Whoa! Regroup

“Regroup”, the most dreaded comment on a vacation next to “Who had the ATM card last?” And yet there is power in the great getaway-regroup. For that matter, there is power in the life-regroup and this week we happened upon an amazing adventurer who not only accepts the power in regrouping, she celebrates it. For any of you who’ve ever wondered about climbing a 14,000+ foot mountain, hiking rim to rim in the Grand Canyon or any other trek that could be defined as “epic”, Shelli Johnson of Epic Life is your answer.

In 2009, Shelli, founder and CEO of Yellowstone Journal Corporation, sold to Active Interest Media (owner of Backpacker, Yoga Journal, and Climber magazines) and began a gradual transition from promoting America’s famed parks to lacing up her boots and trekking them full time. The Grand Canyon, Yosemite, Zion, and the Rocky Mountain National Parks became Shelli’s playing field for taking individuals and groups on trips that empowered them and altered their lives in a multitude of beautiful ways. Having embarked upon a health makeover, and navigated depression and a general discontent, Shelli relates to those seeking a reconnect to a quality of life that sometimes proves elusive. Her Epic Life Coaching was born out of her own turnaround. The Epic trips she guides offer more than conquering an exterior mountain; the experience also encourages interior (emotional) mountain climbing and provides the tools to bring this to fruition.

Epic was what a trip last weekend to the Mount Whitney area was supposed to be for this On A Dimer and my little guy (age 15). An anticipated agenda of mystical sunrises and dispersed (free) camping in the Alabama Hills was on slate when gale force winds kicked up and tossed 3 semi trucks off the highway, sobering us into the image of our tent aloft with us inside. Upon this complication, we lowered our sails and coasted into the Dow Villa Motel parking lot . Rocking a migraine and a tent in 50 mph gusts was never even a consideration. The campfire we coveted was doused in favor of the boy hot-tubbing and swimming in his jeans while the fearless leader chugged coffee and Excedrin in a cushy bed and watched Mean Girls and the louder the wind howled – the louder it was proclaimed that “regroup” was the way to go.

Alabama Hills
Alabama Hills at the base of Mt. Whitney

There have been a number of regroups in my life but it is backpacking that made me hyper-aware of the seriousness of shifting the plan. When Shelli and I talked about “plan As” gone awry, we agreed wholeheartedly on one profound thing. Frequently, glorious, stunning moments and significant life-changes result from a whomp of unexpectedness. Nothing is clearer – when miles from help – than the fact that food, water, and shelter are the only things necessary to survival. Last fall, my guy and I sat on a bus bound for our Yosemite trailhead as snow and sleet quickly turned us from swaggering Half Dome hikers into lily-livered, cry-babies. When the bus driver announced that the road had been closed and we’d have to spend the night in a hotel, we threw ourselves in each other’s arms and sobbed with relief or at least half of us reacted this way.

A shift in plan is unsettling initially but it is what transpires afterward that can elevate us into a realm we did not anticipate. When in the backcountry, we are at the mercy of the elements and strategizing, in the face of adversity, exercises our courage and tenacity muscles of which mine are the consistency of jelly.

A solo trip up Mt. Whitney strengthened my tenacity muscle and brought respect for the wrath Mother Nature wields when I found myself racing a lightning storm to get below the tree line. I won and as silly as it may sound, I grew from the face-off with electricity in the raw. I had planned carefully, consulted the Rangers about weather, and adjusted by starting my climb at 11:30pm (cough, cough, permit allowed for midnight entry). I hiked all night through the dark rather than at sunrise and this had me staring down imaginary bears and serial killers most of the night. I was alone until 6am when I came across a 65-year-old hiker who literally was the reason I was able to summit. He asked how my head felt and I replied that it hurt. He then instructed me to “HURRY!” as the current altitude of 12,000 was just an appetizer for the pain my head would encounter at 14,508 and I would have to outrun the oncoming altitude sickness or turn back. He was right. I made the summit with a naughty headache and upset stomach and hurried down in an attempt to alleviate nausea and beat the approaching storm.

Highest point in the lower 48
Highest point in the lower 48

At the bottom, I felt empowered but I also felt humbled. My new respect for the mountain and the possibility of shift was something I carried with me the next two times I climbed Mt. Whitney as I had learned that multi-day, as opposed to 24-hour trek, was the way to manage altitude sickness. A later summit with a cousin and two teens was dramatically different, gifting me with a clear head, settled stomach, and glorious weather.

Glorious weather was not to be for Shelli and her group and their Mt. Whitney adventure (see blog here) was tricky with the addition of a snowstorm and regroup. The photos of the fairytale snow on the following day had me smiling and remembering last weekend when the boy and I left the Dow Villa Motel and headed up to Horseshoe Meadows. After sharing one of the Whitney Portal’s ENORMOUS pancakes and, friends, this is very much on a dime – we headed up the recently opened road. Horseshoe Meadows sits at 10,000 feet and it is beyond stunning. If there was a North Pole heaven, this would be it. Our regroup proved magical despite the boy having terribly ineffective shoes on his tiny (size 11) feet and the clean air and breathtaking scenery made “Plan B” an A+.

Teri trail2

Tree sculpture

If magic is what you are dreaming of, the list of possibilities is endless. If pulling off an adventure has you dreaming but nervous, call Shelli. And if it seems I am selling her services, it’s because I am. For free. I get no commission beyond the satisfaction that you are in good hands. Hands that will work with yours when it’s regroup time and clap loudly when you forge ahead and rock your regroup with some hard-earned sass and a saucy wink.

Please keep us in the loop on your adventures if you Tweet, Instagram and/or Facebook, we’re regrouping all the time in those arenas as well.

Rock on! Life Is In Session.

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