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Wes, 13, standing, and Jeremy fly-fish at Lower Palisade Lake along the John Muir Trail, with Mount Whitney in the background. [Photo by David Layer]

'Hike your own hike'

Although hiking the John Muir Trail was never on my bucket list, the invitation to do so a year ago presented a challenge and lengthy preparation for this 69-year-old geezer that included mental and physical conditioning, and equipment.

After 22 days on the trail, I had lost 18 pounds, walked 203 miles, crossed 10 passes over 10,500 feet high, including Mount Whitney (14,500 feet), made 20-plus water and snow crossings, and filtered 50-plus gallons of water. It required three food resupplies, 150 miles of hitchhiking to pick up the car, and resulted in two gnarly blisters and a broken hiking shoe.

Dedicating this hike to my deceased father, a lifelong polio victim who lacked calf muscles, I shadowed my ER-doctor son-in-law in mid August with his 12- and 13-year-old sons, Jeremy and Wes, and we all completed the trail in mid September.

Because I'm slow as molasses (my trail names was Tortoise), I mostly hiked, slept and ate on my own. We met daily at a designated afternoon lake or river for the family fly-fishing obsession. So, add to the numbers mentioned above 400-plus fish (golden, brook, brown and rainbow trout).

My grandsons tied their own flies, and I got many fly-fishing lessons.

Most days we covered 10 to 12 miles, and most had 2,000-foot gains/losses.

The trail is a good teacher — mostly mental. It is, after all, only one step at a time. The unlimited exposures to gorgeous mountains, rivers, high lakes and ecological splendor were surreal. The trails were, for the most part, well maintained, with the exception of snowfields that required some tricky navigation.

Most notable were the many friends we met from places that included Poland, Japan, Australia, Wisconsin, Brookings, Connecticut, Rhode Island, Florida, Germany, San Francisco, Korea, Missoura. You become family on the trail, tents sometimes feet apart, arriving late at night and sharing campfires and evening snacks, reports and encouragement.

When you push your comfort zone and share a common goal, bonding is easy, and future encounters become reunions.

"How was the south side of Muir Pass?" or "Is there any water in this 5-mile downhill?" or "How tough is the King's water crossing?"

A few highlights from my diary:

• Day 1, mile 10. Got a lecture from Gina, age 60, on her 1,200th mile of PCT, on the importance of "Hiking your own Hike." Your own pace, pictures, etc.

• Day 4, mile 36. Summited Whitney from Guitar Lake. Left with headlight at 5:00. 4 hours to summit.

• Day 7, mile 60. Mules came up to meet us with resupply. Got rid of trash, oatmeal makes me gag.

• Day 12, mile 102. Grandson broke his fly rod. The world fell apart!

• Day 13, mile 118. Muir Trail Ranch. Sat in an actual chair for the first time in 12 days and rediscovered the flush toilet.

• Day 16, mile 140. Silver Pass, steep snow field to traverse. Passed a very upbeat man. Noticed he was missing toes on one foot, custom shoe. Doing well.

• Day 18, mile 167 near Devil's Postpile. Cellphone had coverage and beeped. It was annoying. Not ready for it yet.

• Day 20, 180 miles. Garnet Lake. Had it to myself. Fish, birds, alpenglow. The sound of a distant waterfall lulled me to sleep.

• Day 21, 196 miles. Eyelets on my left shoe broke again, rendering my shoe unsupportive.

— David Layer lives in Central Point.

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