Interests & Travels

John Muir Trail Blog

A personal record of the John Muir Trail Hike to raise funds for financial aid for students of Pitzer College. 

About this blog

Posted on Thursday, February 14th, 2013 at 11:47 pm.

Written by Laura Skandera Trombley

This blog shares my experiences as I train for and then hike the John Muir Tail, from Mono Meadows to Whitney Portal.  It’s my way to share this great adventure with the wider world, and hopefully incentivize me and perhaps others who are thinking about starting exercise programs.

I’m looking for sponsors who will support me in raising funds for student financial aid. I figure it will take a village to get me to the finish line and you are all members of my town. Your $1, $5 or $10 per mile pledge will go to the John Skandera Memorial Scholarship, which I established for 1st generation students and to help deserving young people get an education that will take them higher and further in their lives.

Along the hike, as often as my iPhone allows, I’ll be posting updates and photos here.


My Training Begins

Posted on Sunday, February 17th, 2013 at 3:31 pm.

Unveiled my blog at the State of the College talk yesterday and decided that the training starts today. Woke up and walked 2.2 miles this morning. A beautiful day in Claremont and along the way I listened to the birds sing and saw a hummingbird feeding on flowers.

A friend of mine, Rusty Keely also a walker and backpacker of some renown, told me that in his daily walks he always tries to find something beautiful that he can tuck away and remember the rest of the day. Good advice that I plan on taking. Yesterday, as a farewell to my pre-training existence, I had a huge slab of prime rib at dinner, a whipped cream coffee drink, and two cocktails. Well, as of today I plan on reforming my eating habits and trying to really focus on a healthy diet. I figure anything that might help me walk over two hundred miles is worth trying.


Added a Quarter Mile to My Walk

Posted on Monday, February 18th, 2013 at 3:39 pm.

2.44 Miles this morning.


Walked in the Rain

Posted on Tuesday, February 19th, 2013 at 11:58 am.

2.52 miles this morning.

Walked in the rain, nice but a little chilly.

Juiced for the first time in months. Carrot, red pepper, apple. Actually, it tasted great.


Pilates, Pain & 2.45 Miles

Posted on Wednesday, February 20th, 2013 at 12:06 pm.

Woke up 5:15. Pilates at 6:00. Looking forward to the day that I will be able to do all the reps! But getting better before my leg muscles are locked and it hurts too much to keep jump-boarding.

After Pilates walked 2.45 miles.

Total Miles:  9.61


2.66 and Counting

Posted on Thursday, February 21st, 2013 at 10:48 am.

Walked 2.66 miles this morning. I passed the 10-mile mark!

Total Miles to date:  12.27

Countdown to July 26 – Start of our John Muir Trail Hike:  156 days


Music Helps

Posted on Friday, February 22nd, 2013 at 10:04 am.

I don’t want to walk this morning. It’s cold, I’m tired but after procrastinating as long as I could I forced myself to put on my shoes and my hat and gloves and I’m out the door.

Am getting to know all of the early morning dog walkers and what might actually help break up the monotony of walking is if I listen to music on my iPod. So I (legally) downloaded an album of Fleetwood Mac covers (alright, I confess I was a Fleetwood Mac fan back in the day) and so far my favorite song the “Think About Me” version by the New Pornographers.

3.19–broke the three mile mark!  Total Miles to date: 15.46

Countdown to the start of our John Muir Trail Hike on July 26:  155 days



Posted on Saturday, February 23rd, 2013 at 9:26 am.

Never used a technogym crossover before. Seemed suspiciously easy so I doubled the time and increased the tension.

Watched Joan Rivers critique fashion while I swayed back and forth. On to free weights and crunches…


Via e-mail from Philip Johnson P’13


You have an interesting Summer ahead. While I’m sure you will be well coached, my memory of the little mountaineering I’ve done (thirty years ago) was the emphasis on proper breathing in order to reduce the effects of Lactic acid build up in the legs, referred to then as pressure breathing on a four-step count – inhale through the nose three times in step with a forced exhale through the mouth on the fourth step – for me it worked a trick but if I broke the pattern I felt it immediately. Have a great year.



Thanks, Phil!


Morning Expresso

Posted on Sunday, February 24th, 2013 at 12:18 pm.

2 Mile sprint on this super cool video gamish spin cycle — best part is if i ram my cyber bike into the biker in front of me I can vaporize them! And then 8 miles on the side-to-side treadmill. Now a few light weights and I will celebrate with a glass of fresh vegetable and fruit juice. Feeling pretty good!

Total Miles to date: 23.46

Days to the start of our John Muir Trail Hike on July 26:  153


4-Plus Miles

Posted on Tuesday, February 26th, 2013 at 9:02 am.

4.09 miles. A new record for walking around town.

I took yesterday off. I’ll use my girlfriend’s birthday, the oscars and everything else I can think of as a rationale. My plan, as much as I have one, is to do two weeks of walking at 5 miles a day, mixed in with lifting and Pilates, and after that I will start walking with my hiking boots on to break them in.  We’ll see….

Check out our new countdown clock to departure on July 26.  It’s tick, tick, ticking away to the right of this posting.

Also posted is a log of my training miles walked to date.


Wednesday Morning

Posted on Wednesday, February 27th, 2013 at 11:01 am.

Pilates today and walked 4.92 miles.


Broke the 5-Mile Barrier

Posted on Thursday, February 28th, 2013 at 9:48 am.

This morning while listening to “Where Does the Good Go” by Tegan and Sara, I started to walk after procrastinating for about 20 minutes.

After reaching the 5-mile mark yesterday, I had a great feeling, almost like a runner’s high. That dissipated by the end of the day and I had trouble sleeping, which makes it hard to force myself to get up and strap on the walking shoes again.

Snow on the San Gabriel Mountain Peaks

Morning walk headgear

By the end, I managed 5 miles and the walk/forced march started to improve after the Aleve® started to kick in, and my favorite song of the morning is the Fleetwood Mac cover, “Hold Me,” by Haim.


5 Miles… and Then Some

Posted on Friday, March 1st, 2013 at 12:38 pm.




No Walking Today

Posted on Saturday, March 2nd, 2013 at 9:11 am.

Did free weights, crunches, and yoga while Wrinkles, the wonder dog, determinedly played dead lest I might ask her to throw in a sun salutation.


Bought Boots

Posted on Saturday, March 2nd, 2013 at 4:10 pm.

Bought boots! Hope they work. There was a little track to test them on. They seem fine.

Tags: boots, John Muir Trail


Walking This Morning

Posted on Sunday, March 3rd, 2013 at 7:00 am.

Listening to the bluegrass version of Jack White’s “Love Interruption.”

5.6 Miles, set new record, and followed up with some really tough Pilates. The no fun or messing around class.


Monday, Monday

Posted on Monday, March 4th, 2013 at 8:00 am.

Today had to get vaccinations and dental work. I do not care for either. Not in the mood for walking.


Tuesday Travel

Posted on Wednesday, March 6th, 2013 at 7:15 am.

Arrived at hotel and headed to workout room. Walked two miles on treadmill. No time for more.

(The following is an email exchange I had with Michael Pearlman.)

Hi Laura,
Just noticed your email on Training for JMT. A group of friends and I are in the foothills almost every morning. We usually cover at least 5 miles and sometime have tea after. Great training group. Normally start at Marshall Canyon Monday. It’s a good group of interesting people. Love to have you join us when you have time.

When I’m back in town I’ll contact you for a date.

Wonderful. You will enjoy the hike and group.


Wednesday, the 7th of March

Posted on Thursday, March 7th, 2013 at 9:56 am.

(What follows is an email to my doubting friend Ann Ryan who offered to pay me to not hike.)

Subject: Seriously what could go wrong?

I’m 52, missing a disc in my back due to a discectomy 10 years ago, my feet blister with a harsh glance, and I hate the cold and intense body odors.

To paraphrase Dorothy Parker–I’ll be perfectly fine.

And I didn’t have time to work out today.


2 Miles With a View

Posted on Thursday, March 7th, 2013 at 4:12 pm.

I ran two miles this morning on the hotel treadmill.

Here was my view from the gym.


Frozen Friday

Posted on Friday, March 8th, 2013 at 10:31 pm.

Plane hell. Spent 13 1/2 hours in transit from NYC to LAX. We sat on the tarmac for 2 1/2 hours being repeatedly de-iced.

By the time I finally arrived in Claremont, I hiked myself over the couch and collapsed.

Tomorrow I walk again!


Wild Week

Posted on Friday, March 15th, 2013 at 9:59 am.

Walked 4.8 miles this morning.

Crazy week: work, work, work; girlfriend broke her shoulder… I rushed her to the emergency room, kept her ice pack filled… she’s on painkillers… much sympathy.

Took this Zen flower picture today. I plan on getting active over spring break. Will put on boots! Right now they just sit in the corner daring me.


Boots Made For Walking

Posted on Saturday, March 16th, 2013 at 11:58 am.

5.6 miles today. A little pinching on the baby toe and need smaller socks, but all in all very encouraging!


Spinning, No Way Around It

Posted on Monday, March 18th, 2013 at 8:32 am.

I hate spinning. I hate spin class with the kind of white hot intensity that is really difficult to describe. I hate spin class even more when I haven’t been to spin class in at least a month, then it’s just pure agony. In fact it’s almost Nietzschean in the sense that you peddle like hell and go nowhere; however, you know you exist because after an hour you are totally spent and dripping with sweat.

My spin class teacher’s name is Gary, like Cher, like Michelangelo–there really is no equivalent in the spin world; in fact yesterday he had been working with two of his clients who both ran the LA marathon and I guess just for laughs and giggles he decided to run a half marathon with them.  My reaction as a sign of solidarity if I knew two people who were running a marathon would be to go have an ice cream and a nap. Ah well. He then went and did an hour and a half spin class via Skype, then he came in to do my hour spin class all the while appearing fresh as a daisy. Who in the hell does that? At any rate I survived my little micro training session, by comparison, and as I was spinning and pretty much hating every moment of it I remembered a piece that I wrote last year after I went to my very first spin class that I thought I would share. The working out continues…..


My First Spin Class

Laura Skandera Trombley

Disclaimer: I will try anything if it’s free.

I woke up at 6:00 a.m. so by the time my coffee was ready I was already running late. Quickly walking the block from my place to “Pedals,” home of Claremont’s newest spin studio, I gulped my strong brew. Arriving a few minutes before the start time, 6:30, the bubbly instructor took my first class free coupon and kindly adjusted the bike to accommodate my giraffe-like legs. “We want to make sure there’s no tension on the knees,” she told me. I responded that it would be great if at least one part of my body didn’t feel tense.

O.K. I would like someone to explain how the design aesthetic of this place was chosen. Looking around the darkened studio with flashing green and red lights, complete with a disco ball and pounding, bass-driven music, I wondered if this was supposed to evoke a subtle Studio 54 ambiance and that I’d be fooled into thinking this was cool and fun?

Sizing up the other participants it was obvious that various levels of experience were in the house: two wiry women with huge calves seated themselves in the front of the room wearing actual biking shoes; two resigned looking women took their places in the middle; one hunched-over woman sitting on the bike closest to the door looked like she really wanted to be at Starbucks drinking a mocha latte and eating a doughnut; and half-asleep me. I took the last bike in the back row on the right side and decided the depressed, chunky woman was my ally.

The night before at Pilates I casually mentioned that I was taking a spin class in the morning and my ultra fit, zero body fat instructor cautioned me to wear clothes that would allow me to “breathe.” Apparently crucial in the act of spinning. She also cheerily said, “have a great time,” and muttered under her breath, “in about 10 weeks.” With some misgivings, I went home and reviewed my various workout ensembles. Not so much breathing room there. I decided to wear the Mexican bike shorts I bought last summer in Cabo (July, 107 degrees in the shade). I hate bike shorts but when I had unpacked my backpack I realized that I’d somehow managed to forget my workout clothes and there were no long exercise pants to be purchased. Until now the bike shorts had never been worn north of the border, but I figured it was dark and early enough that no one I knew would see me in them.

Lady Gaga is unleashed and we begin spinning. I’m thinking not so bad, I can just cruise along. Even the seat isn’t that annoying. The instructor keeps saying “turn to the right,” and I dutifully twist at the waist until I realize that she wasn’t asking us to physically turn, like we are stretching our obliques, but to twist the little knob on the bike. As soon as I turn the knob to the right I realize I am in big trouble. All of a sudden I’m dragging 50 pounds behind me. The large-calved women in front look inspired, the two middle women dutifully keep pumping, and the sad women pedals very slowly. Within two minutes my thighs are screaming, begging me to stop this nonsense, asking to go home, open a bottle of wine, slap a Sade CD on the player, and take a long hot bath. I sneak a quick twist to the left and continue peddling.

We all peddle along with our peppy instructor who occasionally barks out instructions that I can’t hear due to the volume level of the music. I just hear fragments: “in three we’ll all start,” “here’s the big mountain and it’s going to be a hard,” “twist to the right until you feel….” After climbing two invisible Mt. Kilimanjaros, I decided the time had come to coast down an invisible Mt. Everest. Halfway through, our leader leapt off her bike and wandered around whispering encouragement and tightening knobs. When she reached me she picked up the towel that had fallen to the floor and wrapped it around my handlebar, sympathetically patted me on the shoulder and gave me a thumbs up.

With about 20 minutes to go my legs hurt so much that I couldn’t really feel them anymore. I just kept spinning and spinning and suddenly realized that despite a lifetime of social conditioning by my mother to never perspire, only to glow, I was sweating so much I could have been hooked-up to a desalination plant. With the disco version of Adele’s “Someone Like You” pounding away I was barely able to make out my instructor’s words when she cheerily sang out: “just three more songs and then we can stop.” Thank God! Then I realized that these were all extended play remixes and that I was completely screwed. By the time we had finished the last incredibly long version of Lady Gaga’s “You and I,” a song I didn’t like before and hate now, I was done, done, done. Legs shaking, I staggered off into the grey Claremont morning.

And I’m going back on Thursday–it’s half price.


Lost in REI Wonderland

Posted on Wednesday, March 20th, 2013 at 2:29 pm.

Spent two hours of quality time at the REI in Arcadia today consulting with Larry Grill and Brian Keeley about equipment for the big hike. Larry, who has backpacked roughly three thousand miles–and that’s just last weekend–is an excellent resource and Brian has done his fair share as well. Me? Let’s say it’s limited to 30 years ago using my brother’s boy scout cloth backpack.

Our incredibly experienced and expert REI salesperson Jeff, who managed to casually work into the conversation that he had hiked the Appalachian trail, was happy to provide mind boggling statistics, liter sizes, metal weights, down density per half inch, and on and on and on. I really just wanted someone to point and say take this one, since I had no idea what he was talking about and I don’t care what the color is on anything, just that it is as light as possible.

There was testing of the sleep mats, I wiggled into the sleeping bag to make sure I fit, and then the “fun” part began road-testing the back pack to see how it felt. What I didn’t realize that the crafty REI guy had put 35 pounds of sandbags in the pack. I nearly flipped over backwards. A sneaky little Gollum-like voice in the back of my head started whispering, “you’re screwed my precious; there’s no way ums can walk the Trail with the backpack. Give me my ring.”

Banish thee!!! I’ll have no words of doubt, yet. There’s plenty of time to go before I hit the trail. Only positive thoughts right now.

Highlights included Brian handing me a roadmap and Larry giving me a compass. Let me tell you. If I get lost, I’m bear food. There’s no way I am using a map and a compass to find my way out of the wilderness. Also, if the other 9 people in the party have disappeared then clearly I’m next and I should just sit down to await my awful fate. Truth be told, I can’t figure out how to take the right exit out of a Manhattan subway station. I decided to humor them, “oh yes, right-o, these will come in handy,” and put them in the basket.

When I was checking out with the mountain of equipment apparently needed to lead the simple life, I met the fabulous Amy Weinstein, Pitzer ’79 who asked me if I was an REI member. “Of course,” I returned, and proceeded to give her two telephone numbers that didn’t come up. She asked me my name, I told her and she asked, “Are you the Pitzer Laura Trombley?” Surprised, I said “yes.” That’s when she shared she was an alumna. She said she didn’t recognize me because I had cut my hair. Yes, I had the haircut yesterday, and it is in a word “short.” OK, make that super short-nearly bald, and I am very happy with it. Time for a change and I really don’t want to mess with hair in the wilderness. Amy’s son has applied to Pitzer and is trying to make up his mind between his mother’s alma mater and another Claremont College that shall remain nameless. Hey, Amy’s son! Do the right thing! Go Sagehens!

Larry Grill glances at a Thermarest label.

Shopping for the right backpack

Checking out at REI


Why did the chicken cross the road?

Posted on Monday, March 25th, 2013 at 1:00 am.

Well, my working out plan over spring break didn’t quite go as I would’ve liked, since aside from a few walks and some orbital work and not very much weight training I really pretty much took the week off. In my defense (I am now rationalizing, not exercising) it wasn’t a break for me. Anyway this morning I’m back hitting the mean streets of Claremont. While the working out didn’t exactly take a huge step forward, I did manage to put together a very cool playlist for my upcoming trip to Nepal to visit our Pitzer program. I leave on Friday and of course I’m kicking it off with Bob Seger’s “Katmandu.”

And just when I was thinking yet another round of walking on the city streets when I should be wearing my hiking boots or I should be walking the Claremont Wilderness Trail or I should have gotten out of bed at 5 a.m. when I originally set my alarm—all of a sudden I ran across the wild roosters pecking away on Claremont Blvd. and somehow everything just seems okay. This all leads me to my best new joke: “Why did the chicken cross the road?” “To get away from hiking the John Muir trail.”

4.4 miles today.


Tuesday Training

Posted on Tuesday, March 26th, 2013 at 9:58 am.

Did a quick 30 minute walk today and then did the actually lighter Pilates class, which means I wasn’t in agony by the end. I feel like class should have been harder.

Ah well, perhaps the 5 mile Nature Trail tomorrow in boots??? On a lighter note, this cartoon shows my fantasy pack. No more than 3 pounds…..


A Practice Tramp

Posted on Thursday, March 28th, 2013 at 12:30 pm.

Written by Sasha Heinen

Sasha checking in, I’m one of the student leaders for the John Muir Trail. I just got back from a backpacking trip myself, and thought y’all might find some bits pretty interesting. The Escalante National Monument in southern Utah doesn’t bear much resemblance to the terrain we’ll be facing come July, with hardy flora, cattle ranches, and gorgeous geological formations, including banded hills as seen above, towering plateaus, and plummeting canyons in between. However, it does have the advantage of not being too snowy this time of year, so a few friends and I took advantage of our spring break to get some trail miles in, traversing Hackberry Canyon and the Paria River, with a few side trips along the way.

The John Muir Trail was constantly in the back of my mind through our six day, 55 mile canyonlands adventure. Even though the trip was primarily flat, our ten mile days were hampered by deep, soft sand and river mud, which made walking for any length of time exhausting. So far this semester (since January) I’ve been taking extra time out to run and climb and go on regular weekend hikes in preparation for the JMT, and it was intensely gratifying to see that work pay off – rather than lagging behind or wallowing in muscle pain, I was constantly itching to go, to walk more, to see what was beyond that next bend in the trail.

I tried out some of the practices that I’ll be employing on the JMT as well as matching the daily mileage, planning for a longer timescale with clothing and self-care. I brought only one duplicate of each article of clothing – two shirts, two pairs of socks, two pairs of underwear, etc., and rather than just letting them get dirty on the hike (i.e., falling into the “I’ll be back in Claremont in three days, let’s just stick it out!” mentality) I washed the set that I wasn’t wearing and tied them through the loops of my backpack to dry as I walked. The technique was new to me, but I’ve already decided that I’m never going back: every night I had sun-dried, warm, relatively clean clothes to snuggle into.

Getting out into the wilderness did what it always does: allows you to refocus on the habits and relationships that you value the most in your day-to-day life, separate from the vices and distractions that come with being a college student. This backpack was my last long one before the JMT, as I won’t have the time again between school and work this summer. There will be plenty of day hikes and overnights in between now and then, but I savored every moment of isolation in the canyons and deltas of Escalante. At the end of the day, though, my heart lies in the mountains: while our desert journey was breathtaking, I’m already dreaming of sequoias and Whitney.


Sizing up the Sitzuation

Posted on Thursday, March 28th, 2013 at 1:01 pm.

There was a lot of whimpering this morning in Pilates and this time it wasn’t just me. Walking in I didn’t realize that today was the Thursday salute to Sitz bones.

Now for years my Sitz bones have been rather under the radar, so to speak, really offering no harm to anyone; in fact I would describe them as shy and retiring. However, today I discovered that with just the right contortions on the Pilates reformer you’ll discover that there’s a whole network of nerves connected to that area and you can easily begin to visualize your Sitz bones as the unseen enemy.

Half way through class our instructor informed us that our Sitz bones were connected to our feet and to our obliques. I figured she had to be correct, since by that time everything hurt. Whimper, whimper.

I am going to try and find some quality time this evening to have a long conversation with my Sitz bones and encourage them to become more productive and user-friendly in the future. I also realized that it has become my practice at the end of every Pilates class, after I have collapsed into child’s pose wishing I never had to move again, to whisper: “I’m a dead woman.” So walking away into the early morning Claremont morning for a quick power stride before heading to work, I made two resolutions: one, treat the Sitz with greater deference, and two, try and say something a little more positive when Pilates class finishes. Something simple, like what Gene Wilder said in “Young Frankenstein“.

And this morning I encountered the wild cats of Claremont forging in the wilderness. (Sounds like Mutual of Omaha.) Ok, not really. Just my two cats, Fondant and Ruru, peering out my condo window checking for dogs.


Dispatch from Bhutan and Nepal

Posted on Thursday, April 11th, 2013 at 8:36 am.

From the Hong Kong airport

“Mero naam Laura ho”

If you don’t know what I just wrote, well the loss is yours because that means you have never been on the Pitzer in Nepal program. Right now I am on the last few hours of an absolutely amazing trip to visit our program staff, faculty and students there and I am currently waiting to jump on the last airplane in Hong Kong headed to LAX.

Margie Donahue has been the program director in Nepal for the past 30 years—that’s right, I said 30 YEARS—and she is incredible. The logistics of making this program run smoothly are unbelievably complicated—trust me, crossing the street in Kathmandu unscathed is a challenge—but she makes it all work like clear mountain water running down a Himalayan mountain in springtime. She mounts a program in a place where a drop of water ingested with your meal could mean a world of gastrointestinal distress, where power flickers on and off, where the path you take on your way to work might be blocked by a giant Nepali bull or a stalled bus, and where state governance is a concept unpracticed at the current time. In short, she is a miracle worker with remarkable resilience and dedication.

Before landing in Nepal, I traveled to Bhutan for three days—I figured, how often are you in the neighborhood? I was welcomed at the airport by Dan Ward, emeritus professor of political studies. How totally great is that, to arrive in a mountainous former kingdom, now newly-created democracy, along with Margot Levin Schiff, our longest serving Pitzer College trustee (25 years no less and two of her children are alumni) and to see a familiar face! Dan’s partner Julia received a Fulbright to develop language curriculum at the college level. Since my purpose in visiting Bhutan was multipurpose, including representing the Fulbright commission, it was fantastic that Julia was awarded one of the very few that go to Bhutan. I have been very curious about Bhutan for several years now, have read a great deal about it and was fortunate to arrange meetings with the minister for Gross National Happiness, wearing the red sash and a sword with his gho, the Vice Chancellor for their university system, also sash, sword and gho, and the director of the center for Bhutanese studies, wearing just the gho—sans sword.

Great conversations all, and the highlight of my trip there was lecturing at the Royal Thimphu University to roughly one hundred students and faculty about the ONLY American literature book that all college students are required to read in Bhutan that they consider representative of America–yes, you guessed it–the Adventures of Huckleberry Finn. Such a wild, wonderful, surreal and fantastic treat. The students were really shy at first and by the end of our 2 1/2 hours together we were holding a Pitzer-style dialogue with lots of questions and comments.

Margot and I arrived early in the morning in Nepal to be warmly greeted by Mike Donahue and Prakash Kandel. We joined additional trustees, Bridget Baker (and her son Beckett), Rick D’Avino (with his niece Jill), Bill Brunger (along with his wife Melinda), and Paula Pretlow. We enjoyed extensive conversations with our nine Pitzer students, as well as 1 Scripps and 2 Pomona students.  Margot and I visited Gabriel’s host family for tea (incredible), had a number of lectures about Nepal’s political history, higher education system, and religious practices, and ended our visit with a lovely dinner with all the students at one of the host family homes. For years now, students who have been in our Nepal program have described it as life-changing, mind-opening, and a primer about what is essential in terms of human contact and communication. I now can really understand what they meant in their comments. The trustees and students all enthusiastically endorsed as part of the fall board meeting a reunion of our Nepal groups featuring milk tea and momos.

I ended my stay in Nepal with a Fulbright Foreign Scholarship reception, organized by USEF-Nepal Executive Director Laurie Vasily, that was well attended by current and former Fulbright Fellowship award winners. I was very pleased to be able to visit with Fulbrighters Vincent Giannotti ’12 and Anna O’Kain ’12 while I was there. Again, pretty amazing that on my Pitzer and Fulbright travels I keep reuniting with our students in the most interesting of places.

And all this prologue leads me to admitting that there wasn’t a lot of working out—OK, none—over the past week and a half. Zero, nix, bupkiss, nada. That having been said, there was a time change of 12 to 15 hours depending on the country we happened to be in, jet lag, air pollution in Kathmandu you could practically slice like a chunk of Velveeta, food that was at times an act of courage to ingest (the most challenging was the chili peppers covered with cheese sauce in Bhutan—the chilies were so hot that they burned my lips; I didn’t even want to think about what was going to happen to my intestinal tract) and I could go on and on. But enough excuses! I have lost some ground hiking-wise, but more than made up for it in terms of knowledge-base enrichment, friends-base enlargement, and my personal gross happiness index positive surge. Right now, I can’t wait to return to Claremont, lace up my hiking boots and hit the wilderness trail.



Posted on Wednesday, April 24th, 2013 at 1:43 pm.

I am feeling a bit like a hollowed out pumpkin these days. The night we left Kathmandu, Margot and I celebrated our trip with a Nepalese mojito. Let’s blame the mint. We were both struck down two days later and since then I’ve been on a, let’s say, rigorous regime of antibiotics.

I completed a course of treatment this past weekend and did a six mile hike on Saturday. After about mile five, I felt my boot pressing a bit too much on my toes. My too-tight hiking boot is currently deposited with Elliott, shoe repairer and cobbler extraordinaire on Yale Avenue in Claremont, and he is hopefully expanding my footprint.

My sleep pattern has yet to return to those halcyon pre-Nepal days where I would collapse around 10 p.m. and awake cheerful and ready to exercise at 5:30 a.m. Instead I am wide awake at midnight and feeling as though I am emerging from a coma at 7 a.m. So in order to try and recapture a more workable and less vampire-like routine, I am now forcing myself to wake up at 5:15 a.m. If I only have five hours of sleep so be it. I figure at some point I will start passing out earlier in the evening due to sheer sleep deprivation. We’ll see.

Since I was staggering around this morning I decided to hit the 6 a.m. Pilates class. As I am determined to adopt a more positive attitude about regular exercise, I will restrict my comment about this morning’s effort: Any exercise studio where the motto is “sweat, shake and burn” should be approached with great caution. Amazing how weak and tired I am after missing a couple of weeks of class. Ah well, I’ll chase post-class aches and pains with a dose of Aleve and get ready for work. It’s good to be back and my hiking boot is supposed to be ready for action on Friday.


May Day!

Posted on Wednesday, May 1st, 2013 at 11:49 am.

Today is May Day and a perfect day to restart the workout/fitness/diet regimen.

I’ll admit it was a bit sketchy after returning from Nepal; however, with the start of a new month, new resolutions can be made (and kept–fingers crossed). Did 6 a.m. Pilates this morning and then a quick 2.4-mile walk.

I plan on exercising EVERY DAY for the next month and will eliminate the Skittles portion of the afternoon.

Back to seasoned, dried kale for me–a delicious snack (not exactly, but it is filling).

And so, on this lovely May Day, allow me a Mark Twain moment:

“It’s spring fever…. You don’t quite know what it is you do want, but it just fairly makes your heart ache, you want it so!”


Back on Track

Posted on Friday, May 3rd, 2013 at 9:28 am.

Worked out on the elliptical machine today—2.6 miles covered.
Also did free weights and stomach crunches. I’m back!

This morning: Pilates and a quick half a mile power walk around Claremont. Something amazing happened in Pilates for the very first time—my instructor said, “Good job.” A few kind words go a loooong way.

Looking forward to alumni reunion this weekend!


The Art of Sauntering

Posted on Monday, May 6th, 2013 at 9:26 am.

“Thousands of tired, nerve-shaken, over-civilized people are beginning to find out going to the mountains is going home; that wilderness is a necessity…”
― John Muir

In other words, me. Am more and more looking forward to the trip, spending the time with my son and Pitzer folks. During alumni weekend, kind people who had been reading my blog were asking if I was prepared, ready and (I guess) willing to start the trip. Yes, I think so, and I am actually looking forward to the challenges we’ll face. I fully expect to be exhausted at times, to be amazed at the amount of moleskin on my feet by the end of the journey, to long for a shower and a good hot soak, and to miss my comfortable reading chair and ottoman. At the same time, I am bursting to be free of the expected and the usual. I can’t wait to pare down and carry everything I need on my back. Mine is a highly scheduled life. If I want to know where I will be the second week in November, I need only look at the schedule contained on my iPhone and I am sure most of the hours are already taken. Free time has not been a part of my life for a very long time. Instead, there are stolen hours or maybe days taken on holidays or school breaks. So I am thinking 21 days–21 whole days–where I will be free of imposed and necessary organization. I won’t wear a watch and I’ll wake up when the sun (or my son) tells me to. Birds, bears, streams and mountains will be part of our community (and hopefully good members). I plan to hold close and practice Thoreau’s observation: “It is a great art to saunter.” (April 26, 1841) Ready to start walking? Absolutely.

And as for my training efforts? Free weights and yoga yesterday. Today, two miles and free weights before jumping on a plane to Chicago. Am determined to work out every day this month. So far I am on track.


Nanook of the Southern Sierra

Posted on Friday, May 10th, 2013 at 2:35 pm.

Walked 4.3 miles today in the bright Claremont morning. While in Chicago I walked two miles on the elliptical machine where I was staying. I went out to dinner with my good friend Margot, who inquired if I was the oldest person on this hike (I think she is questioning my sanity in volunteering to go). All of a sudden I realized I was. Haven’t thought about it before, but the average age is probably about 20. Long-forgotten visions of Nanook of the North filled my head with the long-view shot of grandma set loose on the ice floe because she couldn’t chew walrus hide anymore. I’m pretty sure great portions of the movie (available via YouTube) were fake, but it worries me. Let’s say that as we’re hiking and there’s a sudden snow storm and we are trapped for weeks on a mountain peak like that Uruguayan rugby team in the movie Alive. I know who everyone will be looking at as a source of protein after a few days. No Way! And, of course, as people have been reminding me for the past few months, when you see a bear it’s only the person in the back of the pack that has to worry. That’s going to be me! I am going to do some wind sprints and build up my running skills. No back of the pack for me! And, yes, I will be seeing Gary for spin class on Sunday (sigh). I’m not going down without a fight.


It’s Come to This

Posted on Thursday, June 13th, 2013 at 3:57 pm.


Keeping It Light

Posted on Friday, June 14th, 2013 at 9:41 am.


The Bear Necessities

Posted on Thursday, June 20th, 2013 at 2:18 pm.


Overthinking It

Posted on Saturday, June 22nd, 2013 at 9:56 am.

“Bare minimum is my new name from this point on. The pack, not even half-filled, felt like a giant lead weight on my back.”

If endlessly ruminating about walking the John Muir Trail somehow translated into the physical act of doing so, I would have completed at least ten trips by now. As it stands, I have managed to take one “warm-up,” training hike up Icehouse Canyon with Spark, Brian, Karen, and Ruti a few weeks ago. Beautiful scenery, great weather and company, hard to believe this gorgeous wilderness is within 20 minutes of Claremont, we set out at approximately 5:00 p.m. at the Icehouse Canyon trailhead and hiked a quick couple of miles where we camped for the night. Along the way, I made copious notes about equipment I needed to pick up (amazing the amount one seems to need to lead the simple life–I can’t help thinking that John Muir, carrier of worn blanket, bread crusts and stalwart disposition, would have shaken his head appalled by all our gear) and much more importantly, what I should leave behind.

Our trip leaders are absolutely right, ONE pair of pants that zip into shorts for the entire trip, although lava would have to bubble up along the trail before I would wear shorts again, no cotton shirts (my t-shirt was drenched within half a mile), and in this one instance plastic baggies will be my new best friend. Two pairs of socks max (thank god my boots seem to be fairly well broken in, all credit going to Elliott, resident Claremont shoe repair expert), no swimsuit, no camp chair, etc. etc. Bare minimum is my new name from this point on. The pack, not even half-filled, felt like a giant lead weight on my back. O.K. a tiny note of alarm is sounding in the back of my skull, but I will put all my energy into ignoring it. Friends keep asking me if I am planning on fastening a GPS onto my body so the search planes can find me (note to self, find more friends willing to suspend their disbelief, kudos to Coleridge).

I was quite impressed with Sparkey’s skill set. First, he had already hiked Icehouse Canyon and knew where the secret heliport landing area was located; second, he immediately figured out how to set up the tent (although we wound up sleeping pointed in the wrong direction so our heads were crammed together, but our feet had lots of room–lesson learned); third, he loved the food Brian brought. Now, when I hiked portions of the John Muir trail a hundred million years ago with my best friend Annie, we packed ramen, cans of tuna and gorp. Why we decided on this rather limited diet is lost to my spotty memory. But we were so exhausted and starving by the end of the day it tasted great.

Brian introduced us to the brave new world of you can make anything, beef stroganoff, potato pie, rack of lamb, a Monte Cristo sandwich, cheese fondue, blueberry cobbler, by purchasing a packet containing the ingredients from REI, adding water and shaking it for 30 seconds–Voila! My son’s response to the evening meal was “this is great! I could eat this every night, seriously, every night.” Well my friend, the good news is that’s exactly what you are going to get to do, for 21 nights. As for me, I really don’t care what I eat as long as it is lighter than a feather to carry.

Clearly this is going to be one hell of a hike. I better go think about it some more.


A Movable Feast

Posted on Tuesday, July 2nd, 2013 at 2:42 pm.

Team member Sasha is gathering food for the hike. Mmmm…


My Father’s Lesson

Posted on Wednesday, July 10th, 2013 at 9:01 am.

Site of Thoreau’s cabin near Walden Pond

Well, the time pre-hike is growing shorter and I have resumed my daily workouts and my equipment is spread out all over the couch. Next week, Spark and I will do the final countdown and weigh our packs—it goes without saying that his will be a lot heavier than mine.

Over the past few months friends and acquaintances have repeatedly asked me why am I undertaking such a long trip. My short reply is that the distance didn’t seem so far a year ago when I first discussed the idea with Pitzer students.

Some people seem to regard the John Muir Trail trip as a form of torture, living sans indoor plumbing and a comfortable mattress. Others wonder what emergency measures are in place in the event that something awful happens (the mind races at the possibilities—bears, bobcats, snakes—oh my!). There are those who think it sounds cool and wish they could take the time off to join our group. And, just to cut to the chase because I keep getting asked, I am not in fabulous shape. I was really focused for a while but through travel, work and lack of time, i.e. laziness, I will admit that I’ve fallen off the fitness wagon. The first week on the trail will be torture. The luxury item I will be carrying will be a giant bottle of Aleve.

The longer answer is that I have always loved the woods and the reason for that is because of my father. When I was growing up, my school teacher parents owned a cabin in the little town of Crestline. My dad built most of it and he worked on it for more than 40 years. He was not a religious man, yet he revered the outdoors. When I was a kid we spent every weekend, holiday and summer there, driving the world’s longest station wagon, with the dog and cat wedged in the back, whooshing past the endless orange groves of Claremont on the 10 freeway, exiting on Waterman Avenue and roaring up Highway 18. I would be sent out to play in the forest with my brother and friends and told to return when dusk fell. In fact, my mother actually warned us to not return until sunset because she needed a break—those were the days of a sandwich in your pocket and fifteen cents for a snow cone if you walked all the way through the forest to the Valley of Enchantment. In the woods we built a platform out of some boards and logs, and I used to pretend with my friend Beth that we were on a raft, fishing along the Mississippi. Adult world and kid world were on two separate planets—the less the adults knew about ours the better, and the two only met on neutral territory because of our mutual love of the freedom that the forest represented.

When I was 17, the same age my son is now, I was a sophomore in college and backpacked sections of the John Muir Trail. I loved every moment, despite being ridiculously unprepared. The beauty of the scenery was overwhelming and my feeling then was that if everyone could see what I was looking at we’d all be in a better place. I also threw in my pack a copy of Thoreau’s Walden, assuming that it was a simple story about a guy living in the woods—kind of the 19th century equivalent of Euell Gibbons. But I date myself. I realized the first night, to my horror, while I was reading with my flashlight and my best friend Annie snoring away next to me in my orange plastic tube tent (a six-foot tube that I had spent the enormous sum of $8 to purchase with an accompanying 10-foot length of plastic cord, which had the benefit of teaching me about the crucial importance of the tree line, but that’s another story), that Walden was entirely different than I expected and not easy to absorb. I was used to gliding through books—I fancied myself an excellent speed-reader—and here I had to labor through sentence after sentence and often restart a page. I never would have read Walden if I hadn’t been stuck in a tent without any other distractions except to slap at the mosquitoes that had made their way past our clothespin door fasteners. Fast forward five years and I would be teaching Walden in my USC freshman composition writing class encouraging my students to think about how Thoreau expressed himself through his prose and to consider whether his thoughts still had import. I still reread Walden every summer.

Yesterday, I was going through a box of old photographs and found the one of me as a five-year-old posing in my ballet outfit, with tutu, that my father kept on his bureau for more than four decades. The picture frame was broken and I took it apart to put the photo in a new frame. To my surprise a note fell out that had been tucked between the cardboard backing and the picture. It was a heartfelt letter that I had written to my dad when I was in college thanking him for listening to me and telling him how much I appreciated and loved him. Overwhelmed, I put the note with the photo back in its new frame.

So, basically, the 21-day hike is dad’s fault. And, as a believer in Jung’s concept of synchronicity, “in all chaos there is a cosmos, in all disorder a secret order,” in my view this trip was meant to happen. As it turns out my father’s birthday falls on July 26, the first day of our hike. He would have been 94; he passed away three years ago.

In this all too often chaotic existence, I find every once in a while everything falls together and for that precious moment life makes sense. I’m looking forward to dad’s birthday party on the John Muir Trail.


John Muir and Mark Twain (The Blog Post You Knew Was Inevitable)

Posted on Tuesday, July 16th, 2013 at 11:59 am.

Did Muir and Twain ever meet?

Ah, that’s a question the online Mark Twain discussion list has been pondering as of late. While Muir’s publisher, Robert Underwood Johnson, claims in his autobiography, Remembered Yesterdays, that he introduced Twain to Muir, there are doubts. The two clearly knew of each other and were contemporaries, just two and a half years separated them; Muir was the younger.

Twain spent a great deal of time riding, writing and mining in the West, six years in fact, and I invite you to check out one of his funniest travel books, Roughing It. He wryly commented about the region around Mono Lake, CA that “the breaking up of one winter and the beginning of the next” were the only seasons he could distinguish there. He also famously burned up a fair portion of the woods surrounding Lake Tahoe. He most likely spent time in Yosemite and he refers to it in chapter LXI in Roughing It: “Our wanderings were wide and in many directions; and now I could give the reader a vivid description of the Big Trees and the marvels of the Yo Semite–but what has this reader done to me that I should persecute him? I will deliver him into the hands of less conscientious tourists and take his blessing. Let me be charitable, though I fail in all virtues else.”

As for his impression of Mono Lake, he devoted a considerable portion of chapter 38 to describing its dubious charms:

Mark Twain in his den in Hartford, CT, 1901

“Mono Lake lies in a lifeless, treeless, hideous desert, eight thousand feet above the level of the sea, and is guarded by mountains two thousand feet higher, whose summits are always clothed in clouds. This solemn, silent, sail-less sea—this lonely tenant of the loneliest spot on earth—is little graced with the picturesque. It is an unpretending expanse of grayish water, about a hundred miles in circumference, with two islands in its centre, mere upheavals of rent and scorched and blistered lava, snowed over with gray banks and drifts of pumice stone and ashes, the winding sheet of the dead volcano, whose vast crater the lake has seized upon and occupied.

John Muir at Petrified Forest, AZ circa 1905

“The lake is two hundred feet deep, and its sluggish waters are so strong with alkali that if you only dip the most hopelessly soiled garment into them once or twice, and wring it out, it will be found as clean as if it had been through the ablest of washerwomen’s hands. While we camped there our laundry work was easy. We tied the week’s washing astern of our boat, and sailed a quarter of a mile, and the job was complete, all to the wringing out. If we threw the water on our heads and gave them a rub or so, the white lather would pile up three inches high. This water is not good for bruised places and abrasions of the skin. We had a valuable dog. He had raw places on him. He had more raw places on him than sound ones. He was the rawest dog I almost ever saw. He jumped overboard one day to get away from the flies. But it was bad judgment. In his condition, it would have been just as comfortable to jump into the fire. The alkali water nipped him in all the raw places simultaneously, and he struck out for the shore with considerable interest. He yelped and barked and howled as he went—and by the time he got to the shore there was no bark to him—for he had barked the bark all out of his inside, and the alkali water had cleaned the bark all off his outside, and he probably wished he had never embarked in any such enterprise. He ran round and round in a circle, and pawed the earth and clawed the air, and threw double somersaults, sometimes backward and sometimes forward, in the most extraordinary manner. He was not a demonstrative dog, as a general thing, but rather of a grave and serious turn of mind, and I never saw him take so much interest in anything before. He finally struck out over the mountains, at a gait which we estimated at about two hundred and fifty miles an hour, and he is going yet. This was about nine years ago. We look for what is left of him along here every day.”

While our good-hearted and plucky group will not be visiting the same destinations that Twain did, we will be backpacking in the Mark Twain National Forest and that is good. All and all, Twain and Muir make a good team.

“Nature knows no indecencies; man invents them.”
– Mark Twain’s Notebook

“Keep close to Nature’s heart… and break clear away, once in a while, and climb a mountain or spend a week in the woods. Wash your spirit clean.”
– Muir quoted by Samuel Hall Young in
Alaska Days with John Muir (1915) chapter 7


 The Epic Adventure

Posted on Friday, July 26th, 2013 at 3:14 pm.

Day One (July 25, 2013)

Well I am comfy, cozy in my sleeping bag on my self-inflating air mattress inside my two-man tent with Spark. Weather is warm, people are fantastic and all is well. Spark is totally cool and absolutely on top of things.

I have carried the world’s heaviest backpack 1/2 a mile and my lower back aches. On the bright side my feet feel great. My guess is that the pack weighs about 40 pounds. The last time I carried that much weight, O.K. it was nearly twice that, at the end of the road, so to speak, a 10-pound baby popped out.

Trip highlights thus far—

There is a fire nearby, no danger to us, and the air in the Red’s Meadow campground is very smoky.

Drew Herbert, Pitzer’s director of student leadership and experiential education, is a great guy, fantastic driver and apparently is impossible to rattle.

Carter is very brave; her feet are totally shredded (evil hiking boots) and she’s headed home tomorrow.

I packed my son’s down jacket, thinking it was my own, and mistakenly returned mine. Somehow we have to find a jacket for me.

As for tomorrow, we are supposed to have a “light” hike of six miles and it is supposed to rain all day.

And a mouse ran over my feet while I was brushing my teeth. Yeah, I screamed.


Carter’s Feet

Red’s Meadow



On the Trail – Day 2

Posted on Friday, July 26th, 2013 at 8:00 pm.

A great sleep, so glad my back is feeling better.

Drew wound up spending the night and a bunch of us made a run with him in the morning for yet more equipment. I found a great down jacket, since Sparkey got his from me, and because there were monsoon rumors I realized I was sans waterproof covering and realized I better buy one. So off with the jacket I was wearing—I added it to the bag of stuff for Drew to bring back to Claremont and bought a waterproof soft-shell jacket.

A quick ride back to the shuttle and a final jaunt to Red’s Meadow and we HIT THE TRAIL! After climbing 1,000 feet, we broke for lunch and a foot check. While we are just starting, so far so good—even though I have to admit I am carrying about 10 pounds more than I actually can comfortably manage.

The crew is wonderful. Eric is a spark plug and keeps us informed and pumped and is the blister monitor; Lisa2 is the MOST organized and knowledgeable about many varied topics; Sasha totally cool and pro, did all the magnificent food shopping and prep for the trip, and is the yoga queen; Alyssa is the sweet and funny mother hen taking care of us; Brian is cruising and funny and experienced; Lisa1 is my role model–totally together and she glides on that trail; and Spark is pro, keeping me going, putting the tent up, figuring out how to charge stuff. Man am I lucky, since I feel totally out of my depth.

We are camping at Deer Creek tonight. Today we hiked more than six miles and climbed 1,400 feet and tomorrow we are supposed to climb more than 1,200 feet with some ups and downs. We are expecting to hike about 10 miles. I dangled my feet in the cold stream tonight and the relief was intense. The end of the day I have emerged with one blister. A miracle and I will pop it tomorrow.

Beautiful walk today, although we hiked through smoky terrain with many trees down from a terrible storm a few years ago and many trees charred from a recent forest fire. A bit ghostly.

Everything aches and it is all good.

Happy 94th birthday Dad. We miss you.


On the Trail – Day 3

Posted on Saturday, July 27th, 2013 at 8:11 pm.

Well, the day started with a surprise. Some furry creature stole one of Alyssa’s boots during the night. WTF? We could not believe it. Furry creature’s pal tried to steal all of our foot supplies but apparently decided the bag was too heavy or smelly and dropped it. OK. Nature, game on.

I am typing buried in my down bag on the banks of Lake Virginia, over 10,000 feet. Gorgeous and cold. We hiked about 10 miles today and I am feeling it. Everywhere. Every body part. My hair hurts. Molecules near me hurt. Aleve is my mainstay.

Incredibly well prepared food wise, thanks to Sasha, we have granola for breakfast, apples, peanut butter in tortillas for lunch, snack bars throughout the day, and great rice, beans and cheese for dinner. This is the most wholesome food I have eaten in months. My system is in shock. Goodbye runny cheese for now.

Along the way one of us fell and took a header on the trail, but bounced right back–amazing. I am sworn to secrecy as to whom. We are all sharing and encouraging and caring and surviving. Spark rocks and just muscled his way to the end. Saw many beautiful birds, a marmot, a snake (not too close and non-poisonous), deer, bats, chipmunks and the wildflowers are gorgeous.

Of course, along the way we discovered that yet more supplies are needed, especially a replacement pair of shoes for Alyssa. Amazing Lisa2’s tennis shoes fit Alyssa when she wears her big, thick socks, and she kept on trucking. In addition, we need another pair of walking poles, spaghetti—the list is long. We called Drew on the satellite phone and in his unflappable way he took down the various requests and said he would try to get everything to the John Muir Trail Ranch when we arrive on Wednesday.

This is an amazing, exhausting, beautiful journey with great Pitzer people. And we are all getting really dirty.


On the Trail – Day 4

Posted on Sunday, July 28th, 2013 at 10:00 pm.

Beautiful morning. We left late after resting a bit on the shore of the beautiful lake. All our gear had time to dry from the heavy dew point. Right now we are on the shore of Chief Lake just below Silver Pass. The elevation is 10,530.

I am beyond exhausted. We walked 7 miles. The total elevation change was 1,600 up and about 600 down. Weather great, no rain, sunny. Walking sometimes when it is really tough I count to 25 before stopping to take 5 deep Yoga breaths, and there were times when I could only count to 10. I knew the first week would be the toughest and I was right. Spark told me that his pedometer read for today that he climbed 127 flights of stairs and took 22,167 steps.

Another call to Drew, more foot tape required and a few other items. I have almost learned to work all the equipment. Zippers are the bane of my existence and apparently key to modern backpacking. Maybe it’s because I am left handed but every single one fights me and when you are just on the edge of total exhaustion it’s a real drag. It is 8:10 p.m. and my head hurts from the altitude and I am going to try to go to sleep. Every night due to the altitude it is a technicolor festival of dreams. Wild!

Tomorrow we are climbing up 200 feet and 6 miles down. This will be our last “easy” hike. Oh man, this is gonna be tough.


On the Trail – Day 5

Posted on Monday, July 29th, 2013 at 8:26 pm.

Tough night, feeling the altitude and had one of those crushing altitude headaches. Woke up fine. Beautiful day, killer 2,700 elevation descent. My big toes are thrashed and my knee is swollen. We descended the ridge about 200 feet and then down, down, down. Made all the harder by big drops between steps and only one pole between the two of us. Sparkey walked behind me and gave me a hand when the step was too much for me to handle. One of our crew was feeling under the weather, so there was some concern, but all appears OK for the moment.

The scenery is mind-boggling and it is incredible how much we can walk in a day. The total mileage today was a bit over 7 miles. Alyssa continues to dance along in her borrowed tennis shoes with great élan, Lisa1’s secret to her excellent form is that she just finished a two week hike! Brian is striding along and snapping photos, and Lisa2 is calm, clever and cautious–righteously so. Eric continues to take care of us—cooking and taping feet (thank goodness!). We are camping next to a lovely stream; I washed my unspeakably dirty hiking pants and am hoping they will dry by morning.

I have decided that backpacking equipment is like wearing Spanx. Everything comes with a little bag, whether it is a jacket or your sleeping pad or your tent, and all the bags are just a tiny bit too small to shove the item back in when it has to be put away. The morning is all about shoving and twisting and ramming. I am getting better at handling the equipment, thanks to Lisa2 for showing me how to push all the damn air out of the self-inflating mattress so I could shove it into the teeny-tiny bag. Sigh. And, for the record, Spark’s step count is 24,212 for the day and 48 flights of stairs. See, an easy day.

This backpacking trip is truly a collective effort. No individuals here. Left to my own devices I would still be in Red’s Meadow. It’s great to be part of this journey. Tonight we are camping at Edison Ferry Junction.

Tomorrow we are supposed to climb 2 miles and 2 thousand feet and then descend for 6 miles. Pray for me.


On the Trail – Day 6

Posted on Tuesday, July 30th, 2013 at 8:30 pm.

Today was a character builder/tester/killer. We did the climb, 59 switchbacks later and Spark and I were near hysterics by the end. After the climb we walked 6 1/2 miles along Bear Creek. We are camped at Hilgard Creek Junction, a great spot near the creek. Did a little bit of laundry this afternoon, beating my clothes on the rocks. Doesn’t take long when you only have two shirts and a couple pairs of socks. Very, very, very tough day. But actually not as murderous as the previous few days. Only my knees are hurting–a lot. Picked up a few new blisters, but not terrible ones.

The scenery continues to be incredible, but with this fire burning in the area throughout the day, smoke is wafting through the air and the view is largely opaque. So we are here for the view and much of it is impossible to see.



On the Trail – Day 7

Posted on Wednesday, July 31st, 2013 at 8:54 pm.

I am only realizing now how little I knew or was prepared at the start of the trip—thank you Jerry Tambe for the tip on the water purifier! No fleece, no soft shell, flip flops instead of tennis shoes, no parka, one set of poles. Crazy.

And then came Drew. He arrived after dark tonight bearing all the stuff we had asked for: poles, a fleece jacket, new shoes for Alyssa (so she could give Lisa2’s shoes back), pasta, foot tape. Like a zombie John Muir in his cool, calm way, he walked into camp as though he had a cabin next door with a closet rammed full of exactly what we needed. Actually he had driven from Claremont, taken a ferry and then backpacked in three hours to reach us. Thank you Drew!

Today was absolutely beautiful. The weather has amazingly held up throughout the trip, the bugs aren’t bad either. We sauntered from the junction, starting the day with a bracing river crossing, and climbed a pass to see two gorgeous lakes one after the other. Crystal blue sky, clear air, perfect scenery—couldn’t ask for anything more. Some in our group love jumping into lakes and others like soaking their feet (yours truly). I have a lovely patina of sun block, bug spray, sweat and dirt. We walked to the Muir Trail Ranch, a distance of 10-11 miles, and I lasted pretty well until the last 3-4 miles. My feet melted down and every step was agony. Blisters on both my baby toes and it felt like I had been blasted. At least my shoulders didn’t ache anymore and I no longer had to shove my mittens under the straps to lessen the rubbing.

At Muir Ranch, there was a spigot of fresh water that Lisa2 and I availed ourselves of to rinse our filthy hair, first time in 7 days, and we found a great campsite by the river. If you cross the river, the San Joaquin, which we did, you find a wonderful hot spring. So comforting, soooooo good. Unbelievable. The only test was crossing the damn river. The current was pretty swift and the water rose over my knees. But everyone made it. We will spend the day here tomorrow and do laundry, resupply, resole Brian’s shoes–the sole is flapping off in the front–repairing feet and generally resting. I am thrilled to rest.

A quick shout out to Kathy Kile! Your mittens are the best and the pillow endlessly comforting.

I figured out today what the best preparation for the John Muir Trail is: First, study the maps; second, collect really great equipment and don’t over pack; third, be 19. Otherwise you will be in a world of hurt. Off to pass out in my two-person tent. Sparkey is already in dreamland.


On the Trail – Day 8

Posted on Thursday, August 1st, 2013 at 4:40 pm.

Blood blister on my toe, but everything else alright. First night I slept without my legs torturing me. We chilled today doing laundry, reloading the bear bins and soaking in the hot springs. Very smoky. Muir Ranch a great place for a break. Tomorrow is the start of a 9-day trek before we do our last resupply. Fingers are crossed that my feet hold up; otherwise everything is good.

I think this is the last access I will have to the Internet before the trip is completed. So hopefully you won’t be hearing from me for two weeks.

Many, many thanks for all your support!!! Our group really appreciates it.

My Best,


On the Trail – Day 9

Posted on Friday, August 2nd, 2013 at 8:56 pm.

Exhausted. Today was a long, long hike. I figure around 10 miles. We left Muir Camp and after a couple of miles I had to remove my hiking boots because my little toe was killing me. The toe is a blistered mess, to put it simply. I put on the water shoes Drew brought me and they were a lifesaver. We climbed roughly 800 feet in elevation, in the hot sun amid smoky air. The air is proving an extra hardship—blocking the view and making it harder to breathe in this high altitude. We did a river crossing barefoot, went well, and finally stopped for the night at McClure Meadow, 9,640 feet in elevation. BEAUTIFUL. Impossible to describe, the mountains lit up by the sunset, deer coming to the stream to drink, a family of ducks swimming, fish jumping out of the water, bats, beautiful smooth rocks to sit on. Dinner great, as prepared by Sasha and Eric. The river water was warm and I did a quick clean up. After dinner we all sat in the big rock watching the beautiful scenery and Lisa2 read to us a passage from Muir’s journal of the Sierra Nevada.

Supposedly an “easy” day tomorrow of 8 miles. That would be nice. This feels like race walking with a 40-pound pack on your back. Every day improves, but I am always nothing less than utterly spent by the end of the day.



On the Trail – Day 10

Posted on Saturday, August 3rd, 2013 at 8:14 pm.

Wonderful morning, weather still miraculously holding. Pretty cold. Took off, headed up with lots of switchbacks. I prefer switchbacks in the morning. After lunch I melt down. We loved Evolution Basin with the peaks of Mendel, Darwin, Spencer, and Huxley. We lunched and bathed at Evolution Lake, gorgeous. The smooth granite slabs of rock left by the glaciers are stunning to see. We kept climbing, posed for some photos on a very high rock, and settled for the night at Lake Wanda, 11,420 feet high, named for one of John Muir’s granddaughters. Tonight will be really cold.

I am in my sleeping bag now, Spark next to me with our rain cover on for warmth. I am wearing two pairs of long johns, two pairs of socks, two shirts, a fleece jacket, a soft shell and a parka, and my mittens and a hat. Just warm.

92.08 miles to go!!!!!!!! 13 days left.


On the Trail – Day 11

Posted on Sunday, August 4th, 2013 at 9:42 pm.

Woke up last night, hard to sleep because of the altitude, and saw the stars. One of the most beautiful and endless and stunning sights I have ever seen. And I wasn’t cold. I woke up today listening to dozens of tiny birds chirping. This is wonderful.

We walked up the moonscape until we reached the top of Muir Pass and posed for pictures at the hut there. Going down was very rough. In places just making our way across boulders and slag. Sparkey and I really hit our stride, zooming down the mountain in Lisa1’s wake. Beautiful valley to follow with waterfalls to enjoy. Along the way saw a marmot, chipmunks, lots of birds and frogs. Just before the resting stop, Sparkey turned his ankle, very painful; he limped on for another three miles wearing his pack until we reached camp for the night. Eric was great, checking it out and wrapping it. We hiked about 11 miles in total.

Will evaluate in the morning, but right now I am thinking best option is to exit with him out the Bishop Portal, a 12-mile hike, with me and Brian carrying a lot of his pack. Get him checked out. We’ll try to stay in Bishop. Brian is still having issues with his boots separating, so Bishop will be a good place to get them fixed. We will stay in Bishop for a few days and then catch a packer back up to the resupply, if Sparkey’s ankle isn’t better he can catch a plane out of Mammoth.

Just before going to sleep, I received a sat phone call tonight from the College, the kind I dread, informing me that a Pitzer student had passed away. She was a junior and I knew her. I am just despondent. I plan once I am in Bishop and within phone range to speak to her parents and offer my condolences and support and find out their memorial plans. Such an awful loss, even more keenly felt after having such an impactful and meaningful time together with my son. As a parent, I cannot imagine the pain they must be feeling; there is no greater love than a parent’s for their child. How to bear such a loss will be so hard for her family. The utter grief and sadness of it all. She and her family are in my prayers.


On the Trail – Day 12

Posted on Monday, August 5th, 2013 at 4:38 pm.

So the day has dawned and after consulting with the local forest ranger and the group, we decided that the best option would be to wait until Wednesday morning when the packer is here and Lisa2, Sparkey and I will catch a ride out. Brian will continue with the group hoping the soles stay on his boots. He has Sparkey’s super strong guerrilla tape in case the soles start to detach again. This is a better option than us walking out 13 really hard miles and allows Sparks to rest his foot. We expect to arrive in Bishop Wednesday evening where we will rent two hotel rooms and have Spark’s foot checked out. Assuming all goes well, sigh, we plan on catching another packer back up on Friday, camping out overnight at Lake Charlotte and reuniting with the group on Saturday. I called my office on the sat phone and asked them to call Carter to see if her blisters had healed and whether she would like to accompany us.

Meanwhile the three of us are enjoying a beautiful day next to a stream, with no mosquitos (amazing). I did a little laundry. Lisa2 and I took a little hike to keep our muscles prepared for the remainder. The rest of the group took off about 10:30 a.m. wrapping themselves in moleskin and getting prepared to hike up the “golden staircase.” They will have a long day. All in all spirits are strong.

11 days left


On the Trail – Day 13

Posted on Tuesday, August 6th, 2013 at 8:16 pm.

A long night in the tent. Somehow sleeping on the ground never gets easier. Awoke to another beautiful day in the Sierras. Sparkey’s ankle swelling has gone down and he has been resting it and soaking it in the stream. We will take a little practice hike. The deer were back last night and this morning two does and two fawns visited camp and checked us out. Had coffee at the ranger station, black, tasted great. We are awaiting the pack animals’ arrival. Hopefully, fingers crossed, we leave tomorrow morning with Sparkey astride and our backpacks on the pack animals. Lisa and I will walk the 12 miles into Bishop—a record for me, as I have never walked that far before much less over a pass. Forward ho!

10 days left.


On the Trail – Day 14

Posted on Wednesday, August 7th, 2013 at 8:40 pm.

Well we woke up to the sight of two fawns playing tag in our campsite, utterly charming. I shall miss the sound of the river at night and the magnificent canyon walls.

Pete the cowboy packer showed up at 7:30 a.m. at the ranger station with three pack mules and a horse for Sparks. Pete promptly informed Lisa and me that our hike wouldn’t be a mere 12 miles, but 15 in total. Are you kidding me!?!? Miles???

The day was clear and bright and with Sparkey saddled up and fine, Lisa and I started to walk and walk and walk. We crossed over Bishop Pass at nearly 12,000 feet and in total we covered the 15 miles in 8 1/2 hours. We really felt like badass backpackers. I never, ever would have thought such a feat possible—a distance record for me. We all arrived in Bishop together, thanks to our new packer friends and their enormous truck, and checked into the Best Western Hotel. Let’s just say the hot shower was sublime. My feet are horrifying.

And the steak dinner with mashed potatoes and macaroni and cheese that we shared was truly food of the gods.

First up for tomorrow, obtaining a readmit permit so we can catch up with our group on Friday, getting Sparkey’s ankle x-rayed to see if he can continue, and obtaining yet more supplies for our group, as we received messages from them for gloves, a foot brace, and a down parka for Brian.

I am bone weary and utterly thrilled to sleep on a mattress.

9 days left


On the Trail – Day 15

Posted on Thursday, August 8th, 2013 at 6:02 pm.

A running-around day. More requests from above: Aleve, foot tape. Spark and I spent some quality time in the local emergency room where it was made clear that he would not be returning to the hike: “You walk out of the wilderness when you are hurt, not walk into it.” Pronouncement: sprained ankle and 3 weeks in an air cast. Very bummed that he can’t continue, but he’ll be fine. In the beginning there were 10; now there are 7 hikers remaining. This is one tough walk!
It goes without saying that I will miss Sparkey enormously; he’s been a great, endlessly patient teacher of wilderness craft (and I am a lousy, impatient, cranky, tired student) and a fantastic hiking coach (“Mom, don’t stop until I tell you, keep walking!”). And just a great person to be with. This is his first lengthy backpacking trip and he hiked more than 106 miles—welcome to the triple digit club!

Lisa2 spent the day figuring out strategy and our next moves, which entails getting picked up at 7 a.m. tomorrow to be taken to the trail head so we can climb over Kearsarge Pass and reunite with our group.

Spark downloaded the Jawbone pedometer that I’ve been wearing since the beginning of our trip and it turns out Lisa and I walked a total of 15.7 miles over Bishop Pass. Unbelievable!

I really must thank my president’s office staff for all their support for our efforts: Melanie, Evy, and Jennifer. They have been operating as command central taking messages for equipment needs, arranging a mule pack pick-up, figuring out where we could stay in Bishop on very short notice; they are the best. A final dinner for the three of us before Spark flies out tomorrow to L.A. where Bruce, my partner, will scoop him up at LAX and take him out for tacos. And yes, I ate another steak tonight. It was good.

8 days left.


On the Trail – Day 16

Posted on Friday, August 9th, 2013 at 6:12 pm.

In a full circle moment before I took off with Lisa2 to hike back to our group, Sparkey instructed me (again) about the best way to tie my hiking boots. Very kind.

So bright and early with a backpack full of clean clothes, Lisa2 and I took off for the portal. As we hiked up Kearsarge Pass, a man staggered past us saying he had broken his leg but he was fine. I think he must have been in shock. Glad Spark made the right call. The Pass was beautiful and we made great time to Charlotte Lake where we all reunited. We walked just under 10 miles today. Tomorrow the packer is due to deliver the last food supplies for the group. We are thinking that we are so far ahead of schedule that we might finish a day early!!!!

All set up for the night. Wishing my son were here, but so it goes. Now I’ll hike for both of us.

7 or 6 days left


On the Trail – Day 17

Posted on Saturday, August 10th, 2013 at 7:55 pm.

Left the lovely Charlotte Lake this morning. I watched the sun spread over the mountains while the fish swam in the clear water. This was, ta da, the first day my feet didn’t hurt. At all! Lisa2 and I walked ahead of the group while they picked up their resupply.  Walked at a nice slow pace and moseyed to the base of Forester Pass. We resupplied in Bishop. This is the highest pass on the John Muir Trail and in the Sierras–13,200 feet. Trying to figure out if we should try to climb it in one shot, or climb it partway and then finish the next day. It is a 3,000 foot elevation gain in 4 miles. Camped right next to a stream. The water makes a wonderful sound rushing over the rocks. One of us has very bruised feet from the daily trail pounding that we hope will improve with regular ibuprofen and a little rest. If we climb the entire pass tomorrow we just might finish a day early! Wow! This certainly gives one incentive.

We arrived early enough in camp that I had time to take a little nap. Lovely in the sun.

6 or 5 days left!


On the Trail – Day 18

Posted on Sunday, August 11th, 2013 at 8:42 pm.

Walked over Forester Pass today–13,200 feet high! Crazy, crazy! That climb took everything I had and here came the crushing altitude headache afterwards. I left early in the morning in front of the group so I could be completely focused. The elevation was terrifying: FYI I am very afraid some might say phobic regarding heights, and I only allowed myself to look down once or twice. Horrifying. I kept inching closer to the mountain and repeating to myself “you can’t fall off a mountain,” with a little voice in my head saying “I bet people have. Why can’t you fall off a mountain?” I decided to imitate the lichen and hug the boulders. On the other side of the pass I had a lovely foot soak and snacked while marmots invaded my personal space. They are apparently unafraid of human visitors.

The group caught up and we walked approximately 4 more miles for a total of around 9 miles today. We overnighted near Tyndall Creek, a very crowded campsite and we ran into some folks that we had seen earlier. A lovely John Muir reading about the squirrels by one of our dinner guests.

4 days left


On the Trail – Day 19

Posted on Monday, August 12th, 2013 at 5:22 pm.

Altitude headache gone, thank goodness. Up and out and I am thrilled to say this is the third day my feet haven’t hurt. The group gathered for a quick gorp breakfast and we set off for Crabtree Meadow Ranger Station. I finally seem to have hit my stride and the huffing and puffing has subsided. I figure we walked about 9 miles or so.

We are now approximately 7.1 miles from the top of Whitney!!! The meadow at the Ranger Station is very pleasant with a burbling stream and we took the warm afternoon to do laundry, wash up and sit in the sun. We had a great time with all of our tents huddled together laughing and telling stories before we fell asleep. After such a loong and adventurous journey it is hard to believe that we have just TWO NIGHTS left on the trail. We spent a fair amount of time over dinner deciding where we will have our farewell dinner in Claremont. Looks like it will be Union on Yale. Can’t wait!

3 days left


On the Trail – Day 20

Posted on Tuesday, August 13th, 2013 at 7:25 pm.

Camping at Guitar Lake tonight, elevation 11,600 ft. On the way we all picked up our WAG bags. If you don’t know what a WAG bag is I would prefer not to be the first to tell you.

Beautiful, craggy, white turrets of rock all around us and Marmots a plenty. Arrived at 12:30, so a quick 3 mile walk this morning. Spent the day lazing by the lake. I needed a rest day because I was really feeling the altitude this morning–queasy, dizzy with a headache. Felt much better after a nice warm afternoon nap in my tent. This is our last group dinner tonight. Tomorrow part of our group Alyssa, Lisa1, Sasha and Eric will spent the night on top of Whitney (freezing cold), and the rest of us will summit and then descend partway down the mountain (still freezing cold but not as freezing cold as the summit). I am dreaming of food at night. Can’t wait to see the van on Thursday at 1:00!

2 days left!!!


Into the Vortex – Day 21

Posted on Wednesday, August 14th, 2013 at 5:28 pm.

And now I will tell you the amazing story of our last day in the wilderness.

As it turns out, I don’t sleep well at 10,000′ elevation so for the past two nights I haven’t slept much at all. When I would try to go to sleep the elevation headache would hit and it felt like the three extra oxygen molecules I needed to breathe were just out of reach, pretty miserable in all.

So around 2:00 am I heard this slow rumbling sound high up on the mountain that kept growing louder and Lisa2 (my tent buddy with Sparkey’s exit) asked: “Are the rocks going to crash into us?” I poked my head outside and looked up. High up on the mountain I saw a headlamp light moving down the mountain with a flashlight pointed in the direction of the rockfall. I assured Lisa2 (or “tick tock” as I have nicknamed her because she walks like a metronome) that we were fine. I never realized this before but there are a significant number of people who like to HIKE AT NIGHT!  What is that all about? Go figure. After the sound died away I tried to go back to sleep with little success.

We all woke up early because we knew this would be a tough day. The morning is my high energy time (“high energy” is definitely a qualified statement) so I figured I had better get going while the spirit moved me and I set out alone. I tried to really motor past the new rockfall as fast as possible and proceeded to climb 3,000 feet over three miles to Trail Crest from Guitar Lake. That’s where you dig deep within to keep climbing. I did my counting trick, counting to 40 before desperately gasping to try and fill my lungs with air. The scenery was breathtaking and I gaped at the beauty of the mountains and craggy cliffs and azure sky.

I arrived at Trail Crest and awaiting me were two signs, one pointing to the summit of Whitney and the other to the Whitney Portal, and it took me about five minutes to realize that after all this struggle I had finally arrived at the finish line. Overwhelmed, I began to weep hardly able to believe that I had actually arrived. I waited for the rest of our group to arrive and three of us left our packs at Trail Crest and took day packs containing water and lunch to the summit, and Lisa1, Alyssa, Sasha and Eric took their full packs with them because they wanted to spend the night on the summit.

The 1.9 miles to the summit was truly frightening with rock bridges between sheer drops and boulders that totally obscured the trail that you had to scramble over. I did my best not to look over the edges and keep repeating to myself, “It’s all finite, I just have to keep taking steps.” The summit was beautiful, the weather throughout the trip has been utterly spectacular, with clear skies. We were all so thrilled and just humbled and amazing by our achievement and celebrated the official end of the JOHN MUIR TRAIL!

We bid our four fellow hikers adieu until the morning and left them to spend the night and enjoy the break of dawn, and the three of us proceeded to descend, descend, descend, descend–6,000 feet. We walked forever and after darkness fell we hiked with our headlamps on and miraculously managed to do three creek crossings in the dark–one was four telephone poles high above the water, another hopping across boulders, and the third trudging through shallow water. I figure we walked 3-4 miles in the dark, with Brian in the front calling out “rocks,” “roots,” “high step.” Thank heavens for him. We stumbled into the the Whitney Trail Portal Trailhead at about 10:30 pm. We walked for 14 1/2 hours in one day–a new personal record I plan to never, ever repeat. We figure the total distance was approximately 16 miles–hey, a new personal mileage record as well!

In the darkness we found a campsite, set up our tents in milliseconds and fired up the jet boil for a fast dinner. Totally, completely, utterly spent we staggered into our tents and passed out.

1 day left


Coming Home! Day 22

Posted on Thursday, August 15th, 2013 at 5:34 pm.

We woke up in the warmth of the lower altitude, enjoying the luxury of lots of oxygen. We went to the portal cafe!!! The pancake and bacon and coffee breakfast was wonderful. At 12:45 the rest of our group arrived from their Whitney aerie happy and thrilled to simultaneously see the sun rise and the Claremont-bound van arrive. We hit a restaurant in Lone Pine for a fast lunch and toasted everyone involved in this complicated and challenging enterprise and our two other members of the John Muir Trail team: Carter and Sparkey.

And then we hopped into the van, headed down the highway and everything was fine.

To all our Pitzer community friends and supporters, thank you for your good advice, best wishes and financial support for our students. And on a personal note, I am so deeply appreciative of this opportunity to have such a wonderful experience with such kind and caring people.

Happy 50th Birthday Pitzer College! Provida Futuri!




John Muir Trail – The Dharma Bums

Posted on Friday, September 20th, 2013 at 5:27 pm.

Watch on YouTube