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Backpacker Magazine – January 2014

Readers' Choice 2014: Dream Trips: 10 Ways Your First Backpacking Trip Will Change Your Life Forever

It took 40 years, but our winner finally got her wish.

by: Kim Phillips

Day 3 of Kelli Bullard's Dream Trip (Kim Philips)
Day 3 of Kelli Bullard's Dream Trip (Kim Philips)
Bullard (right) and Kellie Luetkahans (by Kim Phillips)
Bullard (right) and Kellie Luetkahans (by Kim Phillips)

Theme category: “My First ____”
Winner: Kelli Bullard, 54, communications director at Trinity Fellowship Church in Amarillo, TX
Guest: Her friend and hiking partner Kellie Luetkahans, 52, of Canyon, TX
Where to: Thousand Island Lake via the Pacific Crest Trail, Inyo National Forest, California, July 18 to 22, 2013
Winning pitch: Bullard had camped as a child but not since; we liked the idea of helping her rekindle the flame. “Turning 50 was a wake-up call for me. Backpacking was something I always wanted to try, and I realized that I had to make it a priority or else it was never going to happen.”

8. Save money on vacations.

Tent versus five-star hotel? Now, it’s a no-brainer. “Each night in the tent, I could hardly sleep from staring at the twinkling stars,” Bullard says.“I could hear coyotes howling in the distance, the moon shone down like a night light, and the fresh mountain air was intoxicating.”

9. Set new goals.

Bullard has already started planning a multiday rafting trip, which will involve camping under the stars. To ensure that she makes time for more outdoor pursuits, she joined the Venus Girls, a local women’s hiking group that has several trips planned for summer 2014 in New Mexico and Colorado. “It’s always easier to stay motivated when you’re part of a group,” she says. “And as an added bonus, I get to make new friends who share my new passion for the outdoors.” 

10. Discover you really do have what it takes.

Everyone has challenges that could keep them off the trail—whether it be busy schedules or injuries. In the weeks preceding her trip, Bullard had to decide if a personal battle with back pain and joint degeneration was going to force her to cancel. “It was a difficult decision, but ultimately, it all came down to one thing: How badly did I want it?” she says. “The joy of accomplishing my goal and gazing upon crystal-clear lakes ringed by granite peaks far outweighed any amount of discomfort I endured to get there.” Worth it? “I would do it all again in a heartbeat.”

Do it
From Agnew Meadows trailhead, hike northwest on the PCT 8.5 miles to pitch your tent on Thousand Island Lake’s northern edge. Hike out on the John Muir Trail southeast past Garnet and Shadow Lakes; close the 20-mile loop on the River Trail. Trailhead 37.682858, -119.084696; 9 miles west of Mammoth Lakes on Agnew Meadows Rd. Permits Required. Reserve at ($5/person reservation fee, plus $6/group). Map Tom Harrison Devils Postpile ($10; Gear Bear canisters required. Shuttle Mammoth All Weather Shuttle (MAWS): $120/six people; (760) 709-2927; Lodging Fuel up pre-hike with the hearty, free continental breakfast at the Alpenhof Lodge ( ). Post-hike: Soak in the hot tub at Sierra Nevada Resort, then grab their free shuttle to the airport ( Season June to September Contact (760) 873-2400;

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