When you are walking on a trail, you put one foot in front of another, and when you are writing about the trail, you put one word after another as you describe it.
But on the trail, sometimes you have to pause and reflect. Am I hungry or thirsty? Hot or cold? Tired or energized? You can look at how far you have come, and how far you have left to go.
And so it is in writing, too: I pause here to reflect on what brought me to the trail, and its significance in my life. And to do that, I have to look back at how far I have come, back to the summer and fall of 1974, when two events changed my life forever.
That summer, I was seven years old, and my family went on our first overnight backpacking trip in the back country at Yosemite National Park. My sister and I carried small red rucksacks. We hiked three miles, camped overnight, had our food stolen by a bear, and hiked out the next day.
I was enthralled.
A few months later, I lay in a hospital bed, fighting for my life. I had osteomyelitis, spinal meningitis, pneumonia, a deep vein thrombosis and a pulmonary embolism. No one knew how or why I got sick. No one thought I was going to make it.
In the 1970s, no one really thought much about child psychology. Everyone was relieved that I survived and no one really wanted to talk about it much. I didn’t want to talk about it either. But for a long time, I didn’t really believe that I was ever going to grow up. I was so scared of how I had almost died, out of the blue, that I found it hard to think about the future.
Over the years, I have struggled over time with the physical fallout of that illness, and also struggled to allow the traumatic feelings from that time to surface. I became an expert at tamping them down. But as time has passed, I have become more successful at integrating the experience into my life. I acknowledge that it happened, but I also don’t allow it to define me.
But as I approached my 50th birthday, I felt that it was important to do something special. Something big. I thought about my love of the outdoors, of my first backpacking trip that summer. And the Tour du Mont Blanc trip kept coming to mind.
So as I pause on this journey of writing and hiking, I’m looking back to 1974, to that little girl who really wasn’t sure she was going to make it to adulthood. And I want to tell you, honey: Your life is beautiful. And you are still enthralled with the outdoors.