When I was served with divorce papers in the ‘80s at the end of a 22-year marriage, I did what anyone would do—I signed up for a “highlight” camping and hiking trip with the Sierra Club that would take us to Alaska and Hawaii. The good news is that the trip lasted two weeks; the bad news is that it was only two weeks.
I loved both destinations, but Alaska being as vast and wild as it is, claimed a special place in my heart. How could I—at that point a reentry college student with a minimal income—ever hope to return there for a longer stay? A few weeks after I returned from my vacation to my home in the S.F. Bay Area, I met someone who had spent the previous summer working as a seasonal employee in Denali National Park. The hiring office of the park’s concessionaire was only an hour’s drive from my home.
I applied, was immediately hired, took my finals early, and flew to Alaska for the summer. The sales position in the park’s gift shop was fun; the time off was fantastic. Anytime that I wanted, I could take the free (at that time) shuttle bus into the heart of the park and start a hike from any point along the bus’s lengthy route. Armed with a telephoto lens, I would look for Dall sheep, foxes, caribou, moose, and grizzlies.
Once I asked to get off the bus so that I could spend more time taking photos of a grizzly that we had spotted; it was only after I climbed aboard the same bus on its return trip that a woman’s comment, “I was so worried about you!” made me realize that I had been a little too close to the bear for safety.
One day as I was walking back to the employee dorm from another of my hikes, an epiphany came—I could go anywhere in the world as long as I was willing to do much of the traveling on my own two feet and willing to stay in a tent or other low cost accommodation. Since that time I have backpacked extensively in the U.S. and abroad. I’ve climbed Mt. Kilimanjaro, completed the John Muir Trail and the Pacific Crest Trail, hiked thousands of miles of pilgrimage routes in France, Spain, and Portugal, and trekked the Circuit trail of Torres del Paine, Patagonia.
The rewards and challenges of the hikes and backpack trips that my husband, Ralph, and I have taken over the last twenty years have been the inspiration for my travel writing, and my life has been greatly enriched by the trail community to which we belong. My life of hiking, community, writing and publishing, now largely defines my core being.
I have seen that we can either reduce or expand our horizons depending on which stories we tell ourselves. Little did I know twenty-odd years ago that I would be completing hundred-plus-mile hikes around the planet. We learned the secret of hiking when we were one year old—it’s one step at a time—and what an incredible way to see the world!
About Susan Alcorn
Susan Alcorn, aka Backpack45, is the author of several books including We’re in the Mountains Not over the Hill: Tales and Tips of Seasoned Women Backpackers, Camino Chronicle: Walking to Santiago; and upcoming Patagonia Chronicle: On Foot in Torres del Paine.
Alcorn writes about regional hiking for Examiner.com at www.examiner.com/hiking-in-san-francisco/susan–alcorn.
Her free monthly hiking newsletter is available by request by sending an email to her at [email protected]