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My 30-Year Plan to Hike the John Muir Trail

How long does it take to plan a hike on California's John Muir Trail? In my case, it took 30 years and some serious life changes. I hope that you don't wait that long to take a dream trip; maybe my story below will inspire you to go for it!

It started one morning, 3 years ago, when I woke up creaking as usual. My back hurt, my ankles were sore and my head was throbbing; nothing all that different than the morning before.  

Curt at Mt WhitneyI was in the middle of a full-blown midlife crisis, out of shape, at least 30 pounds overweight, 5 years into a career meltdown, with a 25-year marriage on the brink of falling apart. I was completely washed up at the ripe old age of 47... at least that's the story I had been telling myself for the past 5 years.

The only thing different about this day from others that preceded it was that, for some reason, I actually woke up. By that I mean that I took a cosmic slap on the side of the head and finally heard a voice saying "snap out of it!" It went on to say, "It's time to get over the pity party and do something!"  

Whether it really was a voice or just me talking to myself and finally listening, I decided the time had come for some big life changes.

I had no idea where this trip was going to lead, but I knew that my journey of a "thousand steps" was just beginning. It actually started the next morning when I got out of bed a bit early to begin my first day of exercise. I was going outside to walk!

The day before my walk, I had written down a series of what I hoped to be "life changing goals." It was a 30-day commitment that included a diet overhaul, an alcohol fast, exercise and an infusion of positive thinking, courtesy of my iPod. After 30 days I would review these goals and decide how to proceed.

Thirty days turned into 3 months, then 6 months and finally a year. Walking around my neighborhood had evolved into hiking and discovering the wilderness near where I live. Thirty pounds were gone, many miles logged and my mindset was being transformed.

At cable on Half DomeLittle did I know that my journey was just beginning.

A chance encounter in a local coffee shop soon became the next step in this trip to wherever I was heading. I ran into a friend that I hadn't seen for a while, and he asked what I had been up to. I told him that I had been hiking. He asked if he could join me for some of my hikes. I had to pause and consider this since I had come to enjoy the solitude and opportunity to process all the things that were happening in my life. Would a hiking partner interrupt my peace of mind?

Fortunately this hiking friend turned out to be exactly what I needed to motivate me to new heights (and distances). While I had been lamenting my life at age 47, my friend Jim was rolling out of bed at age 68, talking about hiking Half Dome and Mount Whitney.  He made me realize that I was far from done "at my age." 

The next summer we took a group up Half Dome, and with that hike under our belts, set our sights on Mount Whitney.  Little did I know that this challenging day hike would replant the seed that grew into a decision to hike the John Muir Trail.

Group on Mt. Whitney
On top of Mount Whitney I met a hiker named Kyle. Kyle had just finished the 211-mile John Muir Trail at the age of 24. Hiking the JMT was something that I had dreamed about when I was 18, but never pursued. Job, family, building a business and a lack of exercise got in the way of getting outdoors.  Yet here I was 30 years beyond that dream talking to someone who had just done it.  

While I had logged many day hiking miles over the past couple of years, what I had not done in 30 years was put on a backpack, sleep on the ground or spend the night outdoors. I did not even own any backpacking equipment.

The idea that I would "celebrate" 50 by backpacking over 200 miles, when I had already declared myself dead at 47, made me smile. Standing on top of Whitney with friends who included a 68-year-old up there for his fifth time, made me laugh out loud. I guess life does begin at 50.  

Actually, what I discovered is that life begins when we decide to start living it. There are no age barriers, just mental barriers, that keep us from doing the things that we are capable of doing.

Next up: My experiences on the John Muir Trail.

About the author: Curt Cragg now works part time at the REI Santa Barbara (Calif.) store helping adventurers equip themselves for outdoor experiences. He also leads weekly hikes for the Santa Barbara County Hikers Meetup Group and coordinates trail maintenance projects as Executive Director of the Santa Barbara County Outdoor Foundation. Curt lives north of Santa Barbara in the Santa Ynez Valley.

Posted on at 4:22 PM

Tagged: Hiking, John Muir Trail, Mount Whitney and fitness

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Ray Rippel

Congratulations, Curt on turning things around. I know that sign you're kneeling behind well! I can remember seeing the "Mt. Whitney 11.7" and thinking, wow, Happy Isles is a long way away, and I walked every mile.

Keep at it and hope to see you in the Sierra Nevada one of these days.

Cheers, Ray Rippel

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Wow, great story, thouroughly enjoyed reading!


Thanks Curt for sharing your story. it is truly inspiring :)


Loved your story!! I was wondering today about this surprising change in your life and where this love of the outdoors came from and then I recalled how much Grandpa Cragg loved to fish and loved the beautiful Idaho wilderness. Then there was Art Toner, who was quite an adventurer, diving for abalone, fishing and a deer hunter. Different adventures, but both your grandfathers loved the outdoors. You are an inspiration!!

basic guy

I found this story truely inspiring and after reading it myself had to have my mom mute the t.v. so I could read it out loud to hear who is in her 50's who also thought it was really motivating and I think both of us are going to try your 30 day transformation. oh and by the way hurry up and do that john muir trail so I can read about that one as well. I watched a video a while back where a guy took a picture everyday that he was on a month hike and thought it was awsome think you should do the same to go with your story. Good luck you can do it!!!


Wow, what an inspirational story! Thank you for sharing it. It helps me rem,ember that life IS what we choose to make it!!

Jamie Dreyer

"Life begins when we decide to start living it." So true. Thanks for the story.


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