What’s in Your Backpack?

As the time grew closer for my JMT trip I battled with what to take. I knew I needed to stay ultralight (which sometimes comes at an ultra-cost) I knew I would need certain things to survive. I knew everything I needed would need to fit into my backpack and be of manageable weight for 3 weeks over pretty rugged, steep, rocky, high altitude terrain.  I studied blogs and websites. I visited REI and Mountain Gear more times that I’d like to admit.  I wanted to be smart.  I was really trying NOT to have a bunch of stuff to send home part way through the trip at one of our resupply stops.  I didn’t want to haul unnecessary things. The day I left, I had to pack for both the John Muir Trail and a small side trip to Los Angeles to visit for a few days with our kiddos. I packed the backpack into a huge duffel (minus my fuel) so that when I got to LA my pack was not missing straps etc from some sort of mishap with TSA.  I packed my sun-fun-lovin’ clothes for LA into another small pack that our son could send back home, only for my husband to turn around and bring back for me when I walked off the trail. (At least that was the plan)

Here are my BIG three (actually four) to start my list:

Gregory Deva 60L backpack size small 5lbs 9.6oz

Big Agnes Fly Creek HV UL2 with BA footprint 1lb 15oz PLUS 5oz for footprint

Big Agnes Juniper SL Women’s 25 degree sleeping bag 2lbs 7oz

Therm-a-Rest ProLite sleeping pad 16oz

This set my base weight at roughly a little over 11lbs. I loved each of these items and trust me put a lot of thought into each item. The Gregory pack for it’s great fit, comfort and rocker system in the waist belt and shoulder straps. This saved me from any rubbing along my hips and lower back that cause chafing and blisters.  It also works as a top load as well as having a zipper across the whole front of the pack so you don’t have to dig only from the top to get at stuff on the bottom.  It has a great sleeping bag (inside) and tent (outside) area at the bottom as well as a ton of pockets and one waterproof pocket on the waist belt that fits your phone in perfectly. (not that we had ANY service, but did use my iPhone for pictures) it can also hold a water bladder (I didn’t do this) and came with a slack pack, that I DID use for our Mt Whitney summit, plus a rain cover, that DID come in very handy and kept everything perfectly dry during the stormy weather.  The BA tent…well because it is ultra light and the perfect size for 2 people or a girl and her gear in the rain. It held up great, kept the rain and wind out and I loved being able to have the fly off for a “moon roof” to watch the sunset and the starts rise each night.  The BA sleeping bag was AMAZING!  Super warm mummy type but fit to a woman’s body. I had a lot of foot room in this bag, which is unusual for a mummy-type bag.  I never felt the confines of a typical mummy.  It has a great little neck collar thats super soft and really holds the heat in if needed.  At a 25 degree rating on this bag it was about perfect, although I did have about 4 nights on the JMT that I got a little cold.  Nothing that putting on my beanie and snuggling and “mummy-ing” down didn’t solve.  Most nights I got warm and had to have my upper body outside the bag until the early mornings when I would snuggle back down in because of the cold. The Therm-a Rest was great.  Flat enough that it rolled up super small and I was able to fit it into the upper “brain” side pocket in my pack.  It inflates fast, and has a 2.4 R-Value which kept me plenty warm and off of the ground. Some nights I did wish I had a little extra padding underneath me, but sleeping for 3 weeks on the ground in the Sierras will do that to a girl!

As I packed my backpack (this took a while, which is NOT normal for me as I am typically a 10-20 hour in advance packer for ANY trip) I knew God was speaking to me about things unnecessary.  Extra baggage.  Extra weight (and I’m not talking scale weight) The excess things we allow to cloud our life. To get in the way of happiness. To get in our way of hearing from Him. All that extra stuff. The junk we pack along every day, that we allow to weigh us down.  He was already working on my heart….. Already whispering things that He would continue to bring forth to me along the trail. Things that honestly I’ve shelved but for some reason, every-so-often I pull down, dust off and look at.  Things that on occasion, although I know are things of the past, I feel I need to shove into the backpack to drag behind me for a while. Why was God asking me to look at these things again?  To unpack. Again.  THIS I KNOW Romans 8:28 says, He uses all thing for the good of those who love him.  ALL things. Not things, here and there.  Not only good things but messy things, sad things, hard things.  Abuse, neglect, health issues, mental illness, death, life, depression, anxiety, despair, shame.  He uses ALL of it. This is one of my favorite verses promises, and it has always brought me a great deal of healing and comfort.  I know that God’s promises are true and that brings me a lot of peace.  One of the notes in my Bible says, “he is not working to make us happy but to to fulfill his purpose” So, as I’m packing and He’s unpacking I feel a sense of relief, because I know that even though I feel that maybe we are going to head into the wild to upheave and hash things out, things that sometimes I would just rather forget, HE has a plan. He has a use for things that I may think are irrelevant. I know that through the things I’ve lived out in my life, HE is in control and will use me as a conduit of his love and compassion for others traveling through the same things.  Have you ever felt despair? Because I know I have.  Have you ever felt alone or ashamed? Maybe SO broken that you feel hopeless? Unwanted? Not enough?  I have too. But I also know that God is a healer of the broken and the shameful. He’s a wanter of the unwanted and a hope to the hopeless.  He can and will use that.  Through Him all things are possible.  There is healing on the other side.  You see, we are not meant to live apart from Him. 

Obviously there were more items added to my pack. Here is the entirety after the big four. (And yes I mean ENTIRETY) 

Clothing: 2 wicking tank tops. One REI Screeline tank, one Asics running tank. One long sleeved Columbia Sun Goddess blouse with SPF (saved my skin) 2 pair Exofficio ultralight washable undies. 2 pairs of shorts; REI and Lululemon Speed Shorts 2 pair Darn Tough socks. One pair long REI hiking zipoff pants. One pair medium weight REI wool leggings (for camp pants and sleeping) One medium weight, long sleeved, winter running top (for camp, chilly mornings and sleeping) a beanie, gloves, sunglasses, Nike sport sandals (camp shoes/water crossing) my favorite Peace Within cap. Marmot down jacket . One pair of wool socks (for camp and sleeping) Black Diamond head lamp. REI rain jacket and rain pants. REI small absorbent, quick dry towel, soap leaves (for washing dishes and washing dirty bodies) All of this fit inside a Sea to Summit compressible 13 liter dry bag.  

A Bear Vault 500 with 6 days of meals. We reaupplied food 3 times on this trip. We can talk food at another time. 

Black Diamond carbon fiber trekking poles. La Sportiva Synthesis Surround GTX hiking boots, Sugar Skull/Day of the Dirt Dirty Girl Gaiters Lucy solar charged lantern (used one time) First Aid kit (thank goodness) 1-1/4 piece of yellow bandana attached with a grommet as a “pee rag” a ultralight Cat Hole Trowel (yep) 1-turquoise bandana attached to the outside of my pack identifying me as a Lady of the JMT (and WOW were there a lot of us out there! Fun to meet each one of you)  Jet Boil Flash with 1-100 gram fuel tank and 1-230 gram tank. Gravity Works water filtration system. Small foldable bowl, retractable spork and stainless mug (that ended up somewhere at 11,924 ft on Glen Pass. 

In total my overall FULL pack was around 35-36lbs. 

I have had the JMT in my heart for so long. Thanks be to God for the courage it took to take the leap. To not look back. To not be timid and allow fear to grip me. To walk forward and not backwards. To not settle for status quo. To not allow people or society or my own “self” to get in the way. To not walk back into situations that are toxic only because it’s convenient. I have been down some pretty pitiful, lonely roads. I am thankful to a God that redeems. Who takes a timid bird and changes her into a lion chaser. Who knows the desires of my heart so well and has given me the roar for adventure. 

Come along with me as I continue this walk along 220-miles of the John Muir Trail. 

Lost and Found

It’s a shame when I look back and realize that the last time I wrote on this blog was January. SERIOUSLY?  Ive slipped and let it go and I’m not overly thrilled about that. Although in my defense in the time between then and now I’ve trained, traveled, had our last baby graduate high school, had parties, had visitors, hiked mountains, packed and sold a house, unpacked, packed and sold a house again.  It’s been a roller coaster that seems to have an operator that allows you to keep riding even when you’re waving like a maniac to get off!

The last time we visited I was still steeping over the “patience” thing and thinking it was pretty….amusing that my word for the year was PATIENCE, because quite frankly that word is rarely used the vocabulary of my life.

Let me tell you what, God knew exactly what he was doing laying that word down on my heart.

When May rolled around and race season started to heat up, I flew to Pittsburgh (the city of my birth) to run the Pittsburgh Marathon with my cousin. It was one of the best I’ve done, from start to finish. I had the most incredible time visiting with my family. I just soaked in the love of it all. Imagine, crazy cousins and aunts laughing hysterically over nights of wine, dinners, painting and ball games.  I also ate some AMAZING food (HELLO Primanti’s) -Ok, I have to side bar here for a second about Primanti Brothers…can I just get a shout out for those sandwiches? I mean, the genius behind a sandwich with grilled meat, coleslaw with italian dressing,  and FRENCH FRIES (yes, on the sandwich) is mind blowing!! Ok, lets stop the drooling and get back on track. The race went excellent, but MAN, was it hilly!! It was a great celebration to do with my cousin, who had decided to get back into running after taking some time off while raising her babies. We ended up doing the 5K the day before (Saturday) and the marathon on Sunday to get our extra Runner of Steel medals! Who doesn’t love that extra bling?

In June I had the inaugural Ironman Coeur d’Alene 70.3. How could I not race the half-Ironman in my own city? It was an amazing day! Being on a hometown race course with so many people and friends was truly incredible. The race brought out seasoned racers, and newbie’s looking for that next challenge. It was motivating and encouraging being out there. I think every time I looked up, there was a friendly face. It was such a fun day and I learned that I really REALLY love that half-Ironman distance.

After Ironman, I went into a waiting period. I guess this was my season starting with patience. I went into a waiting period for the month that had consumed my entire mind and calendar for the year…. August! August was the month I was going to set out to through-hike the John Muir Trail (JMT) in the Sierra Nevada’s of California. A journey that would take roughly 3 weeks and was 230-miles long.

Although I really only had a few weeks to wait after IM until I left for CA, it seemed like an eternity. I spent the time with family and friends, who asked a million questions. I studied blogs and websites about the trail. I made trial runs with my gear (I’ll post a gear list later) I doubted my ability on some days. I wondered if I could really do some of the things required of me out there in the wild. Could I make the distance daily? Could I survive almost a month on nothing but dehydrated meals? Could I deal with the cold? The altitude? The heat? The animals? Could I seriously NOT shave my legs for 3 weeks? And mostly, could I honestly not shower for that long? And HOW could I possibly carry a WAG bag (waste alleviation and gelling bag) with my waste for the entire time after coming off of Mt Whitney? Thankfully, we ended up hiking in the opposite direction and this was unnecessary, praise God! Although, having to carry a cat-hole trowel and find a decent enough place to dig a hole and “do my business” wasn’t a piece of cake for me either. ALL of this was going to be a learning experience as this was my longest through hike. AND it was going to stretch my patience in ways I couldn’t imagine.

Have you ever felt like you’ve been in a place where you’ve lost and found yourself? Where every fiber of your being seems to dismantle, peel away and come completely undone only to have the most beautiful restoration happen? To unravel to be delivered? This…this is my John Muir journey. It’s amazing that God had to get me alone and into the wild to do that type of work on me. That Ive allowed myself to get so busy at times, too busy, to sit and pay attention. That I had to be so far removed from my normal day to day life, and SO challenged, crying an agony a few days, to hear His still small voice. That he had to take me off the grid, in the middle of nowhere in the wilderness to find me. He’s always been there. He’s never left me. BUT I’ve allowed the business and the clamor of life to pull me off track. It was as beautiful as it was brutal and a journey of losing myself to find His love at an even deeper level than I could ever imagine.





Can you believe we are half way through the first month of the year? Did you make resolutions? Are you hanging in?

I have been quiet. Life has been quiet and delightful. The extraordinary, chaos of having imagesour house full of kids over the holidays has died. The bustling of shopping, the parties, and entertaining through the New Year is gone. The snow continues to fall and its quiet. That placid, calmness that is carried in after a new year begins is incredible! Winter season.

This is always my regroup-reassemble-organize-tea-time-book-reading time of year. It’s cozy and delicious.

In these moments of quiet is when I hear God. It’s when work happens. It’s when closeness arrives.

I’m still riveted by my word for the year: patience. I often find myself fidgety, and saying “OK, let’s get going on this, and see what it all means.” Then I am gently reminded to be quiet. Wait. Lean in and be patient.

0e7f937cb212216ba9409e26c270df10As days creep on and God peels back layers of me like an onion, its literally captivating me to see what is and what will be revealed. What wisdom is he going to drop on me? To know him better? To live more profoundly through him? What needs resuscitated in me? In the life of my husband and I? In our family? How will he use me this year?

Our last child is a senior this year. Knowing this is plaguing me. It’s gone so fast. Too fast! We have loved the dickens out of our kids and have had the MOST-WONDERFUL time raising then, goofing off with them, laughing with them, having grand adventures with them, traveling with them and living this life-journey with them. We love them with such fierceness. Our best things ever in life have been our kids. So now….we are in this pivotal, transition. We both know it is going to be a time of patience and change and growth and modification and revision. As well as resurrection.  The best-friend couple coming back into a place of being “just a couple” again. Older. Smarter. More in love, with decades of growth and passion and zeal under our belts. Already the hubs and I are both sorta going..”HUH?” We’ve talked about this time coming for a while and now it’s almost here. We are excited and thrilled to be transitioning into this next phase of life. It’s bittersweet though. No more “crazy” of a houseful of kids, but onto the “crazy” of just being a couple again. Very thrilling!! A whole new season. A whole new circus ride!images-1


Another thing going on in the Fun-House  is race season prep. I’ve also had great patience regarding this. I’ve been reading over training plans, meal plans, rest plans….you name it. In some ways I’ve had to be patient, coming off of a recent running injury and a less than stellar year health wise. All that is behind me now, and I’m starting to round out the season. I talked with a sweet friend of mine yesterday and told her I have a whole new approach this year. I’m not racing frenetically. Not getting pulled into races randomly. Not falling into any type of pressure. The season is well planned out. Allowing me for some incredible training and race time with family and friends, but not enough to consume me. It’s all about having a lot of fun! (It always is) and balance. I’m being kinder to my body and kinder to my soul. Eating better and DRINKING better (as in H2O, which I am admittedly horrible about.) Turns out, the camel approach…not always the best for our human bodies. I will get to do some fun traveling to Pittsburgh, PA (GO STEELERS!) back to my place of birth to run and ruckus with my cuzzies and see A LOT of family and to California (HOLLA being able to race a 70.3 in my hometown!!) and end it all with a most-epic adventure in August! The icing on the cake!! Honestly!  THE ICING!

It’s not a busy schedule by any sense of the word. But a fun-butt-kicking-laugh-alot-and-train-with-good-friends-season! It already feels good!

It’s a Joy-Filled season all authored by the One who knows and loves my soul in the most furious of ways. Who knew exactly what kind of year I needed!7efb6abf00184733b6b41d1a0db1fc6d