Notes from the Tahoe Rim Trail – why we walked
Two weeks on the trail is difficult – you walk long distances, eat bad food, sleep on hard ground, and are generally very, very dirty – but it’s completely worth it.
Within the first few hours of the first day of our 165 mile, 15 day hike around the Tahoe Rim Trail, one member of our group, Ross Franke, was already fighting through blisters that would have turned most people around before spending one night in the woods.
Another member of our team, Barbara Oquendo, who had never been backpacking before in her 60-odd years of life, was contending with an exploding backpack that would periodically spread all her belongings across the trail and into the bushes.
Nobody in the group escaped hardship, from bruised and blistered feet, to cold, sleepless nights, I doubt if a single person didn’t question at one point or another, “what am I doing here?”
But here’s the thing ” nobody gave up.
Yes, we lost one of our team, Robert Peebles, who’s infected foot had gotten so bad our guides had to decide to take him off the trail, but he had soldiered on with an excruciatingly painful toe for days before, and showed no sign of slowing.
So why did we do it? It’s hard to explain, really.
Sure, there were amazing views the whole way round the lake, beautiful wildlife, a sense of accomplishment and the added bonus of a more trim, fit figure when we finished.
And walking with a Tahoe Rim Trail Association group hike, we had the added bonus of getting to know and befriending a whole new group of people, and the luxury of support and fresh food (and beer) whenever we resupplied our packs.
But the real reason we walked is because doing something like the Tahoe Rim Trail changes you.
It takes you, almost against your will, and while at first your body protests against the hard work, the strange dehydrated food, the unfamiliar sleeping situation, and even the self-dug bathroom breaks ” you soon adjust to your new way of life, and find it strangely suites you better than you would ever imagine possible.
Near the half way point when we joined the Pacific Crest Trail, one of our guides, Justin Wallace, turned to me and said “We only go north from now on, no more going south!” with an excited smile.
I replied sarcastically “What about switch-backs,” but I felt what he was feeling, and when it came time to turn off the PCT days later to head towards Tahoe City and the end of our trip, a small voice inside begged “Keep going north, you can keep walking on the Pacific Crest Trail for months.”
A long hike redefines what a person can and can’t do, and we were all amazed at how much we adapted to life on the trail.
Twelve-mile days that sounded daunting before the trip began were done just after noon, and dismal campgrounds next to highway parking lots quickly hosted boisterous and cheery cooking circles and good night’s rest.
We came to depend on ” and support ” our fellow hikers more than we expected, and became closer, faster than any situation back in the real world would ever allow.
We were swimming in our underwear, talking about burying our poop in the woods, and telling stories to each other that we wouldn’t tell our own relatives, all with people that were complete strangers only days before.
All this brought us to the finish line, in spite of ailment and injury, discomfort and self-doubt, for an experience no one on the hike would trade for anything.
That, and if you happen to be a reporter who announced your intentions to thru-hike the Tahoe Rim Trail to the world (or the five people who read my column anyway), you can’t very well give up half way, now can you?