Putting one foot in front of the other with pain in each step, I finally arrived at a flat clearing near the creek. I let go of the trekking poles and watched them fall to the ground in opposite directions. I dropped my backpack to the ground. Next I pulled out my sleeping pad and laid flat on my back, prying my shoes off my aching feet. Staring at the sky, I felt sorry for myself and the pain this 18.8 mile day (with over a mile of elevation!) gain was causing me.
Three minutes later, I made a reference to something that had happened earlier in the day and all three of the guys in our group laughed. Feeling a bit more energetic, I made my way down to the creek. Soaking my feet and washing the dirt off my legs was sounding like a good idea.
Paul, one of our trio, beat me to the creek with a fishing pole in hand. I watched him fly fish while the sounds of the rolling creek lulled me into deep relaxation. With my feet submerged in the ice cold water, I laid back without a care in the world, and reflected on our journey.
I had done it! I pulled off the backpacking trip of a lifetime. Fourteen days on the John Muir Trail surrounded by absolutely beautiful wilderness. I left my 'real world' problems behind for two weeks of bliss. Despite the pain, I couldn't help but smile.
Months of training, reading trip reports and carefully selecting gear had culminated with the chance to hike an average of 16 miles every day for two weeks straight. And it hurt. Some days it hurt real bad. I wondered to myself why on earth I agreed to do this. Along the way, there were peaks and valleys – literally and figuratively.
On day 12 we climbed over Forester Pass, the final pass before Mount Whitney, the so-called finish line on the John Muir Trail. As we climbed, lost in our own thoughts, I realized I was in fact going to finish the John Muir Trail, and likely finish it on time. As a group we screamed, yelled and danced on top of Forester Pass. The end – our goal – was within sight.
We summited Mount Whitney on the 14th day and began our long descent back to reality. When I spotted the road in the distance, I was excited to get off the trail and eat a meal at a restaurant. (Preferably with a cold beer!) As we walked, it rained. The rain turned to a downpour, soaking our pants, socks and shoes. My feet were sore. I was hungry. I was exhausted. But I knew once I hopped in that car waiting for us at the finish, I'd want to get back on that trail again.
Two weeks later I'm happy to sip a glass of wine with my wife, pitch wiffle balls to my kids and laugh with friends. I'm itching for another chance to get out on the trail. The memory of how hard the hike was is erased from my memory and my desire to spend time outside has taken over. Maybe there's truth that in this kind of punishment, there is reward.
And so planning the next trip has begun.
To follow along on my John Muir Trail adventure, click here: JMT Days 1-3 or for more information on this trip visit the Muir Miles page.
-Andy Hawbaker is a hiker, backpacker and family car camper. When he isn't out on the trail, he shares his experiences on the Sierra Social Hub.