Five Things I Learned Hiking the John Muir Trail by Joan M. Griffin

Bonus #0. Something I’ve long known was especially important during the John Muir Trail adventure that became my memoir, Force of Nature.

Plan ahead thoroughly, but be ready to adjust and embrace surprises.

I’m a planner. I like to do all the organizing early—creating Plans A, B, and C—so I can relax and enjoy the trip. For example, I had to organize my meals for a month, break food up into packages for each day, and then send boxes ahead to food caching sites to be picked up. One box was even delivered to the trail by packhorse. Out in the wilderness, I was confident my supplies would be waiting for me at the next stop.

1. Have patience with myself that I will rise to the occasion—I will get stronger or I’ll adjust. I am brave (even when I’m scared). 

Early in our adventure, I was terrified of walking across logs over rivers. I felt top-heavy with forty pounds on my back and didn’t trust my feet on rough curved logs. I pictured myself falling headlong into the river below! But I kept working on my balance and my confidence, so that by halfway, I was practically skipping across rivers on logs! 

2. Being in community makes everything better! 

Though I enjoy solitude, I actually need to be with people. Hiking with a friend makes most things easier. The Three Women supported one another with problem-solving, like when we had to fix a serious issue with our tent before we got to the High Sierra, where nighttime temperatures were below freezing. We encouraged each other when one of us faltered or grew tired. We shared laughter and awe, too. Those “Wow!” moments when we stood alone on a 12,000-foot mountain pass with nothing but open sky on all sides were made to be embraced together. 

3. Nature is immense and majestic, and I’m in awe. 

I knew Mother Nature was beautiful. I’d hiked in California’s Sierra Nevada for years, but being far from civilization surrounded by wilderness day after day is a completely different experience. Being alone and immersed in the natural world is life-changing. It instills a sense of awe that I’ve never experienced anywhere else. I know even small daily doses of nature make my life better—a whiff of fresh air, the lush green of a hillside, the cerulean blue of the sky, the whisper of a psithurism (the sound of wind blowing through pines).

4. Break a hard thing into a bunch of tiny things. 

One time, when faced with 99 steep switchbacks that climbed up the side of a ridge, my hiking partner suggested we stop at number 33 for a snack break and again at number 66 to rest. We counted each switch aloud, making a game out of it. Suddenly, with less effort than we expected, we popped up at the top! Spread out in front of us was a broad meadow lush with wildflowers! 

5. Do one thing at a time. 

I learned this painful lesson on the very first day of our twenty-seven-day adventure. We were chatting and admiring the wildflowers growing between the river and the trail. Mid-sentence, I was on the ground! I’d stepped awkwardly on a stone and twisted my ankle. Like a turtle on its shell, I was on my backpack and stuck! My hiking partners helped me up and dusted me off. Embarrassed, I limped determinedly on with an ace bandage around my ankle. The lesson? Watch your feet. Stop to admire the scenery. NO multitasking on the trail! 

Bonus #6. Something I learned a decade later—while reflecting on time and aging: Do it now, or as soon as you can, because you won’t always be able to. 

Time flies and our bodies age. In my 70th year, I can’t walk 200 miles carrying a 40-pound pack. I am so grateful I experienced this amazing JMT adventure when I did! So, be realistic, but be bold. Know what you can do, and then do it.

About the Memoir Force of Nature

Three friends, women in their fifties, set out to hike “the most beautiful long-distance trail in the world,” the John Muir Trail. From the outset, their adventure is complicated by self-inflicted accidents and ferocious weather, then enriched when they “adopt” a young hiker abandoned by her partner along the trail.

The women experience the terror of lightning at eleven-thousand feet, the thrill of walking through a towering waterfall, and the joy of dancing among midnight moonshadows. For a month, they live immersed in vast natural beauty, tackle the trail’s physical demands, and find camaraderie among an ensemble cast of eccentric trail characters. Together, they are pulled forward toward the trail’s end atop the highest peak in the High Sierra, Mt. Whitney, and the culmination of their transformative journey.

Purchase a copy of Force of Nature on Amazon, Barnes and Noble, and You can also add this to your GoodReads reading list.

About the Author, Joan M. Griffin

Joan lives under the spell of wanderlust. She takes wing, whenever possible, for actual destinations near and far and for literary locales in the pages of books. A native Californian, Joan lives in the Northern California foothills of the majestic Sierra Nevada, a world she loves exploring. Joan navigated her way through two careers—marketing computers, then sailboats—before applying her love of storytelling to her dual passions for teaching and writing.

In addition to working on her next book, Joan teaches women's history and literature for the OLLI programs at Sierra College and UC Davis Extension.

You can find her online at:

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