June 3rd 2013

Susan walking the Camino de Santiago
Long walks have changed my life.  When I was 48, I remarried and my new husband Ralph taught me how to backpack. We climbed the highest peak in the lower 48 states, Mt. Whitney, which is in California's Sierra Nevada. Since that time we have gone back to the mountains numerous times and have section-hiked the entire 2,650 miles of the Pacific Crest Trail — the National Scenic Trail that stretches from the Mexican border to the Canadian one through the highest mountain ranges of California, Oregon, and Washington.
In 2007, when I was 65 and Ralph was 70, we took a very long walk to the top of Mt. Kilimanjaro (19,340'), the highest mountain in Africa.In 2001, we walked the Camino de Santiago — a pilgrimage trail that travels 500 miles across northern Spain from the Pyrenees to the western coast.  We've also walked more than a thousand miles on other ancient trails in France, Portugal, Spain, and Switzerland.
Susan & Ralph at the summit of Mt Kilimanjaro
Susan descending Mt Kilimanjaro aided by a porter.
On the Circuit Route in Chile.
In 2010, we hiked the incredible Circuit Route in Torres del Paine, Patagonia.
Walking has taken us countless places we couldn't have reached any other way.  We've walked through ancient forests, alongside bubbling streams, and across deserts.  We've climbed high to reach granite mountain passes and looked down at rivers crossed only hours before.  We've watched deer browsing, been scolded by squirrels and bluejays, and chased bears away from our tent.
On the Circuit Route in Torres del Paine, Patagonia, Chile.
We’ve met dozens of 'trail angels' —  people who have provided shelter in their homes or backyards, nourished us with food in kitchens or ice chests left trailside, given us rides to trailheads, and done our laundry. We’ve swapped trail stories with hundreds of other hikers and become part of a 'trail community' composed of thousands.
Long walks have brought countless rewards, and a few challenges, to my life.  I've grown stronger physically, mentally, and emotionally.  The physical strength comes not only from the long walks, but also the shorter walks I do at home year-round in order to stay fit.  Mental strength has come from such things as learning how to pitch a tent and how to read a compass.  Emotional growth has come from the challenges — handling my fear when a bear comes into camp, for example, or continuing on a hike when I feel exhausted.  Emotional strength also comes from knowing that I need very few possessions in order to be happy and safe.  To survive, I need only food and shelter, the rest is gravy.
On the Camino de Santiago in Spain.
Long walks have reopened doors to writing and publishing. The journals that I have kept during our various hikes have become the foundation for my recent books on hiking and backpacking. I established my own publishing company, Shepherd Canyon Books, and with Ralph’s computer knowledge, and strong support, have launched Patagonia Chronicle: On Foot in Torres del Paine; Camino Chronicle: Walking to Santiago; and We’re in the Mountains Not Over the Hill: Tales and Tips from Seasoned Women Backpackers. Because I know that long walks have enriched my life in countless ways, I enjoy encouraging others to explore the world on their own two feet.  Don’t be afraid to take that first step — and keep in mind what Charles Dickens had to say 'The sum of the whole is this: walk and be happy; walk and be healthy. The best way to lengthen out our days is to walk steadily and with a purpose.'
by Susan Alcorn of www.backpack45.com
Editor's Note: We hope Susan's experiences will inspire you to lace up your boots and take to the trail! If you are interested in more information on a fully guided and escorted walking vacation - order The Wayfarers' free 34-page Walk Away Guide by Everett Potter to find out more.

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