Tupper's 2 Cents

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Tag: Goals

Day 8 John Muir Trail

Rose Lake to Goddard Canyon Junction

Total JMT Miles  —  15.7          Side trip miles  —  3.5      Elevation gain/loss  —  +1450/-3000

Early morning at Rose Lake

Early morning at Rose Lake

I awoke early at Rose Lake after a night of relatively poor sleep. I had set up my tent on a slight downhill slant, and ended up sleeping with my head tilting down.  I had the feeling of a head rush all night, despite my best attempts to bolster with pillows, and consequently it was a rough night. I was ready to leave Rose Lake at 7:30.  I felt some sadness relinquishing my solitude, and took a last lingering look and photo of the lake backdropped by a cloudless morning.  I knew I had a very long day ahead of me. My plan after backtracking to the JMT was to knock off as many miles as I could, including a brief side trip to Muir Trail Ranch (MTR).  I needed to get in the miles, as I had an arrangement to meet my food drop party the following day at 5 pm at a designated spot. I had 27 JMT miles to where I was meeting them, and my logic was that, if I put in a long day on Day 8, about 19 total (counting side trips), that would leave me with just 11 for the following day. I really didn’t want to feel anxious about meeting them on time, and I was willing to push hard on day 8 to avoid that.

The conditions were good for putting in miles. The weather was clear, and, while there was one pass to climb, on the whole it was a day of more elevation loss than gain.

Marie Lake from Selden Pass approach

Marie Lake from Selden Pass approach

But 19 and miles is still 19 miles, and I wanted to stay focused and deliberate in my plan to pull it off. I was bolstered by the fact that the day’s mileage held the promise of several stellar lakes. The first lake I encountered was Marie Lake, and she’s a beauty. Rob and Marcus had camped at Marie Lake, and were still lingering in camp when I came up around 9:00.

I talked with them for awhile, taping my chafed shoulders and shooting the breeze about the backpacking life and our trail experiences of the past 24 hours. We had a relaxed, easy conversation as they packed up their camp, and I enjoyed the camaraderie immensely. I left them still packing, progressed around Marie Lake, and began the ascent to Selden Pass. The climb up the pass was easy, helped by the outrageous views looking back at Marie Lake as I went. It doesn’t get much better than that!

 

Celebrating the top of Selden Pass

Celebrating the top of Selden Pass

I reached the pass with ease.  Marcus and Rob arrived shortly after, and flew right on by. I stayed a bit, as I was thoroughly enjoying the peaceful morning and being on the pass. I didn’t want to rush off, but a goal is a goal, and I made myself get up and at ’em. After the initial steep descent off the pass, the trail passed by several other fabulous lakes and crossed and re-crossed their incoming and outgoing creeks. It’s here one starts to run out of superlatives, as the views in the area are breathtaking. Heart Lake is followed by Upper then Lower Sallie Keyes Lakes. As I hiked,  I felt like Alice dropped into a  wonderland of lakes, creeks, and peaks.  Pictures do more justice than words…

Marie Lake

Marie Lake

Heart Lake

Heart Lake

Sallie Keyes Lakes

Sallie Keyes Lakes

Then, rather suddenly, the lakes were all gone and the going got tedious. It’s another long slog down the JMT to the cutoff to MTR, then another steep descent to get there. I had mixed feelings about going into MTR. It’s a strange resort, with a clear tier of acceptance. If you are a guest of the ranch, you pay dearly financially, but get to use all their amenities, including shower, toilet, meals, and a place to sleep. If you are a through hiker resupplying there, you can pick up your food, and peruse the vast food bins that are full of other hiker’s items they didn’t want or need, from food to TP to batteries…you name it, it’s there. You can take what you need and leave what you don’t want. You can also fill your water bottles  and shop in their very limited store as a resupplier, but you can’t use their bathroom.

Ashley and Marcus at MTR

Ashley and Marcus at MTR

Last year, we picked up a large, ten day food supply at MTR, which lasted us the rest of the trip. It was fun and interesting perusing the dozens of food buckets…I am convinced you could live off the food in those buckets for six months! This year, I had not mailed my food there, and my status was reduced to a mere nobody! I worried that I may not even be able to dump my garbage, but decided I would just do it anyway. I also wanted to see Ashley, Marcus, and Rob one more time. I was fearful that the two upcoming days with my friends who were hand delivering my food would put me far enough behind that I might not catch back up to them,  and I wanted to get their emails for future communication. And so, despite the intensely warm day (the temperature at MTR read 87 degrees!), I took the side trip. All was accomplished, as I did see the three soloists turned triad, and I got rid of my garbage. I left MTR at 2:00, to beat a hasty retreat back to the JMT and finish out the last 7 miles of my day.

It was a couple of miles after I returned to the JMT that I started getting “weird in the head” again. This had happened on Day 1, heading up Sunrise Mountain. It’s a hard feeling to explain, but I was lightheaded, spacey, and ungrounded, and felt like my head was almost disconnected from the rest of my body. None of those are good ways to feel while backpacking! This time, I attributed it to the heat more than anything else. Since I had just taken a break at MTR a couple miles before, I kept trying to keep going and ignore my weird head space. But I asked myself, is it worth it to stay mission oriented, if the result is to pass out or fall?  I realized that I just needed to take a break, and abandoned my determination. I dumped my pack, ate, drank, and sat. I still had about 5 miles to go, the last 4 uphill. I began to worry I might not be able to do it. I let myself give up the expectation that I HAD to do it, and decided I would check in with myself again at Piute Junction, a mile or so further along.

Backpackers relaxing at Piute Creek

Backpackers relaxing at Piute Creek

Piute Junction held special significance for me from last year, and I knew I would be STRONGLY tempted to stop there and camp. Piute Creek crashes down into enchanting pools, into which we had dunked the previous year, and it’s very soothing and relaxing. It also marks where the JMT leaves the John Muir Wilderness and enters Kings Canyon National Park. This boundary designates the High Sierras, and, the peaks just keep getting higher and the views more and more spectacular after that. But it’s also an uphill stretch from Piute Junction to Goddard Canyon Junction, where I was planning to camp. At Piute, I analyzed my options. One part of me wanted to keep going, and I knew I would feel better about the next day if I did. But I felt equally as pulled to stay and set up camp and reminisce. Last year after our swim I had done a solo day hike (the only one of the trip) up Piute Canyon while Gregg read in camp. I think in some way, my enjoyment of that solo hike planted the first seed of thought to do a solo trip of the JMT, although it would be four months after my return before that thought took concrete shape. I loved that afternoon hike, and I was drawn to the idea of just hanging and writing and remembering. But eventually my desire for a short day the next one won out, and I re-shouldered my pack and continued.

Soutn Fork of San San Juaquin River

Soutn Fork of San San Juaquin River

Views to keep you moving!

Views to keep you moving!

The last four miles were physically some of the hardest of my whole trip. I was tired, not mentally really there, and still feeling dizzy. I had food, water, and resolve, though, and that got me through. Also, the views looking down at the South Fork of the San Joaquin River, as it tumbled over the dark, metamorphic rock kept me satisfactorily enthralled, and on my toes. Drop offs were intense, and I made sure not to get too close in my dizzy head space. Finally I arrived at Goddard Canyon Junction about 6:00 pm. In my semi-desperation to be done with the day, I did not take time to look around, and took the first campsite I found. It was a crowded place, with large campsites shared among multiple users. I ended up camping at the edge of a site taken up by a large, multi-tent party with long clotheslines strung out across camp. Honestly, I was tired enough that I didn’t really care. I set up tent, cooked my dinner, and got in the tent even before dark to read and write. While I was certainly aware of the crowd of surrounding campers, I was spent enough that I didn’t really give them a second thought. I was proud of myself for doing the long day plus the side trip, and I went to bed tired but relieved that I had properly set myself up for the next day.

Highlights of the day

The contrasts of highs and lows, peaks and valleys, solitude and people.

It was unquestionably a day of big variety. I started out completely alone at a magical high elevation mountain lake. I witnessed and hiked past many more lovely lakes and crossed the streams heading into and out of them multiple times. I reached the top of a pass with unparalleled views. Then I headed down, down, down, into the heat of the day and the curious setting of MTR. I got email addresses from my friends, then left them at MTR to continue on alone. I struggled with my headspace and inclinations for the entire next 7 miles. I felt physically challenged but emotionally confident in pressing on. I knowingly slept amongst the masses as I was too tired to look for my coveted solitude.

My sense of accomplishment about the day…

On the whole, the feeling I had at the end of the day was satisfaction and great relief.  It was a bit of a stretch to get the 19 miles in, but it didn’t deplete me.  I didn’t run out of daylight, which of course I worried about, and I still had enough energy to set up camp and eat and do all the necessary end of day things.  I let myself feel the victory of a job well done, managing a day of calculated decisions that led to me being in the place I wanted to be at the time I wanted to be there.

Lessons of the day

Pay attention to the ground beneath you when putting down roots.

I learned a much bigger lesson at Rose Lake than just how to position my tent. Let’s face it, it’s not always flat out there! Sometimes we are forced into “setting up camp” when the ground is tilted or uneven. When that happens, it’s highly beneficial to set yourself up as carefully as possible at the outset, to maximize the possibility of comfort and ease. There are several things I COULD have done differently, both in my choice of site and in how I set up my “house”, which I didn’t realize until I was well into the night of challenge. First, I could have looked for a slightly different site, as there were others just a bit up that were flatter then the one I chose.  I was so happy to be at Rose Lake, I rather impulsively chose the biggest site, although in retrospect it may not have been the best. You know what they say about that…Secondly, in my site, I could have and should have set up my tent to angle down, head higher, feet lower. I simply didn’t think about it, and instead thought of where I wanted my head to be in relationship to the lake. How often in life do we act based on the thoughts and desires of our heads, not our hearts??  And finally, I could have reconfigured myself inside the tent early on in the night, once I realized my mistake. I could have turned around, literally, to reposition myself with head high and feet low. But I didn’t do that either, telling myself it was too much hassle and I should just tough it out. Like in life, a small adjustment early on could have entirely alleviated the following 8 hours of discomfort.

Trust your intuition.

I have a life-long habit of pushing things to the extreme, especially physically. I have trained for 5 marathons, and run zero because I got injured during training every time. I have struggled finding the balance between my desire to be physically active and accomplish great feats, and work with the orthopedically challenged body that I live in. It’s an ongoing day by day endeavor, and I came to the JMT with the resolve to NOT push too hard physically, so as to make sure I was enjoying the process and respecting my body physically. On this day, that boundary was blurred by my strong desire to get somewhere to set myself up for an easier something to follow. I asked myself over and over, should I stop or keep on? In the end, my intuition won out. I strongly felt that the satisfaction associated with being there would be worth the challenge to get there. And it was.

It’s all a matter of perspective…

It’s worth noting here what the range of time frames is in which people undertake the John Muir Trail. Some plan 30 or more days for the 220 miles. The fastest recorded record of a single person doing the trail (with support) is 3 days, 7 hours, and 39 minutes! There is a lot of room in between those time frames. The “average” person plans 21 days. I planned 19 or 20, which equals out to about 11 miles a day. Incorporate in some side trips, and the average comes closer to 13 or so. I knew I had to average 14 in the first 9 days to reach my party on Day 9. That’s not counting any side trips. I felt challenged by 19 miles, but 14 felt fine. For some, 20 is a short day. Some choose long days in a very short overall time frame, so as to travel light and fast. Some choose short days in a long time frame, to really take it all in. I chose the middle ground. While intention is always good, flexibility, allowing for variation, and maintaining a positive outlook even when things don’t go as planned is what it’s really all about. I was to keep learning that lesson in the days and weeks to come.

A parting shot of the view from Selden Pass, courtesy of Adobe

A parting shot of the view from Selden Pass, courtesy of Adobe

Update on Strategies for Achieving a Seemingly Impossible Goal…Almost There!

A “Goals” Update

As you may recall, this whole thing started with the Strategies. Many months ago, I started exploring what it takes to achieve a “seemingly impossible goal” of some magnitude. I outlined steps, and committed to using my goal of solo hiking the John Muir Trail to see how well these stategies worked. Here’s a recap of the steps: AdobeStock_107246405_WM

Strategies for Achieving a Seemingly Impossible Goal

  1.  Ponder ALL apparent obstacles.
  2. Identify THE most daunting obstacle.
  3. Knock off as many lesser obstacles as possible.
  4. Strategize specific steps to overcome the most daunting obstacle.
  5. Make a step by step plan of action. 
  6. Visualize yourself achieving your goal, doing your thing.
  7. Ask for help when necessary.
  8. Be prepared.
  9. Be realistic, flexible, and willing to adjust your expectations if necessary.
  10. Check in with yourself often as you go.
  11. Enjoy the process! 
  12. Celebrate your success!

In a previous post, I gave an Obstacles Update for steps 1 – 4,   identifying my biggest roadblocks and the actions necessary to overcome them.  Now, with just a week left to go, I wanted to share how steps 5 – 8 have evolved to help bring my goal of hiking the JMT ever closer to reality.

Wherever the trail leads, I will follow...

Wherever the trail leads, I will follow…

Step 5 — Make a step by step plan of action

I am a semi-compulsive list maker, and I am working my way through a lengthy “to do” list of preparations for my trip. Some of the items that were crucial to mark off involved things I am not inherently comfortable doing. These were travel arrangements to and from the trailhead, the all important food-drop locations and details surrounding those, and getting out on solo backpack trips to confront my fears of backpacking alone and to test and refine my equipment.  I am thrilled to report that ALL of these things have been checked off the list!

Travel plans

My daughter Shannon and her boyfriend Kevin graciously offered to take a road trip and drive me to the trailhead. We leave bright and early Saturday morning, a mere three days away! We’ve planned three days to get to Yosemite Valley, where my permit awaits and the trail starts. We will see Crater Lake along the way, as well as drop off a food bucket to one of my pick-up locations on the trail, so I don’t have to mail it. I am grateful for the ease with which this allows me to leave Bellingham. I don’t have to leave home with just what I need for the three weeks, as I can be a bit disorganized and overpacked for a few days, then leave a bundle with Shannon and Kevin to return to Bellingham. This is a huge help and eases my mind considerably.

Mount Whitmey, where it all ends

Mount Whitmey, where it all ends

In terms of the return journey, I have two friends from Bishop who have agreed to pick me up at the Whitney Portal, where the John Muir Trail ends. I will stay a night or two with them (depending on when I finish), to shower and clean up before catching a bus from Bishop to Reno, where I fly home on August 31. This is real benefit,  to have transportation and the promise of a shower waiting at the end of the journey. I feel blessed and grateful that both the beginning and the end of my adventure involve friends and familiar faces.

Food drops

Mt. Goddard

Mt. Goddard

This part has ended up working out fantastically! As mentioned, I will personally deliver my first food cache to the resort where I will pick it up five days in, so I know that it will be there. The second food drop is a big one, ten days worth, being personally delivered by three friends who are hiking it over a pass outside of Bishop to meet up with me and personally hand it off!  This is an unexpected bonus, and means I don’t have to mail any food. We have a fail-safe plan (at least I hope so!) of where to meet on the trail at mile 120…as well as a back up plan if something comes up. Also, I get to hang with them for an additional day and climb 13,563-foot Mt. Goddard before resuming my journey on the trail. I am extremely grateful for their willingness to take this on!

 

Solo backpack trips accomplished, and gear all set

In short, I have done all I needed and wanted to do with this one. I did three solo backpack trips, enough to get very comfortable with being alone on the trail. I have also become intimately familiar with my gear, and learned the nuances of each piece of equipment.  When all this started, I had never backpacked alone and I didn’t have the gear I needed. Now I am all set and ready to embark on the journey!

Step 6 — Visualize yourself achieving your goal, doing your thing.

Years ago, I took a class in Sports Psychology. I remember learning about the importance of visualization for athletes in helping them succeed on the playing field. I use visualization often, and firmly believe that if you can see yourself doing something,  chances are pretty good you will do it. Similarly, if you just plain can’t see yourself doing it, then it may appropriate to look at doing something else.

I have been practicing visualizing myself on the trail. There are a lot of mountain passes to go up and down on the JMT — eleven total. While hiking and backpacking this summer, I’ve practiced putting myself mentally on a JMT pass while doing hikes with elevation. I transport myself to the trail in my mind, and visualize my success and the feeling of victory that comes with each pass gained. Similarly, I see myself setting up camp, cooking, and breaking down camp with similar success. I don’t visualize failure…which means I don’t plan for things to go wrong. I AM aware that things don’t always go as planned, and that flexibility is required (see strategy #9).

Ansel Adams Wilderness

Ansel Adams Wilderness

Tuolmne Meadows

Tuolmne Meadows

I also have been practicing visualizing things I don’t like doing. I don’t like getting up and out of a tent, especially at night to use the bathroom (there is no bathroom, in reality). So instead of imaging how much I don’t like that, I practice seeing myself doing it with ease and contentment. Enjoying the stars, perhaps. Same with hiking steps, which I don’t like because it hurts my knees. Instead of seeing myself doing it in pain, I practice in my mind doing it gradually, a step at a time, with comfort and ease. Same story with packing up camp when my hands are cold. Instead of focusing on the discomfort and displeasure of that, I am visualizing using hand warmers, or taking breaks to warm my hands, and not having it be such an unpleasant experience. Small things, but to have positive visualizations helps me to fall back on those at times when the inevitable challenges occur.

Step 7 — Ask for help

As mentioned, I am getting a lot of help on this trip. Much of it I didn’t ask for, it was offered… and I simply said yes! When my daughter offered to drive me to the trailhead, I said “Absolutely!”  When my friend from Bellingham offered to hike food over the pass (or more accurately offered his brother in Bishop to do it and he would go along), I said “You bet!” Same friend offered same brother to pick me up at the trailhead at Whitney, and it was a resounding  “Of course!” I feel lucky and grateful.  It’s nice to have people want to help.  As mentioned, some of my biggest fears were allayed by having help in the areas of transportation and food.

I have also received advice from backpacking friends about equipment,  maps and JMT information from my friend that I did the trail with last year, as well as a huge amount of encouragement from friends and family members. I feel well supported and not alone as I go out on this adventure. I will not have cell service for the entirety of the trail, and I will in theory be alone. But I take with me all the good will wishes for success that so many have passed on over the months of planning. Thank you all!

And finally, I would be remiss in not stating how much my foot doctor and physical therapist have contributed to this mission. I simply could not have done it without multiple visits for check ups and orthotic refinements and a multitude of fine tunings. I am grateful beyond words for this assistance and care.

Step 8 — Be prepared

There are many elements to preparedness, obviously. The ones I will mention here are physical preparedness and making sure I have enough of necessary items.

Ready as I will ever be!

Ready as I will ever be!

Physical preparedness

How does one prepare for a trip like this? It’s not climbing Everest, I fully realize that. People do far more challenging and physically daunting things every day.  But the reality of the JMT is that it IS physically challenging. And at age 52 with 13 orthopedic surgeries under my belt, I needed to put some thought into how to pull this off. So what did I do to “train” for the JMT?

After my last foot surgery, which was in early May, I started keeping track of my activity every day. I titled my activity journal “The road back…again”. I didn’t know when I resumed activity following that last foot surgery if I would sufficiently recover in time for this trip, let alone be in sufficient physical shape for it. But I figured keeping track would provide incentive, and it would be interesting to  see what I actually did in the just under three months from the time I resumed activity to beginning the trail. Last night, I added it all up. Here is what I did to prepare:

Total walking/hiking miles — 460.    Of that, 70 miles was backpacking , 77 miles was alpine day hiking, and the remaining 313 was on trails in and around Bellingham.

Total road biking miles — 883.

Total times to yoga and pilates: 17.    I wish this number had been higher. Yoga in particular has been very beneficial to me in a multitude of ways. However, it took awhile to get back into it following the foot work, and that’s all I managed to get in.

Is it enough? I hope so. I would have ideally liked more miles with the backpack, but time got away from me. As I have said, I think my preparation is sufficient, and I feel ready. That feeling of readiness counts for a lot.

Insuring I have “enough” of necessary items

The most important things for me is to make sure I have enough of essential items. This means food, warm clothes, shelter and amenities related to, fuel, water tablets, and items related to emergency preparedness. Do I have enough of these things? I think so. Once again, the trade off is stuff for backpack weight, and I am trying to keep that balance reasonable. I know myself well enough to know that I will pack on the heavy side, for fear of not having enough. How much will all this weigh? Most likely around 50 pounds, but I won’t know for sure until it is all packed up and ready to go. Whatever it will be it will be.

A note before I go…

Off into the sunset...

Off into the sunset…

So that’s where things stand, three days before I leave and exactly one week before I start.  This will likely be my final post before I go, and  I won’t have the ability to write on the trail. Thank you for reading my pre-trail thoughts, and I will most assuredly be in touch with more thoughts and stories when it is all said and done. I appreciate the well wishes more than you know. Happy trails to all!

Gratefully,

Kathie

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Strategies for Achieving a Seemingly Impossible Goal…The “Obstacles” Update

falls:yosemite

Vernal Falls, above Yosemite Valley

Just over two months ago, I stated my goal of doing a solo hike of the John Muir Trail in California this summer. (see post Putting the Strategies to Work…)  The trail starts in Yosemite Valley, and ends at Mt. Whitney some 220 miles later. In that 220 miles, the trail goes up and over eleven mountain passes, with a total gain and loss of over 50,000 feet of elevation. It’s no small feat for these feet on the path!

I have secured a permit to start my hike August 10,  exactly two months away.  I am growing increasingly excited, yet still trepidatious. I have made steady progress in putting my strategies to work to turn this goal into a reality.  While successfully knocking off many obstacles, some still remain, and some will be with me until I show up at the trailhead. This post will outline and update the obstacles that exist for achieving this goal, and the progress I have made in the two and some months of working on them (steps 1 – 4 below).

First a recap of the Strategies, with a few additions to incorporate in a long-range goal (* indicates addition):

Strategies for Achieving a Seemingly Impossible Goal

  1. Ponder ALL apparent obstacles.
  2. Identify THE most daunting obstacle.
  3. Knock off as many lesser obstacles as possible.
  4. Strategize specific steps to overcome the most daunting obstacle.
  5. Make a step by step plan of action. *
  6. Visualize yourself achieving your goal, doing your thing. *
  7. Ask for help when necessary.
  8. Be prepared.
  9. Be realistic, flexible, and willing to adjust your expectations if necessary.
  10. Check in with yourself often as you go.
  11. Enjoy the process! *
  12. Celebrate your success!

Step 1 —  Ponder all apparent obstacles

In pondering my obstacles, I’ve put them into two distinct categories: Actual Obstacles and Fear-based Obstacles.

Actual Obstacles —  Interestingly, I could only identify two actual obstacles when I got right down to it:

  1. Orthopedic Challenges.  This list includes a severely arthritic knee, and a recent round of multiple foot and ankle surgeries from which I am still recovering. It also includes a history of chronic back and neck pain, including previous back and neck fusions.  Without a relatively healthy body, I cannot go on this trip.
  2. Equipment gaps and insufficiencies.  This list includes acquiring items I did not have in my backpacking repertoire as I had previously backpacked with a partner, and necessary gear upgrades to increase comfort and workability on the trail. Without the right equipment, I cannot safely go on this trip.

Fear-based Obstacles — The more I thought about and looked at my apparent obstacles, the more I realized that most of them are about fear. Hence, this is a longer list:

  1. FEAR of backpacking alone.   Simply put, I have never backpacked alone. I have hiked alone extensively, but all of my backpack trips have been in the company of others. To go solo for three weeks is scary for many reasons, including fear of sleeping alone, fear of encountering “dangerous” wildlife, and fear of loneliness…to name just a few.
  2. FEAR of planning alone.  Again, I have planned for and done hikes in conjunction with another, including the John Muir Trail last summer with a partner. But the details of planning transportation to and from the trail, planning and mailing food drops, and insuring I have everything necessary but not anything unnecessary…that seems daunting and overwhelming when I think of doing it all on my own.
  3. FEAR of finding the balance…between what is enough and what is too much.  With that abundance of orthopedic issues, I want to make sure I am comfortable. That means extra pillows, and a thick sleeping pad. The tendency to get cold means extra clothes and a heavier sleeping bag. A high metabolic rate means extra food. ALL those things make for extra weight. How to balance out the need to carry less weight for the sake of my back, neck, feet, and knees, with the need for ENOUGH of what I need to be comfortable…this is a delicate balance, and I am fearful I will go too far into the realm of carrying too much.
  4. FEAR of pain as the dominant factor.  I very much want this hike to be about something much greater than pain management. I know and expect that pain and discomfort will be a part of it, as pain is simply a part of my everyday life. And the trip is challenging, as I know from experience having done it last summer. But there are steps I can take and things I can do to lessen the degree of pain and discomfort I expect to experience.  My strong desire is to embrace the beauty and magnificence of the trail first, explore all there is to gain from the adventure from a personal growth standpoint second, figure out how I can and will write and share about my trip third…and successful pain management as a distant fourth at best. In other words, my intention is to somehow place pain into a manageable place…as a fellow traveler on the path, but not one who overrules all other aspects of the trip.

Which leads naturally to the next point…

Step 2 —  Identify THE most daunting obstacle

This is easily the orthopedic issues. As mentioned earlier, these include severely arthritic knees, one of which (the right) has undergone four surgeries. Nothing short of a knee replacement can help the right knee now. And the left, while less severe, is bone on bone in the patellar region. This makes going up and down hills painful, and I must use poles and exercise great care with every step. I have also undergone five surgeries in both feet and ankles in the last 18 months, including three fused joints, a removed bunion, an ankle tendon and ligament repair, and, most recently, a hardware removal and ankle arthroscopy to deal with residual issues from a previous surgery. The foot and ankle issues are complex and ongoing to say the least. Further, I have chronic back and neck pain and have undergone three separate spinal surgeries to alleviate herniated discs and degenerative disc disease, including three fused vertebrae.

About this time you may be asking WHY I am even considering this trip. There is only one real answer, and it’s a theme that will come up again and again throughout this journey.  I do not as a general rule let pain or discomfort keep me from doing what I love, because my spirit thrives on being out in an environment that takes me to a place of such peace and happiness. If I can successfully put pain and ailments into a place where they are workable and not dominant, then it’s a go. Then the beauty, wonder, and pure joy of such an adventure will outweigh the costs endured to do it, and it will all so very worth it.

Step 3 — Knock off as many lesser obstacles as possible   

Success!

This is where the fun starts! In looking at my list of obstacles, I can see I have made great progress in the last couple of months.  In the Actual Obstacles department, I have acquired almost all the gear I need. I bought (and practiced setting up) a new tent, a stove, and a new backpack to deal with some significant discomfort and chafing issues with last year’s backpack. I have gradually increased my repertoire of other gear that I need as well,  such that my backpacking preparation area is filling up. It’s been fun acquiring gear, and each purchase, large and small, helps build anticipation and excitement for the upcoming adventure. Doing it over several months has also helped to ease the financial burden of buying everything all at once

In the Fear-based Obstacles department, I have found this to be much more challenging. I don’t think it’s possible to knock off the fear based obstacles altogether, as they are mostly in my mind. What I CAN do is to confront them to whatever degree is possible before I go, know that they will still be with me as I travel, and trust that the intensity of my anxiety will lessen with practice and time.

  1. Fear of backpacking alone….This fear will get lessened with each solo trip that I do to prepare for the big one. I plan to go overnight for the first time on my birthday, towards the end of this month. A great birthday present to myself! I will plan for at least one other solo trip in July before I go. My fears of sleeping alone, wildlife, and loneliness cannot be directly addressed, except to be as prepared as possible for whatever may come up with this. See step 8 in an upcoming post.
  2. Fear of planning alone….There is no way around this one than to just jump in and do it. Some of the plans have been made, some may potentially involve others and await their confirmation of schedules. I may be lucky enough to get a ride to the trailhead from my daughter and her boyfriend, and I may be able to secure a pick up at trails end from a friend. Those details are not yet firmed up, but will be soon. The locations and logistics of food drops needs to happen in the next month, after I am able to achieve 100% certainty that I am indeed going.
  3. Fear of finding the balance….between having enough and carrying too much weight. This will get tested when I do my first solo trip. I also have a four day, three night trip planned with my daughter and her boyfriend over July 4 weekend. For this trip, I will carry all my own gear and food, so as to see what it’s like to plan for several days. Some of this will always remain, the uncertainty of am I in balance, as I know my tendency to pack heavy. Last year, I carried a maximum of 50 pounds on the John Muir trip, even with a partner. I am not sure I will be able to go much (if any) below this. That is a lot of weight to carry for 220 miles…
  4. Fear of pain….Carrying around 50 pounds will lead to discomfort, no question. How much discomfort, and what I can endure, is an ongoing issue of uncertainty. I am not sure how to alleviate this fear, as pain is a very real part of my existence. I have been doing things like regular hiking, biking, and yoga to make sure I am as physically prepared as possible. Conditioning can only go so far to counteract the orthopedic challenges. BUT, if I know I can do the distance, or the activity with a modicum of success now and in the coming months, it gives me confidence that I will be able to overcome this fear-based obstacle enough to at least show up at the trailhead and get started!

Step 4 — Strategize specific steps to overcome the most daunting obstacle

Much progress has been made in the orthopedic realm in the last two months. A month ago, I had troublesome hardware removed from my right foot, and an arthroscopy of that ankle to remove bone spurs and “clean things up”. I can now wear hiking boots, which I was not able to do with the hardware still in. This is huge…wearing hiking boots adds stability for my chronically vulnerable-to-twist ankles, and adds a firmer surface on which to walk. One of my biggest foot problems remains an inflamed and super sensitive bone in the ball of my left foot, a holdout from December’s bunion surgery. Wearing firm surface shoes dramatically helps this problem, as has the acquisition of new orthotics. I am deeply appreciative of my physical therapist, who continues to work with me diligently to tweak and modify my orthotics based on my specific and ever-changing foot and ankle needs. Getting back to yoga, while it is painful and difficult, is helping with balance, stretching and building strength back into my feet and core.  I am back to hiking elevation and even in snow, and, while challenging, this also helps to get my feet and ankles back to semi-full strength.

As for the knee…this one remains a problem. The only solution I have been able to come up with is to see if my doctor will give me a cortisone shot for pain relief a few weeks before my scheduled trip. I fully realize that this is not a long-term solution, and I know knee replacement is not far away. But I very much want to get through this trip with a manageable amount of pain, and I am not sure I can do that without relief of some type.

So that’s the update! I have knocked off a bunch of obstacles, apparent and otherwise. I am at this point 95% confident I can start the trail in August. What will it take to get to 100%? A couple of solo backpack trips, a conversation with my knee surgeon, and several more challenging day hikes to test the progress of the feet. I will also continue on with putting the strategies to work, in steps 5 – 8. Stay tuned for updates on this, as well as more trip reports as the journey continues…

johnmuir11

Kathie on JMT 2015…looking forward to 2016!

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