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Miles from Nowhere

Hiking the John Muir Trail with my two diabetic teenage daughters
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By CAROL MEAGHER  |  Moonshine Ink

It started to snow as we walked the damp trail from Tuolumne Meadows through the green and water-filled Lyell Canyon. It was August, and snow is rare at this point in the summer — even in the Sierra Nevada — and we had to camp at the base of Donahue Pass for a few days until the weather cleared, which put us back a couple of days from our original plan. We now would have to hike longer and farther in the coming days so we wouldn’t run out of food.

After much persuasion, my daughter, Sarah Jane, 16, convinced her coffee-addicted mom and older sister, Samantha, 19, who is not a hiking enthusiast, to take on the adventure of hiking the John Muir Trail. Sarah Jane, Samantha, and I traveled from Tuolumne Meadows to Mount Whitney, an area spanning more than 200 miles, in 30 days, averaging eight miles a day.

For those of you who think you would not be able to do the JMT because you are never going to be in shape, I am here to say you can if you are an experienced backpacker. Yes, in the first week, we made slow progress and experienced hail storms. I might have cried with exhaustion once or twice. But in the beautiful sunny mornings, everything was good again, and the fresh cold mountain streams that cover the entire trail rejuvenated me at any point of any day.

This adventure was one of the best experiences ever with my children, but also one of the most worrisome. I was taking my daughters, both of whom have type 1 diabetes, deep into places that are far from towns, hospitals, and grocery stores. If you have a child with type 1 diabetes, you know exactly what I mean. We worry at home on a daily basis, and must conduct constant rituals to keep our children healthy. Sometimes we wake up in the middle of the night with an adrenaline rush and run to check our sweetie’s blood sugar to make sure she is alive.

Over the course of the trip we fixed the frequency of low sugar episodes by adding additional food drops to keep up the stock of bars, gummies, and sugar. This was a relief because at the start of the trip, we stopped the daily dose of insulin completely because they were constantly low. I could not keep their sugar levels regulated. With diabetes under control the girls started seeing and feeling the joy of the trip.

We planned our miles, food drops, and layovers in weeklong segments. Each week we had a layover, new food, and one special meal such as tacos or homemade curry with brown rice. Having Dad be our Sherpa and food drop guy was a relief and fun. Seeing him once a week was a highlight — but maybe not as great as scoring Flaming Hot Cheetos in the Muir Trail Ranch leftover food bins. I’m not sure if I have ever seen my girls so happy about getting their fingers coated with orange MSG.

I have no doubt that Sarah Jane will be a lifelong hiker, and I know this adventure would not have happened if it weren’t for her enthusiasm. She sums up our time on the JMT by saying, “I was so happy because I was not stressed all the time like I am with school. … The experience is one of the best accomplishments of my life, definitely the most fun.”

When we finished the trail, Samantha said with relief, “Seeing all the amazing views, sitting by a creek reading my book in the sun, and enjoying the wilderness made up for the horrific climb up Forester Pass, having blisters, no showers, and sleeping on a tiny pad without a pillow. I loved the time with my mom and sister, and the memories we share together.”

For me, the best part was spending blissful days with my daughters, surrounded by solitude and utter beauty, with no technology to break us apart. Taking turns reading To Kill a Mockingbird aloud in the tent at night was an unbeatable joy for all three of us. Each night one of us would beg for the reader to keep reading — “please” — just one more page.

We all felt wiped out at the end as we trudged down the grueling trail to Whitney Portal. Our bodies were sore, tired, and strong, and we could not wait for the breakfast we were going to have at the end. Yum — pancakes, eggs, coooffeeeeeee. We finished with fresh minds, happy, and already planning our next family journey.

Do you have a parenting story to share? Contact Carol Meagher at director@kidzonemuseum.org. To learn more about KidZone Museum, visit kidzonemuseum.org or call (530) 587-5437.

 
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February 14, 2019