While walking up a dusty, granite strewn mountain pass on the first day of my 240 mile journey through mountains of the Sierra Nevada, a thought that’s all too common among people doing something they’ve never done before struck me out of nowhere - “How the heck am I going to finish this??”.
Carrying 8.5 days of food, a bear canister, and dedicated gear to survive in the wilderness on my back, I clicked off my 20th mile of the day in a wide open, green meadow as thunder roared deafeningly above my head.
I was sick…altitude sick that is. Even after exerting myself so heavily that day, I only took two bites of dinner before going to sleep with a pounding headache mixed with nausea. The next day I had planned on climbing the tallest mountain in the lower 48 at 14,505 feet - Mt. Whitney - approximately 3,000 feet above where I currently was.
I shut my eyes not knowing what the next day might bring.
After climbing Mt Whitney the next day and racing the thick, dark clouds of approaching thunderstorms back to my tent, l remained feeling nauseous with a splitting headache. I was severely doubting that I’d be able to finish the trail, being that I was still sick after only hiking 30 of the 240 total miles.
My confidence was at an extreme low - thoughts raced through my head of what others would say if I ended up quitting.
I flashed back to when I initially planned the trip. It was so easy to pour over the maps and decide that I would camp here, and do X many miles on this day and so on. I never factored in the fact that there would be multiple dream stealers along the way.
Laying in my tent, I sincerely contemplated quitting the trail. As the sun cast its unrelenting glow on the surrounding granite spires, I said aloud to myself, “If I can get through this feeling (of being sick), I’m going to complete this trail.” I took out my phone and read aloud the list of “Whys” I came up with prior to my adventure - why I wanted to hike it, what would happen if I finished it, and what would happen if I decided to quit.
After reading my list of Whys, I didn’t move from my position in the tent the rest of the night.
I went to sleep at 5:15pm.
Giving my body rest, letting it acclimate, and reminding myself why I was doing this hike proved to the solution I was looking for as I woke up the follow morning.
Each mile I walked after the third day, my confidence grew. Many more obstacles popped up along the trail - daily thunderstorms, severely burnt lips (one lesson I’ll NEVER forget - wear SPF lip balm!) loneliness, dehydration and fatigue - but beating altitude sickness and my own thoughts those first couple of days made the rest of the challenges much more bearable.
On July 29, 2020 I reached Yosemite Valley and completed the northbound route of the John Muir Trail. Two days later, my girlfriend of 3 years dumped me over the phone as I sat in a lonely chair outside of a gift shop in the Reno International Airport. Though this was a definite blow to me, it became just another obstacle to overcome, much like the obstacles I encountered on the trail.
To this day, completing the John Muir Trail remains the single most important event of my life. It also became the catalyst for the next significant event that took place in my life - my first ultramarathon...