Just over a year ago, my oldest son, Daniel, planted a seed. As a Father’s Day gift, he sent me a book titled “Plan & Go: High Sierra Trail,” by Zebulon Wallace. “We should do this Dad,” he told me at the time.
The possibility of going on a multi-day backpacking trip with my son did peak my interest. The High Sierra Trail is a 72-mile trek through the Sequoia National Forest. It involves summiting Mt. Whitney, which, at 14,500 feet in elevation, is the highest mountain in the “lower 48” states.
So yes, the idea did intrigue me, but I figured the chance of it happening was fairly small. Little did I know.
The prospect of actually doing this hike intensified last fall, and by the first of this year, we were in full planning mode. My son had even brought a couple more buddies on board, which would mean this old man was accompanied on the hike by three Navy divers, and one of them is a medic. How could I go wrong with support like that?
Preparing for an adventure of this nature is quite a process. First of all, it involves a considerable amount of gear, and since it is all carried on one’s back, the lighter, the better. I became well acquainted with REI, the outdoor store, and I quickly learned that lighter weight means more expensive. But with the help of some friends who already had a lot of backpacking gear, I was able to round up everything I needed.
Once the gear was taken care of, there was still of lot of planning involving when to do the hike, how many days to spend doing it, where we might want to camp along the way and how we would handle transportation on both ends of this point-to-point trip.
During this early preparation process, I learned another valuable lesson. This same son was planning a wedding ceremony, which was set for a month before our hike. During a FaceTime conversation involving my wife, me and the younger Card couple, I made the mistake of bringing up the topic of the hike. Based on the look on the faces of my wife and daughter-in-law, and the silence that followed, I realized the wedding was the priority — in fact the only topic open for discussion — and the hike talk was quickly put on hold.
The actual seven-day backpacking trip took place the final week of June — the other two guys ended up not making it, so it was just Daniel and me. I had spent a lot of time training, but what my mind told me was adequate preparation actually fell a bit short of the mark. I have done four over-and-back crossings of the Grand Canyon in the last seven years, and surely this couldn’t be any more difficult than that, right? Wrong. I can honestly say this was the hardest physical challenge I have ever undertaken in my 61 years of life. Packing 40-plus pounds on my back was made even more difficult by the fact most of the hike took place between 8,000 and 14,500 feet of elevation — that’s pretty thin air for a guy who lives at sea level.
On more than one occasion, I wondered what I had gotten myself into. And my son actually admitted to contemplating how, in a worst-case scenario, he would carry me out of the wilderness. But we both persevered, and with Daniel taking on some of the weight from my pack, we met our goal of summiting Mt. Whitney and entering our names into the logbook on top of the mountain. It was an emotionally charged experience for us both, and one we will never forget. In fact, throughout the entire trip, we created memories that will last a lifetime.
This kind of adventure isn’t for everyone — having a screw loose upstairs is probably a prerequisite. But it did remind me that we all have things on our bucket list. It could be a physical challenge like this, or maybe just something you’ve always wanted to do but have been putting off. All too often we are tempted to say, “Maybe someday.” But someday might never come. We just don’t know how many more tomorrows we’ll get.
A friend of mine once said, “You may be older than you’ve ever been before, but you’re younger than you’ll ever be again.” How true! As long as you’re still breathing, it’s never too late to try some new adventure. I believe life is meant to be lived, and sometimes that means stepping outside of your comfort zone. The rewards will be well worth it.