midst of post-expedition depression.  I become impatient when I don't have something big on my calendar, and we brainstormed over what would be our 'next'. 

I had wanted to hike the John Muir Train since the first time I learned about it, Jason and I knew one day we'd take it on.  By the fall of 2012 I was 32 and almost felt ashamed that we had put off such a classic so long, and it only felt natural that the task would become our next adventure.

But we had no intention of hiking it in the standard 20 days with 30 pound packs - we would fastpack it, averaging a marathon and 5,000 feet of elevation gain a day, sporting 15-28 pound packs. 
Rae Lakes Training weekend
Rae Lakes Training weekend

Seven days was the original goal.  We had read so many amazing trip reports of fastpackers finishing in seven, five,even three days.  We divided the mileage and seven seemed doable: 31.7 miles a day. I became obsessed with scheduling out the distance between bear bins and campsites, poured over maps and loaded topos.  After researching the probability I looked at Jason and excitedly remarked that this might actually be within reason – I think we can do this!  I printed our goal itinerary and taped it to the fridge. It was official; we were hiking the John Muir Trail!  Seven days total, with mileage ranging from 24 mile days to 44 mile days, stretching and shrinking to accommodate campsites and bear bins. 

I had recently run the Leona Divide 50 Mile and recalled that I ran the first 35 miles in 7.5 hours.  Somehow I reasoned that if I could trail run 35 miles in 7.5 hours, carrying nothing, I’d certainly be able to hike 32 miles in 10 hours… with 16 pounds on my back, averaging 5.5K gain, for seven days in a row.  Optimistically blind logic. In time this goal would change.

We planned our trip for the first week of September 2013, when temperatures are still warm and the days mostly sunny.  We started our training in earnest in March and would trail run or hike every other weekend for the next six months. We ramped up our mileage from 12 to 25 miles a day.  We ate up elevation, busting out 7K and 10K days (Split Mountain, 7.5K gain, and Cactus to Clouds, 10K gain).  And we tested our overnight systems on two and three day overnight trips (Rae Lakes Loop, Backbone Trail and Evolution Loop). All in all, it was one of the most memorable summers of my life, crossing off epic hikes every weekend, hiking with friends, day hiking 14ers, and gaining a level of endurance that makes you feel invincible.  By the end of the summer we felt we did more in a season than most people do in years. We felt alive! 

Rae Lakes Training weekend
Rae Lakes Training weekend
A month before we started the JMT I had no reason to doubt that we would complete it.  We had never stuck so closely to the plan.  We felt ready.  Then came a blow out of nowhere – I lost my job.  As a freelance artist my job is never entirely secure, but after a solid two-year working relationship with the company I was at I felt safe.  A month before leaving for the JMT the company abruptly decided to outsource almost all their work to Vancouver.  In an instant my life became drenched in doubt and uncertainty.  My running and hiking became as much a form of stress relief as it did enjoyment. There was never a better time or worse time to be hiking the John Muir Trail.

Perhaps it was negativity from having lost my job, or the insecurity that taunted me, but I started to doubt I could finish the 222 miles of the JMT in seven days – 31 miles a day.  We had learned a lot that summer, and I learned that I can handle back to back 25 mile days, but 31 pushed me just a bit too far, and in that extra effort I felt the joy would be lost. 

I thought about all the big adventures I had failed on in recent years – the 508, the Tour Divide, and most recently, Denali. Perhaps it was my own potential that I wasn't seeing brought to fruition in my life, but it bugged me. For years I obsessed with finalizing something, trying to attain some level of cred.  Finally I was in perfect position, ready for an adventure that was entirely in our grasp, and yet still larger than life.  Now, with the loss of my job - a job I loved, a job I was good at - I felt that all was lost.  I could not fail again.  My confidence and sanity both seemed to hangin the balance, contingent on the outcome of our journey. 

I settled on completing the JMT in nine days.  Jason acquiesced

 Getting to Yosemite >

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