Fueled by Mountain Pursuits

Throughout the entirety of this blog, I will be calling the John Muir Trail by its original indigenous name, the Nüümü Poyo, to respect and acknowledge the land and the Ahwahnechee, Paiute, Miwok, Mono and other tribes who inhabit the region in and around the Sierra Nevada.

In my late teens and early twenties, I heard stories about people going on long backpacking trips. The JMT, the PCT, the AT, the CDT. I’d read their personal accounts of these adventures in complete awe, and I was enthralled by their photos. The Nüümü Poyo was more alluring than the rest. I was captivated by the mountains. And living in Northern California made the trail almost reachable. Almost.


For the longest time, backpacking was a pipe dream for me. A long trail such as the Nüümü  Poyo that required multiple weeks to complete in most cases was completely unattainable. First of all, I didn’t know a thing about backpacking. How did one survive in the wilderness for so long? How do you know what to take with you? What about bears? I had so many questions, and most went unanswered for a very long time. I thought backpacking was for the wealthy. How else could someone take so much time off work? It was out of reach for me, so I stopped entertaining the idea.

Fast forward a few years and I found myself being dropped off at a trailhead that would put me and a friend on the Nüümü Poyo. We had 16 days off work to backpack 200 miles. I finally found my way there. It was surreal.


By the end of that trip I was dreaming about fastpacking the entirety of the trail solo. This time though, it seemed like it could be reachable. I ruminated it for a year, then in January of this year I started applying for a solo permit out of Happy Isles, the official start of the trail. Everyday for weeks I would receive an email “Yosemite Wilderness Permit: You were not selected.” Sigh.

Photo provided by Ashly Winchester

It’s a rare permit to get selected for, so I didn’t have high hopes. But on March 24th, it happened. I mean, it happened. I got selected for the exact permit I had coveted for so long: starting from Happy Isles and trekking southbound to the terminus at the summit of Mt. Whitney. I can not describe the joy I felt over this. The joy I FEEL for this. It’s a true dream come true. Now it’s time to plan.

 

What gear should I take? What food should I eat? Is it reasonable to do it in seven days? Can I do this without a resupply? More questions, this time they were just a little different. Oh, how things change.

Fueling the Stoke… and My Belly

With this massive undertaking becoming a reality, I have to start thinking about and planning a fueling strategy. Food and hydration will be paramount for a  successful and enjoyable trip, especially when hiking and running 30-plus miles a day at high elevations. I won’t be enjoying  leisurely stops to make meals… in all reality, I probably won’t even be taking a stove of any kind. With the goal of having no resupplies, as well as enduring back-to-back high mileage days, I’ll need my fueling strategy to be both lightweight and nutrient dense.

Fuel like ashly

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When most people think of trail food, they probably think of dehydrated meals, trail mix and granola. More than likely I will be taking some of those backpacking staples, such as nuts and jerky, but I’ll mostly be relying on fuel that I can eat right out of the bag or reconstitute with cold water. Cold-soaked ramen noodles are great for big doses of carbohydrates, and let’s face it, ramen noodles are delicious. They are not particularly nutritious though, which is where Gnarly Nutrition products come in.

 

I’ll be taking advantage of the high quality ingredients in Gnarly products throughout the duration of the effort. Collagen Pro and BCAAs will aid in preventing muscle damage and soreness, while promoting recovery on the trail. Gnarly Vegan and Gnarly Performance Greens are going to supply much-needed nutrients for my working body, and Gnarly Hydrate will keep my fluids in check. The best part is knowing these products will pack down small and lightweight, allowing me to move more efficiently. I chose Gnarly for the exceptional high quality and digestibility.

Fueling to Live

Most endurance athletes understand the importance of fuel. The consistent ingestion of calories will keep your legs moving, your muscles firing, your mind sharp(ish). Another type of fueling that is not spoken of in scientific journals or studied in a lab setting, is fueling of the stoke. It’s the desire. The ingestion and digestion of the Why.

This is the most personal kind of fuel. The fuel that really keeps you going when things turn tough The one thing that plays on repeat when you’re sleep-deprived and hallucinating. It’s the fuel that keeps you from quitting.


I remember standing on top of each of the nine alpine high points of the mountainous Nüümü  Poyo during my first trip along the trail. Epic views surrounded me and a seemingly endless ocean of granite, trees, and lakes stretched out before me. I felt small and insignificant. My worries fall away with the elevation. I felt alive.

 

Those mountains.

Photo provided by Ashly Winchester

There’s a saying that I heard while I was in Montana that goes something like, “You can’t eat the scenery,” meaning that the pretty views won’t feed you. But I swear these mountains fill me up and satisfy a hunger that nothing else in this world can. They feed my soul in a way that can’t be described in simple words. There are very few places I feel so alive.

 

And that’s what it comes down to: I fuel to live and I live to fuel my soul. Being alive means to embrace the inevitable suffering that comes along with living, to embrace the highest of the highs along with the lowest of the lows. That’s the price of admission to chase what you love. And chasing… well, it requires fuel.

Ashly Winchester

Ashly Winchester

Ashly Winchester is a runner, writer, adventurer, and mountain guide based out of Northern California. She also hosts a podcast called Womxn of the Wild, where she interviews women who are breaking down barriers in the outdoors.

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