It’s easy to lose things on the trail: bottle caps, vials of hydrocortisone cream, highly coveted pee-rags, weight (we collectively lost 24-pounds between the three of us). But there are other things to lose on the trail that are gifts along the way: your sense of time, your career identities, your inhibitions, your agendas.
On the trail, no one asks you what you do for a living. It’s such a common question in our regular lives and yet, I am struck by how this question almost never comes up in casual conversation while hiking the JMT. Perhaps it’s because what you do for a living is of no consequence when you are hiking 220-miles at high altitude. Instead, the conversations center around “Why” each person is braving the JMT and what circumstances led each of us to this journey. And for us, the questions always focus around how in the world it is humanly possible for a 6-year old girl to be thru hiking the JMT. How brave she is. And how brave we are.
And so for a brief time, we get to lose our outside identities and focus solely on the reasons why we have embarked on this great adventure. Watching Sara’s growing strength, curiosity and confidence leaves no doubt in my mind about the reasons why we have undertaken this epic journey. She leaps confidently across streams, informs Northbound travelers about the trail conditions that they will soon encounter and runs ahead of us to read the trail markers. Fellow hikers High-Five her and ask her how old she is. She is un-phased by their amazement, but a little smile escapes her lips, letting me know that she understands on some level that this is a big deal. Our daily mileage increases as we allow Sara to set the pace and before we know it, we have shaved a day off our itinerary. We slowly let go of our agendas, our timelines, our ideas of what we can and cannot do.
We lose our inhibitions, bathing naked in rivers and lakes, lying prone against hot lizard rocks to warm our sun-kissed bodies. Paul is a master at finding secluded spots where the three of us can strip down, get clean and enjoy the feeling of the warm wind on our naked skin. These are the moments when we all feel truly free.
Over the course of the next three days, we make it over three more passes, each rising higher than the other and each more magnificent than the one before. Just over Selden Pass, we spot a Bald Eagle flying in circles above us, the first and only one that any of us have seen in our lives. Chills run down my spine at the sight of this iconic bird and I am struck with a sense of reverence and privilege for all that we are experiencing.
I am grateful for the courage to undertake this journey, for the opportunity to expose Sara to the truth, beauty and reverance of the great outdoors. I am grateful for the moments in which I get to choose who and how I want to be. To let go of the identities that I cling to, the agendas that dictate my actions. And little by little, I begin to lose the last shreds of doubt and fear about our journey as they slowly vanish over the vast Sierra horizons.