BACKPACKING: Over The River And Through The Woods We Go! - My Family Travels

The John Muir Trail stretches 211 miles (from Yosemite to the top of Mount Whitney), through 5 national parks, 2 wilderness areas, 11 mountain passes and countless streams.  It takes a strong body, mind and spirit to ascend 46,000’ (total) and descend 38,000’ (total).  A 28-day backpacking trip along this section of the Pacific Crest Trail requires preparation:  applying for permits, testing recipes, mailing food drops, shaving weight (every ounce is critical!), researching and buying clothes/equipment, and accommodating the different abilities and hiking speeds.  It took 10 months for my dad, mom, sister (11) and me (13) to prepare.  The headaches and madness of the previous months quickly faded once I stepped from the car and saw the soft rays of light peering through the branches of the ancient trees.   

Thick, sturdy trunks stand strong and tall, stretching up towards the sky.  Pure air fills my lungs, its sweet, uncontaminated scent awakening my mind.  The large pack strapped onto me feels light at first, but gains weight with each step.  My legs ache after a mere 30 minutes of hiking.   “For every up there is a down,” my dad encourages when he senses my legs have just about given up on me.  He’s right; however the descents are just as steep.  I feel as though I am going to fall and start rolling like a tumbleweed.  Soon enough, I find myself climbing once again.  It seems there are only extremes: extremely steep, extremely hot, an extremely heavy backpack, and sometimes feeling extremely lost.   

We encounter a stream slicing boldly through the forest, and we have no choice but to cross through it.  The sun files through the delicate leaves and dances along the ripples, reflecting off the surface like a thousand tiny mirrors.  Dipping my foot into the stream, freshly melted ice eases between my toes and encloses my calf.  I wade in, and the water level is higher than my mind has prepared me.  As I venture a few more excruciating steps, I see the stream teeming with life.  Small minnows sprint through the water on one of nature’s racetracks.  Water striders dance away from my disturbance.  Damselflies flutter over my head, their silky wings vibrating as they speed through the air.  I sink into water above my kneecap.  The current pulls on me; my body sways, throwing me off balance.  Stumbling slightly, I quickly regain my balance and make my way through the resistant water to the other bank.  Relieved, I retie my hiking boots and return to the twisting dirt trail.   

After each long day, we set up camp.  Tents are pitched, water pumped, dinner cooked, and once the bustling ceases, everything settles down.  I reflect on the day’s activity, and ritually check the mountains to see if I can witness the “alpenglow”, when the setting sun hits the summits of the mountains just right, and they get this magical glow.  Finally, I see it.  The peaks are painted in a crisp golden yellow, casting a soft hue on the lake and forest below.  My heart swells as the mountains sing to me.  Beauty has its own rhythm here, patient, steady like the unmistakable drums in a band.  Every element of nature joins in, one by one, to create the largest symphony I’ll ever hear.  The wind vocalizes as it kisses the flowing branches and ripples on the lake.  Birds add their hymns to the natural serenade.  Beams of the last evening light enhance the prismatic harmonies on the mountains and spread the summoning melody as they bathe everything in the fading golden strains. 

Inside the tent, the crisp night air enjoys penetrating my sleeping bag a little too much, causing me slight discomfort.  Too exhausted to fight the cold, I relax and allow myself to live in my dreams.  My body is fit, my mind is clear, my soul at ease.

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