In less than a month, I start my three-week trek of the John Muir Trail, 215 miles through the High Sierras of California, from Yosemite National Park to the summit of Mount Whitney. I’m hoarding shelf-stable food like a doomsday prepper, and eyeing the other things I ought to be doing and mostly kind of not avoiding them.
I’m excited. I hollered for joy when I finally got my permit. And I’ve seen the photos: this hike is gorgeous. J. did it last year (the PCT follows the JMT for all but ten miles of its length) and reports it’s the most beautiful section of the PCT. I’m stoked. And I’m totally confident and chill about it…
…sometimes. Other times, the mere thought of it sends my intestinal tract into fight or flight mode.
You might guess my nerves stem from doing it “alone.” By my own choice, I’m doing this solo. I think the experience will be precious, and may be insightful. What kind of solo hiker am I? Time to find out! My major treks have been with J., my newlywed, my wonderful miles-centric man. I love hiking with him, and I enjoy making big miles too, but I have a suspicion I also may enjoy stopping more often to observe birds, flowers, lakes, bugs, etc. I have three weeks to do this hike, which would probably take only two weeks hiking Zippy-and-Diddo style. So I can allocate a bit of time here and there, for chatting or lounging or extra side trips or drawing or recovering from little pains or waiting out foul weather. And alone doesn’t really mean alone, mind you. 45 other people start their JMT thru-hikes every day, plus there’ll be lots of day hikers.
So what’s the problem? Maybe coming clean about my sources of nervousness will help me cope with them and accept them and forge ahead anyway. Because I gotta, and want to. So here they are:
1. Weather. El Nino is bringing rain to California, finally, and I am grateful, and willing to be wet a lot for the relief it brings to that bedroughted state. But I gotta roll my eyes a bit. During J.’s PCT hike, it rained on him maybe six times total, and only one day all day. And that trail is ten times as long as the JMT. It was a drought year. I had been expecting that kind of weather. But it sounds as though the trail may get above average storms and rainfall and all kinds of hijinks that make one not want to be on a pass at a certain hour. It sounds like crappy AT weather, which I am SO OVER. And I get nervous around severe weather. Although the odds of harm from it are far less than from getting in the car and driving to the store anyday, I think that growing up in Minnesota with tornado sirens reminiscent of World War II air raids had an impact on me. When my dreams want to suggest chaos, they throw in a tornado. No tornadoes in the Sierras, thankfully, but I sure don’t care for lightning in my general vicinity. Plus… will it SNOW??
2. Navigation. I’m nervous about using a map and compass. I have some experience with maps, but my confidence is not great. I bought my own Brunton TruArc compass, which I have named Saint Brunton in an obscure nod to Saint Brendan the Navigator. And I am reading a book about using it. These things come annoyingly easily to J., but I have to study like it’s frickin’ trigonometry, highlighting and taking notes and rereading and praying that the info sticks. I’ll have the ebook with me on the trail (as well as guides to knots, at which I am equally stupid, and first aid, and wildflowers and birds and geology, at which I am much, much better), but I would like to not be dependent upon a device. This weekend J. and I are gonna go practice in the woods, which is some comfort. I still have several weeks to work on this. And the JMT is well marked. It’s just that I want to do some side trails to fun things like monuments and hot springs, which may not be as well marked or maintained. Of course, I can always turn back from a spur, but I feel the responsibility of knowing where the heck I am at all times.
3. …Um, actually, that’s pretty much it. Huh! Not bad, maybe. That surprises me. I am grateful that I feel fine about my hiking abilities, my gear list, being able to carry the weight, my travel plans (which were a logistical BEAST to figure out, a beast which I vanquished!). I can cook food, pitch a tent, be a grown-up, put on the right amount of clothing. Laundry is an unknown, but who cares? I’ll tote a ziploc and a few drops of Dr Bronner’s soap and utilize copious rinsing (away from water sources, of course, cuz even biodegradable soaps can mess up lovely frogs). So… onward? Onward!
P.S. I hope you join my for my journey. I’ll try to be a good blogger. However, I’m not sure how much updating I’ll be able to do while on the trail. My internet access will be much more limited than on the AT, and I’ll have fewer opportunities to charge my phone (and hence, type and post). So we’ll see. But thanks for reading!