When I first began hiking the PCT (in sections) I was 65 years old and had never backpacked. Sure, there had been plenty of local day hikes here and there. But my first ever backpack trip started at the southern terminus of the Pacific Crest Trail.
A friend asked me why I’m doing this. The immediate answer rolled off my tongue without a thought. “Because I can.”
I’ve thought about that answer many times, wondering if it sounded smug or conceited. To some it probably did. After much consideration, I believe what I really meant was “Because I’m able.”
Today, while watching the YouTube of a fellow senior hiker, The Hiking Rev, one of the things he said struck me like lightning. When asked why he hikes, he said my exact words.”Because I can!” I’m not the only one who spoke the words! Yay! (I’m not entirely conceited!)
It made me feel validated and vindicated because my choice of words were echoed by another senior hiker.
At 65, I’m sure many in this age group have experienced family members, friends, and acquaintances who became disabled or died. It’s not something we want to acknowledge or dwell on for ourselves. Our days are numbered and our bodies are wearing out. This fact motivated me to backpack, because “I’m able and I can.”
The decision was made. I will seek adventure with a pack on my back while I am able.
“The Trail Provides” is a common phrase on any trail. We prefer to call them Blessings. Here is another example of blessings in disguise.
As we rested beside the trail, a Mule Train came by, led by a very well-dressed (and BTW quite handsome) cowboy. Debbie pops up with her camera and starts taking shots when the camera makes an unusual sound, sort of like a crunch. It was locked up, and nothing worked. Oh Man girl! That cowboy was so handsome he broke your camera!!
At first, she was puzzled and was trying several things. I could see she was in denial and maybe a bit in shock that her ‘Baby’ would no longer work. As Debbie is a professional photographer, I can see the devastation brewing in her soul. She is a bit paralyzed and in disbelief. Nothing to do but keep hiking and calm down.
On a side note: We had been out on the trail three months, and I was trail weary. I was wishing for a short trip home to see my family. I just needed a break. Now, if it was me telling Debbie I needed a break, she would be all over me with: “You’re such a quitter! We need to keep going! If you go home, you won’t want to get back out here!” Which, of course, was not the case, but she always harbored a fear that I wouldn’t come back out! So I just prayed about it and kept it to myself.
Back to our story: After Debbie calmed down, she decided the best option was to go home to find a replacement camera! (See how prayer works!) One option was to hike through the Evolution Wilderness to Bishop Pass without her camera, hike out 13 miles and hitch into Bishop, where we’d catch a bus home. She couldn’t bring herself to go through one of the most beautiful areas of the Sierra without her camera. (Photographing the Sierra was what she’d dreamt of for years) We opted for Muir Trail Ranch; however, we weren’t even sure about MTR. We believe it is a place where you either hike or ride horses to get there. No idea really if it was a place to get off trail. But a check of our maps showed a trail to Florence Lake and a campground where it may be possible to hitch out with someone camping there. We sat at the trail intersection and rolled the dice for Florence Lake, only an 8-mile hike off-trail.
We were joined by another hiker who was experiencing elevation sickness who wanted to get off-trail. While on a break, we chatted and shared each other’s trail experiences. He knew of a water taxi on Lake Florence that would take us across the lake, saving an additional 4-mile hike to the campground. Great news! Keep in mind the remoteness of where we are. As it was, it was amazing that we met another person!
There would be a couple hours to wait for the water taxi, so we sat in the shade, chatted, and enjoyed the beauty around us. Then out of the blue, a couple of young guys walked off the trail. When our new friend mentioned to them how far Debbie and I had already hiked and how long we’d been out, one of the guys pulled his sunglasses down to give us ‘that look of amazement’ we were getting those days. After learning our story about trying to get home, One of the guys said, “We have a boat! We’ll take you across.” Debbie and I looked at each other and replied, “Yes Please”
Not only did we get across the lake, it turns out that they live near Bakersfield, several hours’ drive from the lake, and closer to home where it would be easier for us to get either bus or train home. After buying them dinner, they dropped us off at a motel for the night. Debbie’s daughter drove to Bakersfield to pick us up the following day!
Bonus: We learned from Dylan that he had always wanted to be a trail angel for hikers! So not only did we get a ride relatively close to home, I got my break from the trail, Debbie got an even better camera, and Dylan’s dream to be a trail angel was fulfilled. See how everything falls into place? Proving once again that our journey is truly blessed and the trail provides.
Now every story has two sides. Debbie’s take on it is a little different but you’ll have to get that story from her! Follow Debbie’s Instagram @TheWrinkledWanderer or to see her photography go to www.DebbieShifferPhoto.com
My story is meant for Women Hikers and Backpackers in the 40-50-60+ age range to inspire and motivate you to get out walking, hiking and backpacking. It all began over 20 years ago when I learned about long thru hikes. My dream became reality in 2019 when I hiked 800 miles of the Pacific Crest Trail. I want to encourage and motivate women ‘of a certain age’ to get out there and enjoy all the wonders, beauty and challenges of hiking and backpacking.
Music is from CD ‘Now and Then” used by permission of Wood & Strings. The song is “Liberty.”