Learning and Re-Learning – 12/15/2019

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As I lay there on my backpack, I gazed up at the clear blue sky, the cool fog hanging low over the hills below Mt. Tam…

“Tell Nancy I’ll wait back at our cars,” I told my friend Sylvia.

[Guest blogger Sallie DeWitt shares her story of training for and  backpacking along the Pacific Crest Trail near Mt. Shasta. Learn more about Sallie at the end of the article.]

Getting Ready to Backpack

Sallie lying on backpack just before Nancy pours water on my head
Before Nancy pours water on my head

That morning the sun had dawned bright and hot as we’d started our hike a short time before. I was wearing my backpack to train for an upcoming REI trip. At 21 pounds, it was far short of the 30-35 pounds REI said we should be able to carry; but it was a start. Twenty minutes into our hike, I found myself slowing down. Suddenly I realized I had to sit down. Finally, I lay back, looked up at the sky and wondered what this might mean. Could I go on the REI hike?

Suddenly, Nancy Burns, our group’s hiking leader and my trainer for over fifteen years, came up behind me and poured water over my head. Whoa! Then she took ten pounds out of my pack. “Maybe I can keep going!” I thought, as I stood back up.

Early in 2019, shortly after turning 70, I’d signed up for a three day REI backpacking trip near Mt Shasta. At a younger age, decades ago, I’d backpacked many times, and loved it. These days I hike with Nancy and her group on Mt Tam every Saturday morning, as well as in the hills around Point Richmond. I wanted to see if I could still backpack and once again experience the thrill of high mountain vistas and a zillion stars overhead at night. But now learning to carry a fully loaded backpack for miles and days at a time was hard.

Surprisingly, I felt myself running toward the challenge.


Nancy set up a schedule to add weight to my pack each time we went out. My hiking buddies spurred me on. Like an athlete, I learned to eat a lot more calories than I was used to. During an REI class, I was told how to properly adjust a pack, so that almost all the weight shifts from the shoulders to the hips, which made a big difference. Slowly, in the weeks leading up to the hike, my confidence grew. I was pretty sure they weren’t going to have to helicopter me out of there.

Coaching 4 Dynamic Aging – Re-Learning

About two months before my hike, I started coaching with Joan Virginia Allen. After four years retired, I found I was busier than ever, everything “hair-on-fire” priorities—family, community service, and personal development and fitness—nothing I wanted to give up. Every day I felt like I was pushing boulders up a mountain. I looked to Joan to help me sort through all of this. I wanted to learn, at long last, how to accept things as they are without judgement. In particular I wanted to re-learn how to slow down and enjoy the journey, something I knew how to do when I was younger, but had long ago forgotten.

In our coaching sessions together, Joan helped me see that the REI hike was unlike the other challenges I’d taken on in my life. For one thing I was, in fact, enjoying everything about it, even the really hard parts, like when I had to sit down mid-hike with my pack on. I just laughed when it happened, took it all in stride and went with the flow. Maybe this might be what acceptance of what is—“letting things be”—could look and feel like—easy, empowering, fun. Joan and I agreed this could well serve as a model for my life going forward.

A Physical Challenge Amid Breathtaking Beauty

Finally, in mid-September, my husband and I arrived in the City of Mount Shasta a day or two early, so I could acclimate to the higher elevation.

Sallie with Mt. Shasta in the background
Sallie with Mt. Shasta in the background

The three day hike started at about 7000’ in the Shasta-Trinity National Forest about 45 minutes west of Mount Shasta. There were ten hikers in our group. I was the oldest by at least a decade. The youngest was probably forty-five or more years my junior. The average age was thirty-something, maybe forty. Each day we carried full packs, roughly 30 pounds, about six or seven miles. I hiked near the rear of the group, content to keep the main group in sight, about thirty or forty paces in front of me. The trail was manageable, wide and well marked, with few, if any, steep sections, either up or down. The weather was perfect, bright sunshine, never too warm or too cold, and the scenery was spectacular in all directions. Mt Shasta especially was always a thrill whenever it came into view off in the distance.

Reaching the Summit of Mt. Eddy

Porcupine Lake Campsite Day 1
Porcupine Lake Campsite Day 1

The third day promised to be the most challenging. We were to climb 1500’ to the top of Mt Eddy, just short of 9000′. At one point near the top and alone, I sat down thinking this might be my “summit experience”, as far as I could go. But after a minute or two, I stood back up and, taking my time, put one foot in front of the other, going around one switchback and then another. Finally, I caught sight of my fellow hikers. With a surge of adrenaline, I made it to the top of Mt Eddy. I handed my phone to a friend and asked her to snap my photo with beautiful Mt Shasta in the background. What a view!

Learning to Let It Be

At the Summit of Mt. Eddy with Shasta in the backgroundSummit of Mt. Eddy with Shasta in the backgroundS
At the Summit of Mt. Eddy with Shasta in the background

Will I backpack again? Hopefully! But for sure I’ll remember life lessons learned…

  • Don’t worry or even think too much about what might be. Stay with the present moment.
  • Let whatever is happening right now be what it is.
  • Take care of yourself and each other.
  • Do the best you can and don’t expect or wish it to be easy or perfect.
  • Learn from mistakes and let them go.
  • Celebrate achievements, even the little ones.
  • Enjoy good times whenever they present themselves.


Sallie retired from her professional career behind a desk, and started teaching basic TRX at Body Wisdom Studio. “I love introducing TRX to students – many of whom start with only basic fitness training – and watch them gain confidence and take pleasure in pushing themselves past limits they thought were cast in stone. My vision is that my students learn to develop total body strength safely, and in doing so, enhance mobility, endurance and power. Be strong!”


Thanks to guest blogger and coaching client, Sallie DeWitt, for sharing her determination, exploration, inspiration, learning and re-learning in her adventures as she is dynamically aging.

What trails do you want to explore in 2020?

Email joan@dynamicaging4life.com to save your place for a complimentary introductory coaching call and get started on your 2020 dynamic aging adventures. Joan is a certified professional dynamic aging coach.




  1. I love this inspiring account of LEARNING how to “do” older age.
    I enjoyed seeing how Sallie learned that she didn’t know what she could do — in other words, THINKING ‘I can’t do it’ is not the same as ‘I can’t do it.’

    Some activities may take longer, some activities may take more preparation, some activities may seem impossible, but, don’t say, “I can’t.” Ya don’t really know!

    I once undertook a marathon and they were closing the gate at the Finish Line by the time I got there, but I got there!

  2. Love this! Congrats, Sallie. Nothing you cannot accomplish with a hiking coach AND a professional coach. I feel like I want to do this hike now. You have inspired me!

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