by Emily Estrada

I recently got laid off.

While only somewhat unexpected, my relatively ordered life was thrown into immediate disarray. Unsure of what to do with my newfound time and ready for adventure, I decided to drive down to California for a two-week road trip. Due to the time constraints of my many hosts, my plan was to hustle down to San Diego and then meander north. In hindsight, driving 16 hours in one day wasn’t the best idea. Moreover, it was tortuous to pass so many renowned national parks and forests without stopping to explore. The competitive, adventurous side of me longed to stop and try my hand at running up and down one of California’s famous fourteeners. On the other hand, my friends and their new baby awaited in San Diego. Any time spent in the mountains detracted from time with them. Little did I know that an opportunity for adventure would present itself the very next day.

When my friend went to a doctor’s appointment the following afternoon, I decided to explore a nearby park. The website had drawn me in with its description of over sixty miles of California-style trails, with plenty of views of the surrounding area. I walked into the visitor center and my eyes lit up at a sign exclaiming “Take on the 5-Peak Challenge!” As I looked more closely at the map, my head filled with possibilities.

I approached the ranger behind the front desk with trepidatious excitement.

“Can you tell me a little more about the 5-Peak Challenge?” I asked.

“Oh sure,” he replied, handing me a map.

“Is there a way to do them all in one day? Do you have to drive to each trailhead?” I pressed.

“Well, you COULD do it all in one day, and you COULD drive to each trailhead” - and here he lowered his voice confidentially - “but some people complete it as one loop.” 

“And SOME crazy people even run it.”

That settled it. I could be one of those crazy people. I could run the loop.

At that moment, I was ready to grab the map out of his hand, hurry to the nearest trailhead and start running. However, I did a quick mental check. I didn’t have enough water or food and my friends were expecting me for dinner. And, it wouldn’t be wise to start running at 2:30pm in a desert environment; the next morning would be better, I would do it then I declared.

As I walked back to the car, further doubts starting surfacing. I didn’t know how long the loop was. I was unfamiliar with the terrain. My pack couldn’t fit more than a couple liters of water. I didn’t have much food. I was already sunburnt and didn’t know if my skin could take additional prolonged exposure. My body was still recovering from a 30 mile run two days prior. There was no place to bail if I got tired or injured. Most importantly, I was alone.

I sat calmly in the front seat of my car, turning over the pros and cons in my mind. After a few minutes of quiet reflection, I came to a realization. All of my doubts boiled to one thing: fear. Specifically, the fear that I would fail. I thought, “You were looking for an adventure, Emily. Now you’ve found one.” I told myself it was okay to be afraid, so long as I didn’t let fear run my life. I didn’t have to run fast, I just had to try.

After deciding to go through with it, I felt like a weight had been lifted. Though the hardest part was still to come - i.e. the run itself - part of the mental battle had already been won. That evening, I perused route beta, located water stops, prepped food, and told my friends where I’d be in case something went wrong. I slept soundly, dreaming of my footsteps on the rocky ground.

The next morning, I drove to the trailhead, shouldered my pack, and laced up my shoes. Alright,” I whispered. “Here goes.”

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