This guest post was a winning entry in our “For the Love of Mom” contest. I couldn’t get over Alyssa’s photos, her story and came away inspired to one day do the same with my own daughter and/or mother. Thank you, Alyssa, for sharing your story!
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Feeling every pebble under my boots more intensely with each step, I grew anxious as I paced up and down the trail, looking for a suitable campsite for the night. Mom hiked along happily behind me, pointing out the beautiful lakes of Island Pass and not paying any attention to the impending thunderstorm that could fry us if we chose our spot poorly.
I was frustrated for more reasons than one. This was my first backpacking trip without a more experienced outdoors-person to guide me, and this was her first unsupported backpacking trip, ever. Going from student to teacher in one day is a tough mental gymnastic, especially when you’re now teacher to your mom! I was 5 days into a 23 day through hike, my feet were killing me, and I was feeling very overwhelmed.
After a few loops around the small lake we found a site that fit our requirements and I promptly headed down to the waterside to get some fresh air–I mean, cry my eyes out. Mom, of course, knew exactly what was going on. She “made camp” for a while to give me a few minutes to wallow in self pity before she picked her way down to the rocky shore, quite the spectacle in her long underwear, socks, and camp sandals. In the way that only moms can, she talked me out of my pity party and left me knowing that I was going to kick this trail’s ass.
I knew that taking the time to walk over 200 miles on the John Muir Trail would result in finding a little more of myself, but I didn’t know it would also reintroduce me to my mom.
Making the decision to hike the JMT was easy. Telling my parents, on the other hand, was terrifying. Historically we are not a very outdoorsy family, as we generally vacationed in cities rather than wilderness and camping was never on the agenda. I worried for weeks about the right way to tell my family that I was planning to hike alone for almost a month and when the time came to break the news, I did a terrible job.
I told them in the car. At first they didn’t believe me, but as they realized I was serious the car went quiet. Their few words made it clear: in their eyes it was foolish and selfish for someone to put themselves in such “undeniable danger.”
Though my delivery was awful (in so many ways) I knew that with a little persistence I could convince my parents that the JMT would be a great experience for me. Over the next few weeks I started sending my mom links to blogs of women who had hiked the JMT alone, making sure to pick examples full of gorgeous photos – she’s a sucker for a good photo op! It was not surprising to get a phone call a few weeks later and hear that she’d read the material I sent and was impressed – the JMT looked beautiful and the accounts of the women who had gone alone made it seem much less dangerous than she had originally believed it to be.
Before we said goodbye she had one more thing to add – that she would like to hike a bit of the JMT with me, if I would have her. I was floored. I had all the confidence in the world that I could change my parents’ impression of solo hiking, but I never thought I might inadvertently get them involved in the outdoor world that I’d grown to love. Without a moment’s hesitation, the trip evolved to include a mother-daughter leg: 36.5 miles from Tuolumne Meadows to Red’s Meadow.
On the trail we spent our time enjoying breathtaking vistas, overcoming fears of (gasp!) pooping in the woods, and learning all sorts of things about one another. In this day of smartphones and megamalls and cineplexes it’s amazing how easy it is to spend time with people without being truly present. Out in the wilderness, silly jokes and word games take the place of apps and tv shows, and it is so much more rewarding.
I didn’t set out to hike the JMT with my mom, but I am so glad that she asked to join me. I think it’s hard to see your mom as her own person while you’re growing up, since she’s always the one looking out for you. This time our roles were reversed, with me looking out for her, and it was like getting to know a whole new person. Every day brought a new Tina: the tenacious side that kept her moving up a very steep cliff, the adventurous side that overcame a fear of log bridges, and the athletic side that pushed through sore muscles to make our daily mileage. Of course, the side that was “my mom” was always there as well, with a quick word of encouragement to keep us moving along. I often look back and think about how lucky I was to have my mom by my side on this adventure, and look forward to many more.
Alyssa Pelletier is an outdoor blogger and adventure enthusiast. Recently when she’s not running or biking with her dog Hilde, she’s been spending most of her time converting her full-sized school bus into an RV built for exploring. To read more about her adventures, visit outsidefound.com. You can also find Alyssa on Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter.
This post was written exclusively for Tales of a Mountain Mama in response to the For the Love of Mom writing contest.
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