“I needed a reality check. I was lost on the first day of the most challenging trek of my life.”
Trippin’ Through My 60s
Leaving the working world behind, Reg closed his office door for the last time. Rejecting a life of golf and relaxation, he soon discovers his new passion where he least expects it. In Trippin’ Through My 60s, Reg and his wife Sue continue their adventures on four famed European long-distance trails:
Scotland’s West Highland Way
The Alps’ Tour du Mont Blanc
Italy’s Way of St. Francis
England’s South West Coast Path
Unexpected turns, humor and memories of life in the Sixties create the backdrop in this gripping story as Reg tackles backpacking escapades the push him to the edge.
Reg and I spent last year, stuck at home, watching every YouTube hiking video we could find, dreaming of the time we could get ourselves back on one of Europe’s long distance trails. “If only we were willing to camp with our backpacks -tents, sleeping bags, the whole bit,” we’d say. “Then we could hike some of the gorgeous trails in our own backyard.”
It was after a visit from friends Kathy and Doug early last spring that our plan quickly (impulsively) took shape. Their suggestion to my joking, offhand remark about needing a Sherpa if I was ever to backpack the John Muir Trail, was to look into one of the mule supported pack station trips available in the Eastern Sierra.
And that’s how we’ve found ourselves packed and ready to set off August 2 on a mule-assisted, 30-day, northbound backpacking trip along the John Muir Trail…and no, the mules are not for us to ride.
Distance: 243 miles, beginning at Horseshoe Meadow and traveling north, finishing at Happy Isle in Yosemite Valley.
46,800’ total elevation gain and 52,700’ elevation loss over the course of the trip.
There are seven of us in our group, plus the staff who will tend to all the details of transporting everything needed via mules, plus large bags of our stuff – including our tents, sleeping bags and pads, clothing and whatever other necessities we choose to bring. We will all carry individual packs with water and water filters, rain gear and whatever else we want to have at our fingertips. There will be no end of day hot shower or comfy bed that we’ve enjoyed on previous treks. We’ll have to set up and take down our tents, roll up our sleeping bags etc. There will be a decent amount of roughing it. The good news is we will have three meals/day provided by the staff cook. Should be an interesting trek. We’ll return with a full report once we’re back in civilization.
Full disclosure: We did not walk up the mountain. Our intention was to wander around up top to get a feel for the altitude, so we chose the gondola for a quick and easy ascent. We were met with gorgeous 360 degree views from what felt like the top of the world.
Reg struck up a conversation with a couple who had made the walk up from the main lodge, claiming to have completed the 2,000 foot climb in about 2 hours. They seemed a little surprised that we had taken the easy way to the top. Feeling a bit wimpy and wanting to salvage our pride, we decided to walk back down the mountain.
It turned out to be a great decision. The hike was well marked, not too steep and filled with jaw-dropping scenery. The trail filled our morning, depositing us back at the lodge right about noon…just in time for lunch!
A few miles outside of Breckenridge, Colorado, at just over 10,000 feet, lies the trailhead for three lakes; Mayflower and the Upper and Lower Mohawk Lakes. Our plan was to try to make it to Mayflower, the lowest of the trio. It was tough going at first, but we wanted to test ourselves with some high altitude hiking while here.
It’s not large, but Mayflower Lake (above) sits in a pretty spectacular setting. Given the overflowing parking area, we were surprised to find we had the place to ourselves. After a rest and a quick snack, we decided to push on towards Lower Mohawk Lake, just under a mile up the trail.
The trail markers were few and far between. A dreaded water crossing bisected the trail, a true test of balance. Graceful…we were not, but we made it across the rushing stream without incident. An old cabin appeared, a sort of hut with benches and what looked like an operable wood burning stove. From there the trail all but disappeared, and as we ate lunch (at 11,400 feet) groups scrambled their way up and down the steep rocky hillside in front of us. We decided we’d had enough.
We returned via the Spruce Creek Trail, a beautiful, shaded walk through trees and open meadows (above) with views up the mountains. All in all, a successful day up high in the Rocky Mountains.
We arrived in Fort Collins, Colorado two days ago, eager to discover if the bike trails were as incredible as we’d heard they were. Our Friday outing began in the small community of Laporte, just north of Fort Collins. The Poudre (pronounced poo-der) River Trail would lead us 9 1/2 miles downstream along a beautifully maintained concrete trail, eventually reaching Fort Collins.
Saturday we rode a different segment of the Poudre River Trail, joining it just south of Windsor, Colorado and aiming ourselves toward the town of Greeley, roughly 12 miles away.
This was another easy ride for Reg, but for someone who hasn’t really ridden a bike much in the last 30+ years (like me), things were beginning to feel a little sore. We turned around after about 10 miles, found a spot for a picnic lunch, then returned to our starting point, convinced that the area bike trails are some of the best we’ve ever seen!
The Navaho Knobs Trail is the longest trail in Capitol Reef National Park. The 9.4 mile round trip climbs (relentlessly) about 2,000 feet to an elevation of nearly 7,000 feet. This was no small day hike for us, but we figured we could always turn around if the going got tough.
An hour later (at least) we finally reached the base of The Knobs. The trail led us around to the right where we scrambled up the rocks, as far as we dared, to take in the view.
Ready or not, we’re off to Italy where we’ll begin The Way of St. Francis, a pilgrimage that traces the pathway traveled by St. Francis of Assisi in the early 13th century.
Our journey begins in the eastern portion of central Tuscany in Chiusi Della Verna, a small community located below Santaurio (Sanctuary) Della Verna. It was in this area that St. Francis is said to have received the stigmata. We’ve allowed two nights here to explore the history and beauty of the region…and to catch our breath after what promises to be two pretty hectic travel days.
Then we start walking, traveling mostly southward, with a goal of reaching Vatican City (not quite 300 miles away) by mid-May.
Many thanks to Sandy Brown for allowing me to use the above map, his incredibly detailed trekking guide, the links and foolproof instructions for downloading the GPX tracks onto my phone app and for hosting the Way of St Francis (Official Group) Facebook page. The information is invaluable!
As always, we will post on our blog when we’re able, so feel free to follow along on our journey as we walk The Way of St. Francis.
I stopped for a quick photo this morning as Reg and I neared the top of the 500 foot climb behind our home.
With our upcoming Italian pilgrimage (The Way of Saint Francis) just around the corner, today seemed like a good day to reacquaint ourselves with our backpacks. If the weather cooperates, we should have a couple months to work out any kinks!