In the ancient languages of Pali and Sanskrit the word bhāvanā means cultivation, and it is often used to refer to the calling forth of a particular mood or intention. When we step on to our yoga mats, for example, we call forth the intention to honor our teachers; or to bring about spiritual healing for ourselves and others; or perhaps to release ourselves from the grip of the material world.
When we practice in this way, by first tying our actions to a bhāvanā, any blocks on our path are simply part of the practice. That pose we keep falling out of? That handstand we can’t hold? That bind we can’t grab? With bhāvanā, these frustrations don’t faze us. In fact, these frustrations are the practice.
As we prepare for the John Muir trail, there’s much to consider – what equipment do we need? What is our route? How do we plan our menu? What are our resupply stations? How much weight can we carry? How will we get clean water? Or prevent bears from eating our snacks? How will we send pictures and blog posts from the mountain? What do we do if we find ourselves in sour moods and angry?!
Because Justyna is in Europe and Erica is in California much of the planning must take place virtually. We have spreadsheets for menu planning, for our expenses, for our gear, and for our blog posts; we have a constant email chain going back and forth about training and body aches; our text messages go to and from debating which peanut butter seems best. We deeply consider which trowel we need to purchase, and how much toilet paper. And perhaps most importantly – we ponder together – are our bodies and minds strong and flexible enough to endure such a long journey?
The questions seem endless.
As we set our ambitious and busy minds to planning it’s easy to become overwhelmed. But with a genuine and heart-full bhāvanā, even the bumps in the road become a part of the adventure.
We placed our hearts on positivity from the very start. “Just to make it clear - I really don't want this trip to somehow divide us!”, Justyna wrote to Erica back in February. Erica responded: “I also want our friendship to come first! I want us to feel free to be honest and clear with one another so that we don't end up with resentments. You are too special to me. I feel so lucky to be undertaking this adventure with you, and want it to strengthen us as individuals and friends!”
This intention of openness, honesty and genuine love has carried us forward, particularly through all the planning and preparatory work.
There’s another Sanskrit word – shradhā – which is translated as faith. It comes from the root “hrd” meaning “heart.” To have faith then, is to “put your heart” into something. We have poured our faith and our hearts into one another and into this journey, which we believe will lead us toward a greater understanding of ourselves and the world we occupy.
From there, we have developed a deep intention of loving kindness, compassion, and ultimately liberation. With our focus placed on this bhāvanā, even the endless packing lists and piles of supplies seem vibrant and alive.
We’re working hard to ensure that the supplies we’re bringing are aligned with our values – we want to purchase our goods from companies that also care about the earth, its creatures, and the impact of consumption; our food must be vegetarian but also delicious; and we want to minimize our waste, which surprisingly doesn’t seem to be valued much in the backpacking community, whose members offer advice like buying individual 1 oz. packets of olive oil. We don’t want to compromise our beliefs simply because it’s convenient.
Because she is the boots on the ground in California, so to speak, Erica is responsible for much of the food packaging and purchasing. In her mission to avoid single use olive oil packets (ohhhh the horrors of plastic waste!!!) she scoured the internet for alternatives. One Reddit commenter recommended “boobie bags,” which had her scratching her head. What are boobie bags? Just as they sound, it turns out - soft-sided flasks intended to be stashed in women’s bras, so concert-goers can smuggle booze in their boobs! While snorting and writhing in laughter, Erica realized this was actually the perfect solution – 1 boob bag per section of the trip to contain our olive oil will minimize both weight and waste – two of the primary concerns as we pack gear and food. Boob bags now hold our olive oil, coconut oil, nutritional yeast, annnnd whisky. Problem solved.
Our meal planning is below – it’s color coded, and frankly there’s still a few holes! But once again we’re refusing to compromise on our values and are trying, to the best of our abilities, to eat like we would at home – healthy, clean, whole, plant-based and earth-friendly foods.
We have discovered a few companies who, like us, believe that you don’t have to eat trashy food on the trail. In Poland, ZMIANY ZMIANY makes sweet and savory energy bars, comprised of nothing but nuts, seeds & fruits, with coconut, spirulina, chia, beetroot, spinach, tomato and spices. We reached out to them asking for their support, and they happily donated several dozen bars.
A California company, Outdoor Herbivore, is also committed to crafting beautiful vegetarian meals for the trail. We’re supplementing their meals with concoctions of our own, like dehydrated quinoa and black beans with Indian spices, to fill out our menu.
We’re hoping that the food we eat will be both scrumptious and nourishing to our individual bodies, but also to our extended body – The Earth! And again, with our bhāvanā on this aim, even the most confounding of packing quandaries becomes simply a part of the journey, filling our experience out with texture and the possibility for a richer experience.
I moved to Los Angeles, California in mid-May – LA is a great, big, sprawling urban metropolis whose temperatures eek up to and sometimes beyond 95° Fahrenheit (35° Celsius). I imagined all my training ambitions being guzzled up by the infamously polluted sky, and pictured my muscle tone withering away to the tune of a Hollywood smash hit. To my surprise and utter joy, Los Angeles has provided me with ample training grounds – and in turn, the need to train has given me the opportunity to explore my new home in a way that I never would have without the pressure of an impending expedition. Even with my love for exploring and hiking, I doubt that without the JMT trip looming I would have the drive to rise at 5am to head for the hills to beat the Southern California heat – only to return home to practice yoga, and get back to the business of founding a yoga studio and chai shop.
Ten minutes from my doorstep is Griffith Park – a 4,310 acre (1,740 ha) park that is home to, amongst other things, the Hollywood sign, Batman’s Bat caves, a golf course, a helicopter pad and P22 – a much beloved and simultaneously feared mountain lion who prowls the park doing his lion thing, apparently undeterred by the 5 million visitors who visit the park each year. The park, despite its popularity, is anything but tame. It is rugged and diverse, hilly and hot. And it has provided much of the terrain from my training.
A short drive beyond Griffith Park lie the San Gabriel mountains where I can hike for miles and miles and miles, my imagination running wild in the dreamy LA haze that seems to underline all activity here.
And if I don’t feel like taking a drive, then just outside my door there is a network of secret stairs peppered throughout the city that make for glute-busting, and route-finding fun.
I’ve loaded up a pack with yoga books and a Ganesha statue, and in addition to 3 Liters of water, I carry this with me on any hike I take. My hope is that the weight simulates the weight of the pack I’ll be carrying throughout the John Muir Trail, and my shoulders and joints will be accustomed to the load, minimizing difficulty and stress straightaway.
But in the end, the trail will be the true test of all the training – so I hike on. And on and on!
After spending 1.5 months in Switzerland, I was home in Poland for less than 2 weeks and then moved again, this time to Portugal, to teach yoga in a beautiful town on the coast.
In Switzerland I was cycling every day, hiking twice a week and climbing when possible. I was doing my daily yoga practice and felt stronger and stronger from one to another week.
I planned to keep this routine while in Portugal, but when I arrived here it became clear that this is my chance to surf. So most of days I spend between waves, trying to catch a ride with more or less luck. This has been my dream for many years - to have some time by the ocean and to be able to surf daily and understand the ocean's mood. Still, it is such a workout, paddling forever and jumping back on the board after being wiped-out hundreds of time each day. I feel my body worked in totally different way over these past weeks.
I had hoped to have a strong training plan in place here, but I am totally into following what life brings. And life brought me blue ocean for summer. Of course I practice yoga every day also and I am exploring the hilly terrain of Lisbon by foot and enjoying long coastal walks a few times a week. I think (and I hope!) that everything together is preparing me for next month's adventure. I feel fit and I am always up for a challenge. To top it off, nature always stimulates me to try harder and push my limits even when I think I can't possibly go further.
As we began to dream up our John Muir adventure we realized that, as with most things in life, we would need all the support we could gather.
Alone, we are nothing. Together, in sangha, in community, anything is possible.
Justyna began by reaching out to her friends at Odlo - a company whose heart, aesthetic, and values align with ours. Moreover, their clothes are light, fantastic quality, and quick to dry - all essential qualities for the trail. They were happy to provide us with the necessary clothing for the trek.
With that enormous backing and generous sponsorship, we were able to engage with other like-minded companies to receive their support as well, including YETI, a Polish company that will be providing our featherweight and comfortable sleeping bags; Zmiany Zmiany which offered to supply us with bars and snacks; and Olympus, which is supplying us with a super stellar camera to record our journey.
As we put the finishing touches on packing, I think we’re both a little nervous - do we have too much? Not enough? Will we be warm? Will our packs be unbearably heavy? Will our feet stay dry despite the heavy river flow this year in California?
Once again we’re thankful to have each other to call on in times of doubt, and we’re incredibly appreciative of the community that’s buoying us through this process. In Alejandro Jodorowsky’s Holy Mountain he proclaims: "if we are to succeed, we must cease to be individuals and become a collective being.” And so collectively, with all of you, we hike on.