1. What was the most memorable part of your trip?
Without a doubt the most memorable moment on the Tahoe Rim Trail was camping at the summit of Relay Peak, which is the highest point at about 10,336 feet. Jennifer M and I were 12 days in and completely exhausted when we hit the summit. It was our coldest night and dropped below freezing. During the night I remember peaking my nose out of my sleeping bag and feeling the piercing cold penetrate my face. The next morning I got out of my tent at 5:45am to take a few photos of the sunrise. I remember for a few minutes I put my camera down and fixated on the horizon. Above me I saw stars in dark blue sky and directly ahead the faintest stream of orange light rising over the mountains in the distance. Everything was still. I was freezing. But I was at peace and so proud of myself. I remember thinking “this is why I backpack, for this.”
2. What do you consider to be the most prominent differences between solo trips and trips with multiple people?
Backpacking solo is an inner experience. You do it for yourself. I’ve done things alone my whole life, so I adapted to solo hiking fairly seamlessly. You get to know yourself more deeply. Thru-hiker Sean Sullivan put it so beautifully when he said to me “[when you backpack] you become the best version of yourself.” Backpacking solo forces you to become more stoic. No one is around to hear you complain. You have to fight for yourself, stand up for yourself, make hundreds of decisions every day. You become tough very quickly both mentally and physically. Your mind and body have to work together, causing you to become very present.
Backpacking with someone is more of an outer experience. You verbally and physically have to communicate and sometimes do things differently to accommodate the other persons actions and ideas. I rarely thru-hike with someone. But when I do, it’s equally as rewarding. I did the Tahoe Rim Trail with Thru Hiker Jennifer M, who completed the Pacific Crest Trail solo in 2018, which took serious balls. When we decided to team up for the Tahoe Rim Trail I was ecstatic because, we’ll first off, she’s wild in the best way possible. We have similar personalities so I knew she could tolerate my sarcasm with ease. And secondly, I knew Jen could handle hurting, hunger, exhaustion and fear. I knew she wouldn’t crack under pressure. I knew she would be fun, positive, vibrant and bring an infectious energy to the adventure. I learned a lot from her and came away from the experience a smarter hiker.
3. Can you describe any moment on your trip where you felt vulnerable or in an unsafe position?
The most vulnerable I felt was when I turned a corner to see the biggest bear run down the trail about ten feet in front of me. I did the 1200 mile Pacific Northwest Trail spanning through Montana, Idaho and Washington, in the heart of grizzly land and never saw one bear for three months. So finally seeing one that close on the Tahoe Rim Trail made my heart sink to the floor. He saw me and quickly ran down the side of the mountain, so our meeting was brief. He was beautiful though, dirty blond and dark brown fur. I named him Franky.
4. How did the responsibility of documenting your trip affect the experience of the trip itself?
I love to shoot. It’s a passion I’ve had since I was 10 years old. So actually coming up with shots and taking the time to shoot was not challenging. It actually forces you to pay attention more to what's around you. The most challenging part of documenting a longer thru hike is carrying the weight of the gear. I had an extra 7lbs of camera gear strapped to my neck and back. When you’re trying to be as light as possible, heavy gear is not your friend. But I was committed to carrying the gear the entire two weeks and adapted accordingly.
5. Now that you are more familiar with solo outdoor trips, how has your relationship with the outdoors been negatively and/or positively impacted?
I’ve developed a very personal relationship with the outdoors. Almost similar to being in an actual relationship. We fight. We laugh. Ive fallen down hills, gotten lost, cursed at it with all my might then cried so hard to the point of being sick. And yet, the star filled nights, purple painted rolling mountains, streaming clear rivers, vibrant fire-colored sunsets, and wildlife I have fallen so deeply in love with. At the end of the day, there is a mutual respect between us. We protect each other. You feel these feelings very deeply when you hike solo. The wilderness has taught me patience, gratitude and love. Anyone who thru-hikes will tell you, saying goodbye to a trail can be heart wrenching. At the end when I walked off the Pacific Northwest Trail, after hiking for three months, I felt my heart breaking. It’s a love that I wish everyone could feel. It makes you feel like you could fly higher than you ever thought possible.
6. What sort of reactions did you get when people you encountered on your trip found out you and Jennifer were traveling alone?
This is a fascinating question because, I feel like the idea of women backpacking is still fairly new. I rarely see my mother or grandmothers generation endorse women in the outdoors. Until recently, women were conditioned to settle down early in life, start a family and run a thriving household. Backpacking was just crazy talk. People love to remind me constantly of the dangers of solo backpacking. On the Tahoe Rim Trail I felt like other hikers just assumed Jen and I were day-hiking. When we mentioned we were taking on the entire 170 miles you could see a sense of surprise followed by very positive and uplifting remarks. Other backpackers were always more supportive of us. Non-backpackers will constantly remind you how dumb you are. But I feel like a new bred of frontierswoman of the 21st century are emerging and heading into the outdoors as fearless crusaders and forces of nature. They welcome adventure while maintaining a high level of respect for the land. It’s exciting to see.
But to this day, If I go on a long hike, I’ll tell my grandmother after the fact and afterwards she always says “knock it off with that crap.” I think it’s cute.
7. What do you hope people will take away from your film?
After watching our short film I hope viewers are reminded to let go. Some of my best life decisions happened by me just starting and not overthinking. Jen and I both have a “well let’s just see what happens” attitude. If you want to thrive as a backpacker or human being, you need to let go of things that hold you back. Learn to release the negative side of situations and shift your focus on what you want to accomplish and the positive side. It’s okay to get dirty, be scared, be hungry and physically hurt. I think its good to kick your own ass sometimes. If you want to backpack, don’t focus on getting lost, hurt, encountering animals or the dark woods. Instead focus on the stunning views, the fascinating other hikers you’re going to meet, the nights you’re going to drink wine, skinny dip, star gaze, enjoy the calmness of the woods, the early morning sunrises and losing yourself in nature. Get out of your head and stop overthinking because baby you’re just wasting time.
8. Do you have any advice for women seeking to go on their own solo trip?
Pick a trail, something with a beginning and end point. Could be three days or could be five months. Don’t overthink it. Then invest in some new gear. No piece of gear is perfect. Make a decision and move on. Get to the start of the trail and just start walking. Be silent. Listen to the trees. Listen to the rivers. Wake up for sunrises. When you want to quit, dig your trekking polls into the earth and hike faster and harder. Every morning stare down each mountain you have to hike over and say to it under your breath, let’s fucking dance. Fight like hell to get to the finish. At the end you’ll pull out of you someone you never knew existed. You will realize anything is possible and you will feel, probably for the first time in your life…. freedom.