4 Lessons Learned on the Tahoe Rim Trail

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By: AHS Ambassador, Saveria Tilden

Hard to believe that two and half months have gone by since Paul and I were backpacking the Tahoe Rim Trail. Having time to reflect on the trip has been good as the experience turned out very differently than imagined and that took some time to process. A trip report will still be written about the sections we completed and the beta gathered. This is not that report. Here I would like to share the 4 important lessons that I learned on the trail.

1. Good friends are gold.
We had been trying to decide how to schedule our mid-way resupply and 2 weeks before heading to Tahoe I remembered that we have friends who moved to South Lake Tahoe. Granted we had lost touch and hadn’t talked to them since they moved… 9 YEARS ago, but we were friends on FB and I thought what the heck I might as well ask if they would be interested. Not only did they say yes to being our resupply trail angels, they opened their home to us the night before we embarked on the trail. While on the trail there was a forest fire that we could see a few ridges away and they were able to check with Cal Fire and let us know we were safe. When we had to move our resupply up by a day and take our dog off the trail and board her, they drove to the trailhead to pick us up and brought us back to their place where we were able to swap out all of our food, drop/store things we didn’t need, SHOWER, enjoy some beers and then drove us back to the trailhead the same day. They also stored all of our extra stuff until we were finished with the hike. All of this support was given while they were putting on their first Half Marathon Race Event and hosting friends from out of town. They made what could have been some stressful moments so much easier. Their kindness and generosity was overwhelming awesome and will never be forgotten.

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2. A trusted partner provides peace of mind. 
Paul and I do most of our outdoor adventures together, but this was going to be the first time with just the 2 of us for this long. Of course you go into a trip like this thinking everything will be awesome. What sounds better than 24/7 out in the wilderness with your hubby and pup for 2 weeks. That being said you know things will come up, because rarely does everything go as planned. At the end of the day, I trust Paul and respect his decision making and vice versa. Each day we had an idea of a plan, mileage goal, rough idea of where to camp, food for the day, water refills, etc. There was so much unknown about the trail that no day was exactly as we thought it would be, but that was never an issue. We were fluid in our decision making, ideas were brought up and agreed upon, and when these changed it was because that it was the trail wanted. The other nice thing about this trust was that when one of us was tired physically or mentally the other naturally just took the lead. It is easy to follow when you have trust in your partner and sometime nice to have a break where you just get to enjoy the scenery and not worry about the next trail junction.

image.jpg3. Your heart knows what to do. 
I tend to be very goal oriented. One of my 2015 goals was to do a 7-12 day thru-hike. Tahoe Rim Trail was it. I decided on Tahoe Rim Trail for a number of reasons… 1) 165 miles seemed doable for a thru-hike newbie, 2) I liked the idea of a loop trail for logistics, 3) a friend did it last year and couldn’t stop talking about how beautiful it is, 4) it was dog friendly so we could bring our trail pup Betty. Schedules aligned and a 3 week window opened right when we wanted to go, which with Paul’s work was a unique opportunity. Planning was finalized and we were off.

Our first challenge came with Betty. We had always joked that if needed we could carry Betty, as she is only 11 pounds. But when her booties started rubbing the pads on her dew claws raw we realized quickly that carrying her for 100 miles was not an option and not fair to her as she just kept hiking through the pain to be with us. Even though we knew her feet hurt she let us provide first aid and treat her sores. She hiked a mighty 68 miles over 5 days and we are super proud of her. Thank goodness for Tahoe Best Friends they took awesome care of her… and some of her other 4-legged friends that we had met on the trail too. We were pretty emotionally drained from having to take Betty off the trail, but were ready to continue on when our friends dropped us back at the trailhead later that day.

4. How to know when to call it. 
As they drove away I received  a text to call my dad about my aunt who had been sick battling cancer. I had one bar and upon calling learned that she had passed away that morning. They didn’t know when the funeral would be so we decided to continue on the trail. A funny thing about this trail is that you would be seemingly in the middle of nowhere, but get a text or your phone would ring. I had turned the phone off to conserve battery life, but texts kept coming. Two nights later I got a text from my dad that the funeral was the following Saturday, in 4 days. With our 15 mile per day plan there was no way would be able to get back to LA in time. My heart was heavy and I found myself crying everytime I thought of her, but everyone was supportive of our decision to be on the trail. The next morning as we were just starting on the trail my phone buzzed with a text from my cousin. I saw I had service and called her back immediately.  We talked and I cried about me not being there for her and to celebrate her mom’s life. Unknown to me Tahoe was one of my aunt’s favorite places and my cousin assured me she would be happy knowing this is where I was. We kept going, but my heart continued to be heavy and filled with sadness. We had put in a couple of long days and at some point I started to realize that we would be passing through the Tahoe City trailhead on Thursday, the one place we could come off the trail and find a way to our car at Tahoe Meadows, which would mean we could get back to LA by Saturday for the funeral.

All of this was going through my head and I decided that I would talk to Paul that night at camp about this, as this was not my decision to make alone. The last couple miles of this day included  about 800+ feet of switchbacks to a ridge where we planned to camp, after already gaining about 5000′ throughout the day. As we started up the switchbacks my phone buzzed with a text from my brother saying that he was flying in from South Carolina for the funeral. I looked down and there was a heart shaped rock at my feet. Paul asked what was up and I started crying really hard. As we made our way up the switchbacks we talked about our options through my tears.

We discussed what was keeping me on the trail and when it came down to it, the answer was ego and pride. I had set a goal to hike the whole Tahoe Rim Trail and stopping with two sections left would feel like failure. I wanted to be able to tell my story of completing the full hike, not stopping short. There was also the concern of when our work schedules would align again allowing us to return and finish if we stopped. We knew at this point we could 100% finish these two sections, so this was no longer a question that we had in our minds.

The reality is that the trail will always be there and the last two sections are not going anywhere. What wouldn’t be there again was the opportunity to celebrate with my family the life of an amazing, strong, selfless woman. A woman whose entire life was about being there for others. Hearing her unique laugh in my head had helped me through the last few difficult days and I knew I wanted to honor her love and spirit. In the end the decision to come off the trail wasn’t that hard and once the decision was made, I was at peace. No more tears, just a beautiful gentle final sunset at camp with my husband.

We came off the trail in Tahoe City proud of the 140 miles we had covered and were faced with a new challenge of how to get to our car. That story will have to wait until the trip report, but let’s just say it involved margaritas, a bus, and a sheriff.


Saveria Tilden is a consultant and outdoor educator committed to outdoor participation and exploration. You can learn more about her at www.TheAdventurUs.com

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