It was growing inside of me. This calling was taking shape and form. I could no longer ignore it. This calling, which has always been in there somewhere, came creeping up to the surface from the deep sometime around early 2012. It was a call to return to my own true nature, to a place within myself which was original, unmolded by the hands of others, pure and child-like and deeply spiritual. This calling would connect me to the source, to the divine, and it needed to happen through an exploration of the wilderness. In the Summer of that year, on a trip to Yosemite with my Mom and her horses, I decided to climb Half Dome. That day was magic. All of the elements fell perfectly into place. I truly enjoyed every moment, and have a distinct memory of the descent where I entered a state of blissfull consciousness. I was alone, and the trail had all but emptied out. As the afternoon light faded to a soft pink and yellow, their hues took over and dazzled the iridescent fuchsia wildflowers and cast a golden glow on the oak leaves. Birds called and their voices echoed down the canyon in reverberating layers of delight. The world surrounding me twinkled magically and I was high on endorphins. I walked silently, tiptoes engaged as I floated down the granite steps of the Mist Trail like a silent ninja. I took my time, I paid attention, I walked with no headlamp after dusk, and I committed the experience to memory, and I promised myself something that day. I promised that very soon, I was going to hike from that exact trail head, all the way to Mount Whitney, over 200 miles South, on a 12″ wide path, famously known as the JMT or John Muir Trail. I also promised myself that day, that after my JMT hike, I would thru-hike the also famous wilderness corridor known as The Pacific Crest Trail (PCT), a dream of mine that was born in 1996, when I was 19 years old, and so fresh. I have since fulfilled the first promise (twice now) and last Summer I traversed the French Alps on a trail called the Grand Randonne Cinq (GR5). In 30 days from now, I will set foot at the Southern Terminus of the PCT and hike North to the Canadian border over the course of 6 months, fulfilling my second promise to myself and a 20 year dream of thru-hiking the PCT in one season.
In the course of the following years after the day I climbed Half Dome, I have made it a point to truly transform my life in pursuit of a dream. This dream means spending as much time in the wilderness and specifically the Sierra Nevada Mountains, as possible. There was simply no other way, what I experienced in that wilderness could compare to nothing else in life. If these places and these moments exist, why would I waste time not there and not in those places and moments when they were available to me? The journey to transforming my life began.
In October of 2012 I ventured on my first solo backpacking trip, for 5 days in Yosemite. I relish that first solo trip- and when I look back I laugh at myself for what went through my head. I will write more about that someday. Then, in the Fall of 2013, I quit my job to go hiking. Literally. I started my first solo hike of the JMT on September 6th, 2013, within which numerable experiences convinced me that I needed to live in those mountains. Following that hike, I experienced a small existential crisis back in civilization, which is so common after spending lengthy periods of time in remote wilderness. Yet, it helped me to understand what a deep transformation I was undergoing, and that it was going to take time. I had to get clear on what I wanted, and what I did not want. I decided then that I wanted to move to the Mountains. Not just any mountains, but the Sierra Nevada. On December 31st, 2013 in closing out the New Year I spent my first New Year’s Eve in 7 years not working. I had spent Christmas in Yosemite Valley, followed by a road trip to San Francisco, my former home of Santa Cruz and then approaching New Year’s Eve, I set my intentions for the design I wanted to take shape in the coming year. From my little tent where I camped in Big Sur, nestled into my sleeping bag well before midnight, in my journal, I wrote:
When you find something that you truly love, you find a way to build your life around it.
“I truly love being up in the High Sierra. I need access to the wilderness of the High Sierra on a regular, year-round basis. I need to find a way to live in the High Sierra that will allow me to make a living and afford me the freedom to explore the wilderness easily and often. I need to build my life path around this and it is what I want most at this time. Let this be known to the Universe and may the Universe provide me with the way to make manifest this dream. Please and Thank you.”
~Milissa Jayn Gillen
~Thousand Island Lake and Banner Peak, John Muir Trail 2013