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John Muir Trail, the days after

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in SF, the day before we left for the JMT.

For whatever reason, once Jennifer and I wrote all 20 days of the JMT, adding this final “follow-up” post didn’t seem as urgent. I mean, it’s been over a year since this trip happened. But then I thought about it – this is the post that closes it all up. The post that wraps our adventure up with a nice, pretty bow. So let’s get this shit done already….

[Just as some insight here – I wrote this a few months ago so now we had to go back and update it all over again. ha ha ha ]

As you might recall from Day 20, we finished up the JMT 1 day early. At the end, I was glad we did. The final miles to the end were pretty treacherous, and not because they were harder than anything else but because we were so close to the goal – I wanted to run, but couldn’t. And showers and beer and pizza were beckoning.

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we made it to Whitney in 1 piece!

Once we downed our beer and french fries, we made our way to the car. There was a family next to our car who was celebrating the end of their adventure, and they had all sorts of fresh vegetables. Normally I don’t get super excited about carrots and spinach and tomatoes. I mean, I like them, but I get much more excited about beer and pizza. But this was different – we’d been eating dehydrated food for days. They offered us some veggies and I think the Jennifer and I tried our best to look dainty but it was pretty much impossible. Anyway, it was certainly a treat and just one more reason this experience was so amazing – people are just awesome.

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We were lucky enough to find some space at the hostel we’d originally booked for the following night. Jennifer and I were in a girls’ room and Chris in a guys’ room – sorta weird and it felt like a dorm with bunk beds and all, but there was a shower! But first – FOOD. There was a pizza place nearby so we decided that was way more important than a shower. We had a couple of pitchers of beer and plenty of pizza that at the time tasted like the most amazing thing I’d ever eaten. There of course were plenty of co-hikers eating pizza so it was fun to chat with people before heading back to the hostel.

Meanwhile, we’d texted with Courtney and Brittany – they’d finished the JMT earlier in the day, and we’d all decided to meet with them first thing in the morning for a nice big breakfast.

It felt good to shower and get dressed in some normal clothes that weren’t covered in dirt. I didn’t realize how much I missed deodorant, and the soapy smells of freshness. And let’s not even talk about running a brush through clean hair – man, I’d taken a lot of stuff for granted! It all felt so luxurious, and the irony was that we were in a freaking hostel sleeping in bunk beds with strangers.

The next morning, we figured out where to meet up with our buddies. We saw Andrew for a brief second because the girls shacked up with him and his parents the night before. It was pretty funny hearing about that experience, and picturing the look of shock on Andrew’s parents’ faces as he walks off the JMT with two chicks at his side and says, “hi mom and dad. these are my new friends and they are staying with us tonight”. ha ha ha ha. Anyway, they dropped Brittany and Courtney off at the restaurant and went on their way. We spent a good hour eating all the carbs and other yummy things that we could. Brittany and Courtney had relatives picking them up who lived in a town relatively close by, so they joined us for breakfast as well. It was fun to hang out in the real world and chat about some of the fun times on the trail with new people. We eventually made our way outside, took a quick group picture of us all nice and showered, and said goodbye.

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post JMT group shot!

After that, we made our way home to San Francisco – Chris drove the whole way and it was awesome to just sit and sit and sit.

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Going home was completely surreal. Showing up in SF was such a crazy contrast to our lives over the past 3 weeks. Cars everywhere! Bikes! Pedestrians without backpacks! And all sorts of food choices, booze, and familiar faces. We spent the weekend catching up with friends at a backyard barbecue/housewarming party a friend was throwing that weekend. On Sunday, before taking Jennifer to the airport, we spent some time in Dolores Park where Chris had miraculously arranged a surprise party for us before he’d left for the trail. There were balloons and cake and a giant sign and lots of friends. It was pretty spectacular.

Meanwhile, our bodies were sore, our feet were severely swollen, and Jennifer’s toes were barely recognizable as toes. The physical aftermath was starting to materialize and it was not pretty. My ankles had been hurting for days. Fortunately the morning and evening doses of Ibuprofen had helped on the trail, but I didn’t want to continue doing that every day. It would be months (months!) before my ankles would feel stable upon getting out of bed each morning. I got used to hobbling out of bed like an old gimpy lady, hoping that wouldn’t become the norm, and feeling very thankful when it eventually dissipated, but again, it was seriously months.

Jennifer had similar foot issues in that it took quite a while for them to get back to normal but I can guarantee all nastiness did eventually disappear and her feet are more or less normal again. Ok, they are back at baseline, let’s leave it at that ;).

As you’d imagine, Jennifer was ready to get back home to her life – her trip was longer than mine since she had flights from Seattle on both ends of it, and she was really really needing some Jon time. I know she was happy to be hanging with us in SF (she has lots of friends there too!), but if I were her I would have felt the same way – that my journey was still going. It was really hard to drop her off at the airport knowing we’d spent over 3 weeks together, mostly within each other’s sight the entire time. We knew the adventure we’d just completed together would be something we’d never ever forget. And while it wasn’t rainbows and sunshine every day, we left the JMT with a stronger bond than when we’d started, we’d become closer despite our differences (and tent-cleaning philosophies), and we were already thinking about what hike we wanted to tackle next – but that would have to wait a while.

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the longest day ever on the JMT (at least for me)

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one of my favorite Jennifer/Heather selfies because it so nicely showcases 1) chapped lips 2) duct tape and 3) those sexy buffs. Oh, and scenery.

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you can’t do a recap without a picture of one of our very best JMT moments 😉

We commemorated our adventure by getting tattoos together over Thanksgiving (we spend every T-day together along with another couple). We wanted something small and simple, nothing too crazy, but something that would be meaningful to us. We ended up going with a tracing of the elevation of the trail, similar to the picture we used on all of our daily posts. I love mine – it’s a subtle daily reminder of the journey and a great conversation piece about something I always LOVE talking about.

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this took all of 5 seconds to scribble on.

Would I do the JMT again? Absolutely. We had an email thread going for a few weeks between Jennifer, myself, and the rest of our trail family that was titled “Who’s ready to go Northbound”? I think we all were ready to turn around and do it again that year.

But this year has taken a different turn, and we have other focuses in our lives right now. For one of us, that just means a new job, a few small hikes here and there, and nursing a cat back to health after surgery. For the other, it means something bigger – like a miniature Carter that will soon be tearing up the streets of Seattle. I for one could not be happier about that. And who knows? Maybe there’s a family JMT hike in our futures. Or maybe it’ll just be a good excuse to leave rugrats at home. Time will tell.

So much so that I had to re-write that paragraph up there. That little miniature future Carter is now a real life human menace to society and is now about 3 whole months old. I can vouch for his cuteness as I got to cuddle him and squeeze him some over Thanksgiving in Seattle this year. All in all, Jennifer’s 2016 was exactly what she wanted it to be – 2015 was for hiking, and 2016 was for baby-making. I’d say that turned out as planned!

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the adorable Clark Spencer Carter

And while 2016 was very different for me, which did involve nursing our cat back to health after double knee surgery and getting a new job, Chris and I also ended the year with a much welcomed surprise ourselves – a future Wetzel who will be terrorizing San Francisco in May! Now we will have to plan a family hiking trip sometime in the next few years – although a NorthBound JMT hike will probably not be what ends up happening after all! Maybe a long weekend somewhere? Let’s play that by ear….

No matter how different this summer year (2016) was from the last one (2015), I continue to carry this adventure with me everywhere I go. It might sound like a bunch of hippie dippy shit, but it’s true. That trail – those 20 days of ups and downs, the gorgeous scenery, the connectedness you feel to the world while ironically being in the middle of nowhere, the things you put your body through to see those amazing vistas, all 250+ miles of carrying myself and the weight of a freaking toddler aka backpack (practice?), realizing that you are capable of so much more than you ever thought and that not even a giant mountain (or mountains) can stand in your way. It’s all those things, and so many more that I can’t put into words.

But yes, it was totally worth it.

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