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These days, a lot of us are making the roughly 200+ mile drive from SoCal to Bishop. We've all complained about the drive once or twice, but imagine walking the entire way. For many of us weekend adventurers, it's likely that the furthest we'll trek with packs on is from the car to the crag-and back to the car (then at Black Sheep Coffee Roasters resting our weary legs, espresso in hand). Not so for Grace Wang, a regular at Sender One, who has hiked all 210.4 miles of the legendary John Muir Trail.
The Trail winds along the Sierra Nevada mountain range and features California's grandest natural offerings beginning with Yosemite Valley as its northernmost terminus. From there, backpackers will wind down Devil's Postpile National Monument, on through Thousand Island Lake. Then it's through the King's Canyon and Sequoia National Parks before finally ending up at Mt. Whitney in the Sierras.
Grace, an REI employee, celebrated her arrival in Mt. Whitney back in August. So now that she's well rested, we spoke to her in the hopes that we weary-legged coffee-sippers might one day be inspired to put down the mug and pursue the same!
Hi Grace, let's start by having you tell us a bit about yourself!
Let’s see, I was born and raised in Orange County, grew up wishing I could be a boy scout so I could do cool adventure-y things someday. I’m happy to say that I am now doing cool adventure-y things like climbing and backpacking, and am fortunate enough to have a job at REI that allows me to talk to people about all the latest and greatest outdoor toys! I am also simultaneously pursuing a career in physical therapy and enjoying geeking out about body movement/ mechanics, and rehab.
What made you want to tackle the JMT?
As a kid, my family often visited Yosemite, but only camped or stayed in a cabin. One day, I went into the gift shop and saw a JMT poster, and decided that I wanted to hike the whole thing someday. I wanted to experience the most amazing parts of the Sierras on foot rather than through a car window, and I wanted to see what my body was capable of doing, hiking-wise.
As an REI employee, did you feel particularly prepared for the task?
I definitely think that being a REI employee helped me accrue the proper equipment for the trip. Being around gear all the time and getting to talk about it helped me have a good understanding of what I would need to safely and successfully enjoy the trip. Talking to coworkers and customers that had experience with the trail also helped me figure out how I needed to be prepared for the trip.
How did you decide what to pack? Is there anything you left out?
I poured over blogs, books, and magazines when compiling my list of things to pack. From recalling and documenting my previous backpacking experiences, I had a good idea of what equipment worked for me personally, and what didn’t by the time planning for this trip came around. I also did a trial backpacking trip with the gear and clothing I was going to bring with me, just to make sure things were working well. In doing that, I quickly eliminated things I thought I would need.
Treks along the John Muir Trail require careful preparation and every ounce of weight matters. Grace's pack had a starting weight of only 25.4 lbs., without water.
What's that one thing you realized you forgot. I know you have one...or three?
Haha. I actually don’t think I forgot anything. I checked over my stuff a million times before I left. I should have probably brought some vaseline for my nose (see below).
When the food ran out, at what point did you decide to eat your friends? If not, what was the hardest part of the adventure?
I should have eaten my friend while they were fresh, day 1 or 2, but by day 5 they were a bit too rank to eat. But really, not having enough food was definitely a real problem. I made a fancy spreadsheet detailing out what I food needed to bring, but I didn’t anticipate being THAT hungry. I resigned myself to rationing out just enough calories to finish up the trail. Also I had awesome friends and met amazing strangers-turned-friends who were incredibly generous at times! At the end of the trip, I lost about 9 pounds--which is a lot for me. Next time, I’m bringing sticks of lard.
Were there any moments you thought you might die?
Many. Just kidding, not that dramatic. But I did have a problem with my nose bleeding like crazy on many occasions. The air was so dry during the whole trip that my nose decided to let loose and bleed a bunch of times--sometimes for several hours. That was fun. Thank goodness I brought a lot of toilet paper with me for nose plugs.
What was the best part of your trip?
One of my favorite moments of the trip happen to be my birthday. It actually had been an exhausting and difficult day for me personally, and some circumstances leading up to that point made me I feel as though I might not finish the trail. But at the end of that day, with the support of my friends, we made it to our planned destination. I found myself sitting around a campfire among friends, enjoying a freshly steam-baked molten chocolate cupcake from a mix that one of my friends had been lugging around for the past 100 miles. I felt like the luckiest and most blessed person alive that night. Chocolate, friends, and fire are a good combination.
For the lay-person, what should you know before attempting the trail?
Fitness-wise, you can never truly prepare your body to hike that many days consecutively, but you can prevent injury by strengthening muscles around joints, improving your cardio, and getting proper footwear (hiking the whole trail in Chacos is a bad idea) and a decent pack. Also, test your gear out before you go and make sure it works for you--just because it worked for someone else doesn’t mean it will definitely work for you.
A quote from John Muir puts it best, “Everybody needs beauty as well as bread, places to play in and pray in, where nature may heal and give strength to body and soul alike.” - The Yosemite (1912)
Photos courtesy of Grace Wang