Taking Paths Less Traveled

Joyful Hiker. Mother. Teacher. Adventurer.

Today I headed out to Flagstaff, Arizona to pick up equipment to go kayak-camping. Having kayaked several times before, and backpacked, this seems to be a pretty good combo of two things I love to do!

We will launch tomorrow at Bluff, UT which is about 3 hours from Flagstaff. From there, we’ll head down the San Juan River to Mexican Hat. I’m hoping to get a glimpse of the mountain sheep, especially since I’ve been told it is lambing season.

On the way here we saw an antelope with huge horns, and, sadly, a massive elk that had been hit by a car. 🥺

The San Juan River is said to be a lot like the Grand Canyon. We should see some Petroglyphs and other artifacts along the way.

Packing for this trip was a little different than for backpacking, but barely. I was able to use a smaller pack because we will have a raft accompanying us along the way. This means that all my food and gear can be kept in the raft and since we are sharing food and equipment, I didn’t need to pack my big backpacking pack.

What is slightly different is that my sleeping gear, clothes and other equipment needed to be kept in dry-sacks. And, I got to bring my full-sized camping chair which normally only gets to come on car camping trips! Lol.

Maybe the best part is how seamlessly my backpacking knowledge has helped me prepare for this trip. I’ve got a good idea of which clothes I needed and which personal items I wanted to bring. Everything fits nicely since I’ve got a system of stacking stuff-sacks.

Depending on how this trip goes, my outdoor adventure equipment may soon include a kayak to hoist on top of my Outback!

Entering Flagstaff area is just beautiful!

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My section hike began Thursday with a long drive from Riverside to Ridgecrest where I would be driven to the trail-head. The drive on Highway 395 is one of tedium, with very little to look at until you reach the mountains where Highway 395 meets Highway 14. During the drive I kept myself from thinking too much about what lay ahead.

The drive to Kennedy Meadows was far from tedious. The views in this area are breathtaking. The winding road is bordered by lush purple and white lupine. At the lower elevation, this plant grows about waist high. As you climb they get smaller and shorter until they mostly resemble ground cover.

Three wonderful friends accompanied me on the trail for the first 4 miles. This was an unexpected gift, and I was truly appreciative of them for easing me into my trip with love and laughter. If any one has any reservations on solo backpacking this would be an excellent way to ease yourself into the day.

Our first stretch was a gentle, if constant, uphill grade. According to Guthook Hikes the PCT has a maximum of 15% grade for the trail. This is a pretty gentle slope, but for this section it just keeps going up, up, up.

The trail parallels the Kern River, winding in and out, up and around bends. Lizards, sunning themselves on the trail, darted away or flexed their muscles in greeting on trail-side rocks. Flowers of magenta, purple and white carpeted the forest floor.

About 4 miles in, we stopped to refill our water bottles beside a small stream bubbling up from the overgrown willow saplings that dominated the banks of the river. While we rested in the shade, a swarm of a thousand bugs appeared and headed straight for us. At first I was a little alarmed. Last thing I wanted was to have to swat off some sort of bug invasion. But as some landed on us, we discovered they were small, young lady bugs! Once they flew by, I thought it was an anomaly, but another swarm emerged about 2 minutes later. For the entire time we sat under that tree this pattern continued. Such a magical experience! Little did I know this was part of a newsworthy phenomenon. According to the LA Times, the lady bugs were spotted on the weather radar and seen in droves throughout Southern California.

This was where my friends turned back and I kept going. Just ahead we could see the massive burn area where the trail was exposed and the landscape dreary with blackened trees towering above the rocky terrain. Despite the burn, the area was still beautiful and trail continued to wind its way toward the greenery of Beck Meadow. After meandering out of the burn area the landscape turned to dense lodgepole pine forest with a carpet of pine needles dampening the sounds of my footsteps. Suddenly the forest ended and there was the meadow.

Beck Meadow coming into view far in the distance.

Beck Meadow is everything a person could ask for in a meadow. There is a small stream surrounded by marshy grass and birds fill the air with the songs and warning cries. I looked carefully for deer, but there were none to be seen.

Using Guthook’s app I decided on a campsite about a mile into the meadow. The campsite was off trail about .1 of a mile following a beautiful brook about a foot wide. It was nearing dark by the time I set up my tent. I was all alone as I prepared my dinner of Mountain House Lasagna with a stick of string cheese. This required very little prep, just boiling water which was generated quickly with my JetBoil.

I heard every bird’s wings, and even footsteps of what I imagine was a deer coming to get a drink from the icy stream. The breeze through the trees has always reminded me of the ocean, and it was soothing even though I was hyper aware of everything around me. It was to be my first night completely alone in the wilderness. This filled me with both excitement and apprehension. The forest is a big place, and as brave as I wanted to be a part of me longed for the company and sounds of another human being.

Just as I was about to dine on my freeze-dried dinner two men made their way across the brook and up to my campsite. I was so happy to see them that I immediately approached them and introduced myself.

When you are on the PCT you are given a trail name by your companions. I have yet to be given a trail name because of the little time I’ve spent on trail with companions. My campmates introduced themselves as Ghost and Deluxe. I told them they had saved the day and explained how I was on my first solo backpacking trip section hiking. They seemed impressed by this and were as excited as I was to be a part of the beginning of my journey.

Deluxe quickly took advantage of the firepit in the center of the camp and made a lovely teeny fire. I love this kind of fire, very little smoke and also small enough to provide the campfire glow without having to tend to the burning embers for hours and hours.

After some discussion, I learned that Deluxe was from Wrightwood which is only a 30 minute drive from my house in Riverside. Ghost was from Minnesota. (You know… where they sell the smallest sodas!) They were the 3rd group of PCT thru-hikers I had encountered that day. The first had been from Croatia, Orange County and Bend, Oregon.

As I settled into my tent, I quickly sent a message to my family through my Garmin inReach Mini satellite do-dad. This was both relieving and irritating in a way. First, I was glad I could let them know I was okay, and also glad that if there were to be an accident I could call for help. But, it was disheartening because here I was, unconnected to the rest of the world, but still tethered by technology.

Falling asleep that night I felt at peace. The soft sounds of my neighbors settling into their tents was reassuring and the night sounds a lullaby as I ended my first day on trail.

In mid June, I went on a solo backpacking trip on the PCT. My path took me nearly 40 miles from Kennedy Meadows to Lone Pine. Everyone has been saying things to me like “That’s badass!” or “I’m so proud of you!” Yet, I feel like an impostor. Let me explain.

I have been preparing for this trip mentally for many years. Ever since my very first experience backpacking in 2012 I have been collecting gear and knowledge that would ultimately lead me to begin section hiking the PCT and eventually complete a thru-hike.

As I made my preparations a number of fears and concerns hammered at my psyche. I have always struggled with weight and self image. Looking in the mirror at myself wearing my backpack, the waist band cinched up on my hips and a muffin-top protruding, I didn’t look like a “real” backpacker. Real backpackers, after all, aren’t pudgy. These thoughts have been part of what held me back for so many years. I kept telling myself, I’ll be able to backpack when I lose 20 pounds.

Of course, losing 20 pounds would be ideal, but I was letting that become a road block to achieve my dreams. It’s not like I hadn’t been training. I’d begun hiking 2-3 times per week and doing Yoga every day. I would have been more prepared physically if I hadn’t gotten plantar facciitis. But, I am sure that even if I hadn’t had to take hiking break, I would have had self-image issues.

Another roadblock that I had to overcome in order to go on my trip is that I am a woman, hiking alone, in the big “scary” wilderness. Friends, family, and even my therapist all voiced concerns. In the past these fears might have stopped me. But this time, I was ready. I have been following beautiful women bloggers that take solo trips and have read about the benefits of solo hiking. I even scraped up an article that gave the statistics of the safety of hiking alone vs. being in a city. Apparently, being in the wilderness is one of the safest places a person could be as long as you are prepared.

It’s been 3 days since I got back from my trip. I was exhausted the first two days and hobbled around the house treating the two bad blisters I had gotten on my feet. My toenail is going to fall off because of my toe ring (sad face) but other than that, I feel amazing.

Hiking for nearly 40 miles with a 30 pound pack on my back was one of the hardest things I’ve done. It was also one of the most amazing things I’ve done. There is a sense of empowerment that I’ve gained and as the realization of my accomplishment sets in, my adventure wolf has been fed and is hungry to go out again.

What I need to say here is… I was probably the most over weight person on that trail for those 4 days. I was in the company of people that had been already hiking for 700+ miles on the PCT. By that point they were literally hiking machines. I struggled not to compare myself to them and, instead, soaked up their experience, asked questions and reveled in the fact that I was even there.

I’m still struggling with comparing myself to others, but I am also looking forward to my next adventure, and to the journey of making myself stronger for what lay ahead.

Me on the PCT Day 1

My therapist said something to me one time that really stuck with me.

“You don’t want to be blown away by every wind.”

It was really profound because I realized that I was getting yanked around flying through the air by all the bullshit around me. Instead I grounded myself and remembered to be like a strong tree that sways in the wind.

To be strong enough to bend.

Maybe you want to add some daily Yoga so you can work on being grounded. Get your feet on solid ground, so to say.

Cedar tree shading the PCT near Lone Pine, CA.

I recommend Yoga With Adriene’s “Anchor in Hope” video. For a deeper commitment you can check out Dedicate, a beautiful 30 day challenge to get your inner Yogi fired up. These videos have impacted my life in so many positive ways that I can’t help but share them. I would love to know if you have any grounding practices to share.

~Namaste

PS. This post is dedicated to my sweet and dear cousin. You deserve only the best. Stand tall, proud and strong. Dig your roots deep into Mother Earth and reach for the sky because there is no limit to what you can do.

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