Life beyond Lyme: An impossible dream comes true for woman who hiked the Pacific Crest Trail | TheUnion.com

Life beyond Lyme: An impossible dream comes true for woman who hiked the Pacific Crest Trail

Laura Petersen
Special to The Union

In 2014, Kelly Weintraub, a wildlife biologist and writer, was diagnosed with Lyme disease after years of unexplained health issues. In defiance, Weintraub fought back.

After two years of training, Weintraub spent six months realizing her dream in 2017 by hiking from Mexico to Canada on the Pacific Crest Trail (PCT), mostly solo.

May 8 marked day one of her epic journey.

"When I finally saw the monument at the PCT's southern terminus, my eyes filled with tears. For years I had dreamed of standing in that place, at the beginning of the adventure of a lifetime and the symbolic end of my battle with Lyme disease," wrote Weintraub on her daily blog documenting her journey: lifebeyondlyme.wordpress.com.

Her father joined her for the first 500 miles of the hike.

Overcoming illness

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Getting sick was a scary time for Weintraub who had always led an active life.

She was exhausted, dizzy and felt under water when she tried to hold a conversation. She couldn't walk to the end of the block and back. She became bedridden and was forced to go on disability leave for four months. When she could no longer take care of herself, she went to live with her parents.

Doctors couldn't figure out what was wrong and ran numerous tests. Finally she was diagnosed with Lyme disease after several years of being sick.

"I was so determined to get better," she said.

That's when she set a goal to walk the Pacific Crest Trail. But she knew she would have to train to get her strength back, so she committed herself to backpack at least once a month, every month of the year. It was a way to take back control of her life.

With lots of medication, heavy antibiotics and a switch to an autoimmune paleo diet, Weintraub began to regain her health. In January, she and her husband strapped on snowshoes and went snow camping for the first time at Silver Lake.

"As the year went on, my strength started building again. We'd go farther and farther," said Weintraub.

By August, she was hiking 20 miles a day. After two years of building up strength, getting familiar with her gear and training in the rain, snow, and extreme heat of summer, Weintraub was ready.

Trekking the Pacific Crest Trail

It was a record year for precipitation and the Sierra Nevada was covered with snow when she set out in May. Two Pacific Crest Trail hikers died in 2017 trying to cross dangerously fast and high streams rushing with freezing water.

For that reason, Weintraub decided to skip the section between Mt. Whitney and Donner Summit until it was safe. She returned in the fall.

Every night, Weintraub would pitch her tent to keep the ticks out and settle into her writing. While she was alone on the trail, more than a hundred people followed her daily blog.

Her phone was her camera, her computer and her GPS. She kept her phone battery charged, along with her headlamp and personal locater beacon with a solar panel strapped to her back while hiking.

She would call her husband when she could get reception, sometimes that meant going weeks without talking to each other. While she carried topo maps, she often relied on modern technology to lead the way. Apps on her phone alerted her of campsites, water and stream crossings and allowed her to read comments from other people on the trail.

"It really spoiled us," she said.

When she got to Castle Crags by Mt. Shasta, she became ill, possibly from water on the trail, and had to postpone her hike for 11 days. She got back on near Ashland, Oregon with a plan of making up the skipped sections in the fall. She wanted to get to Canada before the snows came. Near Crater Lake, afternoon thunderstorms began.

It was wildfire season. She encountered fire closures in Mount Jefferson Wilderness and Three Sisters Wilderness in the Willamette National Forest and in Washington. Sometimes, she was forced to take detours.

She missed 239 miles of the Pacific Crest Trail because of closures and another 28 miles that she skipped because of unsafe conditions. She intends to circle back with those 28 miles next summer.

Achieving her goals

As she approached Canada, she was doing some "heroic hiking" upward of 30 miles a day in an attempt to beat wildfires and the first snow of the season. She finished one skipped trail section on Oct. 28 in Seiad Valley, Siskiyou County, California.

Being alone on the trail was mentally and physically empowering. Anything felt possible.

"For me, it was a lot about 'I'm here. I'm doing this. And I'm not sick anymore. My body is doing this and I'm OK.' It was pretty magical and has clarified how I see things," said Weintraub.

"It helped me recognize what's important and what I'm capable of. I can set an impossible goal and achieve it," she said.

Coming home and back to work felt surreal at first. It's an adjustment and her feet ache to be back on the trail.

"It felt like waking up from a dream," said Weintraub.

Learn more and read about Kelly Weintraub's adventure at: https://lifebeyondlyme.wordpress.com/

Contact freelance writer Laura Petersen at laurapetersen310@gmail.com or 530-913-3067.

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