Kearsarge Pass and a Tale of Overcoming

Last weekend, I accomplished a great achievement and hiked to Kearsarge Pass via the Onion Valley Trailhead. This wasn’t my first time up to the pass, but it’s a big victory to me because it was my first hike above 11,000 feet in almost three years. I had hiked to this pass several times, but this was the most special for me because it was a comeback of sorts.

The group’s goal was to hike to Bullfrog Lake and back, but my goal was to just do the pass, which was quite a feat by itself. I backpacked the Rae Lakes Loop a few years ago, so I didn’t feel I was missing much of the backcountry scenery. My thing was, I didn’t want to tire myself out by having to go over Kearsarge Pass twice. Since the group went beyond the pass, I took my time on the way back and stopped at Heart Lake, then revisited Flower Lake and one of the waterfalls.

The group at the trailhead.

Wild onion.

A gorgeous waterfall just off the trail before Gilbert Lake.

Gilbert Lake.

While listening to my boots grinding rock and dirt underfoot, I couldn’t help but remember lying in that hospital bed, having been diagnosed with a DVT (deep vein thrombosis), frightened, thinking the worst and wondering if I’d ever hike again. The whole situation came out of nowhere.

Just a couple of weeks prior to my hospitalization, I was a healthy (albeit overweight) 38-year-old going about my adventures, traipsing across the Sierra, leading and inspiring others along the way. Then, I got blindsided and taken out of commission. I couldn’t even finish the last hike of the Sierra series I was leading, and that devastated me because I was really looking forward to closing out the series on a new peak that I had never reached before, Cirque Peak.

Flower Lake.

Heart Lake.

After a brief hiatus, I did start hiking again, but it wasn’t the same as before. I stayed away from high altitude hikes and did hikes that were closer to home and at a lower elevation. It took me a while to work up to doing long distance hikes again. I eventually began dabbling into the high altitude hikes, but only on occasion. The highest elevation I attained post-DVT was Mt. San Jacinto at 10,834 feet.

The final stretch to Kearsarge Pass.

Looking toward Bullfrog Lake and the Kearsarge Lakes from Kearsarge Pass.

The popular rock column at Kearsarge Pass.

A marmot taking in the scenery at Kearsarge Pass.

Looking down at Big Pothole Lake from Kearsarge Pass.

Last year, I mustered the courage to hike the Tour du Mont Blanc in Europe, which was another big milestone. That gave me the confidence I needed to start pushing again. Gradually, I’ve made my way back to high altitude hiking and I’m feeling pretty good. I’d like to climb Mt. Whitney again, although I’m not sure I have another Whitney in me. Only time, coupled with a season of training, will tell. For the time being, I’ll continue enjoying the great outdoors while reconditioning my body to do what it was made to do. In the near future, I’d like to go and hike to Cirque Peak since the DVT stopped me in 2015.

Kearsarge Pass “summit” selfie.

Sometimes, we get blindsided and are tempted to give up on ourselves. In those dark and uncertain times, we have to look back and remind ourselves of why we started our journey to begin with. It’s always harder to restart something than it is to begin in the first place. The resistance feels even greater. But we have to show that resistance that we are more determined than it is. We have to stand strong and not let fear or trepidation intimidate us. We are more than conquerors.

Hike on!


What’s in a Name?

In this video, I share my personal story and unveil a new name with a new logo. Please forgive the technical glitch on the title slide in the beginning. I was just made aware of that when this finished uploading to YouTube. Also, there is a bit of wind noise coming through the microphone. I was testing out a new Rode mic for the first time and will probably return it for a better one. Take a look at what’s on the horizon for this series.

Facing Fear

A lady from church blessed me with the beautiful journal pictured here a couple of years ago and all the pages remained blank until just recently when I decided to take it with me on a trip to Europe to hike the Tour du Mont Blanc. Days before this adventure of a lifetime, an adventure I had prayed and waited for, I was gripped by fear. I should have been excited, and I was, but I just couldn’t seem to shake the fear of the unknown. The fear that something might happen to me. That something might happen to someone I love or that something might happen to my cat while I was away.

I had never been to Europe before and didn’t quite know what to expect. I also hadn’t flown on an airplane, not even on a domestic flight, since being hospitalized with a DVT in my leg two years ago. But there I was, about to go on a long haul flight. The DVT was a traumatic event and my life hasn’t been the same since.

I’ve battled fear my whole life and overcame it many times, but I’ve never been as fearful and cautious as I’ve been since that scary experience in the hospital, not knowing if I was going to live or die. During my time in the hospital when I was scared and alone, before anyone came to visit me, two of the things that helped me overcome that challenge were, of course, prayer and also the gift of writing. Somehow, lying in that hospital bed, I managed to snap a selfie with a smile on my face and write a rather lengthy blog post on my phone while going through the fire, so to speak. It was my way of looking fear in the eye and laughing in its face.

And so that night, a few days before my trip to Europe, and every night of that journey abroad, I committed to filling the pages of that journal with my heart, with my tears, my hope and my trepidation, whatever bled out onto those pages. I purposed to pour everything into this sweet gift from my friend.

And when I set out to walk that Tour du Mont Blanc, I took every one of those fears and doubts and laid them on the trails, into the dirt under my feet. I knew there was healing to be found on that journey. There was love to be found. I did it all in the face of fear, because perfect love drives out fear.

Keep hiking!


A Tale from the TMB

The look on my face explains how I felt on much of the Tour du Mont Blanc. It’s the anguish you feel after you’ve reached the summit only to realize you’ve still got one, two, three more summits standing between you and your destination for the day. Or when you discover that the downhill section you’ve been looking forward to is much more challenging and taxing than the uphill slog. One thing is for sure, the trails in Europe are not the same as our trails here in America. Trails that I once considered insanely brutal pale in comparison to the trails in the Alps. However, at the end of the day, every painful step, every moment of agony, every tear shed was all worth it.

Maybe you find yourself in one of life’s uphill slogs and you’ve reached one of those false peaks only to be disappointed when you realize there is another, bigger peak towering between you and your goal. Stay with it. Keep putting one foot in front of the other. Don’t try to take on the mountain all at once, just one methodical step at a time. Don’t forget to admire the views along the way. They get better with each step. Before you know it, you’ll have reached your goal. It won’t be easy, but it will be worth it. 🙂

Age Ain’t Nothing But A Number

Don Viejo's Ad

Don Viejo’s Ad

I had a pretty good idea of who Don Viejo was before I actually met him in person. He had left his mark all over the San Gabriel Mountains in bright orange, sprinkled with black letters. He was in search of a hiking partner and was very specific about his requirements.

When I saw the first ad on the way up Baldy Bowl via the Ski Hut Trail, I thought it was a joke. I mean, who would dare put themselves out there like that, or better yet, expect someone else to put themselves out there to go and meet on top of a mountain? This day and age, you just can’t be too careful.

It wasn’t until I saw the second sign posted on the other side of Mt. Baldy, on the Devil’s Backbone Trail, that I realized the poster must have been pretty serious, so I snapped a picture with no intentions of calling. I didn’t fit the age requirement anyway.

Hiking in tutus

Hiking to Mt. Baden-Powell in tutus

Months later, one of the hiking groups that I’m an assistant organizer with did a special tutu hike to Mt. Baden-Powell the day of Don Viejo’s scheduled interviews. Every now and then we do a fun and silly hike like a tutu hike, zombie hike, or a hippy hike where we dress up in crazy costumes.

We hiked up to Throop Peak and Mt. Burnham, then made our way to the summit of Mt. Baden-Powell where there were a few people milling about. Then, we saw a short, slender man with strong, capable legs standing near a tree next to a sign and cradling a notebook. He was accompanied by a taller, younger man.

Don Viejo with his son

Don Viejo with his son on Mt. Baden-Powell

We kindly approached and introduced ourselves. Don Viejo, a pleasant man full of life, told us that he got into hiking after his wife died six years ago. His son, the taller gentleman with him, wasn’t always able to accompany him on hikes and didn’t want Don hiking alone, so he helped him come up with a creative way of finding a hiking partner.

Don may have been 85 at the time, but he was certainly young at heart. He demonstrated more strength, agility and charisma than many people one-third of his age. We were amazed by his trail savvy and desired to spend more time with him so we could glean more of his knowledge.

Don Viejo shares his trail knowledge

Don Viejo shares his trail knowledge

Don had only met a couple of potential hiking partners that day, but he wasn’t too impressed with them, so we invited him to join our group so he would never have to hike alone. The next time I saw Don was this past Saturday when I had the pleasure of hiking with him on the Register Ridge Trail to Mt. Baldy.

Don with his game face on

Don with his game face on

Now 87, Don is still going strong. I had agreed to be his hiking partner and look after him during the hike. In return, I was treated to endless jokes, witty humor and poetry along the way. I was so entertained that I forgot just how hard the hike up the ridge was.

Don Viejo hiking up the steep Register Ridge Trail

Don Viejo hiking up the steep Register Ridge Trail

Don and I matched pace perfectly. He allowed me to go ahead of him, so I hiked a ways up and then stopped to let him catch up, never letting him out of my sight. Watching him navigate his way over the steep, rocky terrain was an inspiration and it encouraged me to go further.

We made it to the Devil’s Backbone Trail in 3.5 hours, took a short snack break, and then hiked to the summit of Mt. Baldy where we took a longer lunch break. We hung out on the summit for a while and I took a picture of Don at the summit sign. We glanced over at West Baldy and considered a visit, but then thought better of it. Another time.

On the way up the Register Ridge Trail, Don had told me that if I made it to the summit, he’d give me one of his coveted calling cards. He didn’t forget, and I was very grateful when he placed the card into my hand.

The front of Don Viejo's card

The front of Don Viejo’s card

The back of Don Viejo's card

The back of Don Viejo’s card

As we began our descent from the summit, we ran into two of our friends, Cee Cee and Steve. We had already seen Steve leaving the summit as we were approaching and wondered why he was going back up. Cee Cee said that he wanted them to have a picture together for the first time on the summit. At that point, I realized Don and I didn’t get a picture together, so we hiked back up to the top with them.

Group photo with Don Viejo on the summit of Mt. Baldy

Group photo with Don Viejo on the summit of Mt. Baldy

We took some group photos and then Don and I took a photo together. It was one of my best of many experiences on the mountain.

Don Viejo and I on the summit of Mt. Baldy

Don Viejo and I on the summit of Mt. Baldy

After we finished getting our pictures, we bid Cee Cee and Steve farewell as they were going to stick around on the summit for a bit. We knew we’d probably see them again at the Notch where we’d catch the ski lift down for the short walk back to Manker Flats.

Danielle, Aida and Don Viejo

Danielle, Aida and Don Viejo

As we descended the second time, we ran into our two other friends, Danielle and Aida. We initially though they had turned around to help out another person in our group who was struggling. Turns out, the other lady made it to the Devil’s Backbone Trail and decided to wait there while they went to the summit. We saw her on our way down and chatted for a bit. She was fine, so we continued toward the Notch.

While hiking with Don, I realized that he was old enough to be my grandfather, and couldn’t help but think about my own grandfather, who I loved dearly, but lost three years ago. Though decades stand between us, Don and I share one major thing in common: grief. Don lost his wife around the same time I lost my mom, and hiking is what helped us both through it.

When we made it to the Notch, Don Viejo treated me to a root beer and we celebrated our accomplishment. Don is truly a class act and I will never forget my experience with him. I hope to share many more mountain experiences with Don. He has so many tales of his own trails that I’d like to hear and then share with you.

Hike on!



Beautiful in Time

Being involved in outdoor adventures has helped me gain a better perspective on personal aspects of my life and that’s how this blog, and now web series, was started. I’m sharing this little piece of my personal and professional life because it may speak to someone who needs the encouragement, on or off the trail.

Joyce and Queen LatifahI remember the first time I worked with Dana Owens in 2010 on a Cover Girl commercial shoot. It was my second year in LA and I was in the middle of my studies at California State University. Because my course load didn’t allow time for a full-time job, I continued doing background work for income. It was during that time when I came across a casting notice to be a stand-in for an actress in a cosmetics commercial. The notice didn’t specify what commercial it was or who the actress was, but based on the stats of the actress, I had a feeling it was Queen Latifah. People had always told me that I looked like her, but I didn’t believe it. Not because I didn’t quite measure up to her 5’10 height (I’m 5’7,) but because I didn’t feel I measured up to her beauty. After all, she is a Cover Girl model.

I always thought that I was ugly. I was bullied from a very young age because I had buck teeth, because I had long hair, because I talked differently, because I was just different. I grew up hating the way I looked and I hid my smile from everyone. When I was in high school, a classmate stopped what he was doing, looked me right in my face and told me that I was hideously ugly. I did absolutely nothing to provoke him and didn’t understand why he said it, except that it must have been true.

That was it for me. Instead of firing back, I turned the other cheek and walked away. I had been walking away ever since. Away from opportunities to go out into the world and let my light shine. I relegated myself to a lifestyle of fear, timidity and shyness because I didn’t want anyone to see me for what I believed I was, hideously ugly. Yet for some reason, I decided to submit my “ugly” headshot to be considered for this cosmetics gig. If they didn’t like my submission, I wouldn’t hear anything back. That’s how Hollywood operates. I had nothing to lose, not even self-esteem because I didn’t have much of it to begin with.

To my surprise, I did get a callback from the casting agency. However, they wanted to see a different picture. Not another professional headshot where all the hideously ugliness of my face was covered up by the skillful application of makeup and touch-ups by the photographer. They wanted a “selfie,” a real-time picture of what I looked like at that moment. The moment where I had that just showered, washed and blow-dried, non-styled hair look and NO makeup on. I would have NEVER sent a selfie to anyone looking like that, let alone a casting agency. I just knew that if they saw what I looked like in that moment, what I really looked like, they would never call me back.

Preparing for a huge disappointment, I snapped the picture and reluctantly sent it. They called back and I booked my first gig with Queen Latifah. That led to other Cover Girl gigs, a TV show and a two-year stint on her daytime talk show. The future is on the horizon and the best days are yet to come. I shared this story because somebody needs to hear it. These pictures, along with everything I’ve been blessed to do over the past few years, is proof that God makes everything beautiful in its time.

Beautiful in Time~Joyce