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Sharp Health News

The journey of a lifetime

April 9, 2021

At age 70 and a grandmother of 5, Sue Rose has set out to complete the Pacific Crest Trail which spans 2,650 miles from Mexico to Canada.

Dr. Jennifer Barkley is her mother's biggest fan. Noting her generosity, kindness, compassion and determination, Dr. Barkley credits her mom, Sue Rose, with inspiring her not only to go into health care, but also to be independent, dream big and seek adventure.

"My mother is a truly amazing person," says Dr. Barkley, a double board-certified pediatrics and internal medicine doctor with Sharp Rees-Stealy Medical Group. "She taught me that you can do anything if you set your mind to it, and to keep trying if something doesn't work out the first time."

And Sue is definitely not of the "do as I say, not as I do" school of parenting. At age 70, this grandmother of 5 has set her mind to accomplish what might be her greatest undertaking yet.

In early April, Sue headed out on the Pacific Crest Trail (PCT) with hopes to complete it by mid-September. Known as one of the best trail experiences in the world, the PCT spans 2,650 miles from Mexico to Canada. It takes hikers through the desert, the Sierra Nevada mountain range, deep forests, and the volcanic peaks in the Cascade Range, with weather conditions that vary from rain, hail and snow to temperatures over 90º F.

"I'm very experienced with hiking in snow and ice," Sue says. "I'm comfortable with it and it's actually my favorite kind of hiking. And desert hiking is beautiful. I look forward to facing the challenges each brings."

Making the '2,600 Miler' list
Nevertheless, the PCT is not a trail for the weak of heart - or body, for that matter. According to the Pacific Crest Trail Association, 7,888 hiking permits were issued in 2019, while only 966 hikers reported that they completed the trail and were eligible to join the group's "2,600 Miler" list that year.

And yet, even with a replaced knee, congenital weakness in her ankles, 2 torn ligaments and a cold-related injury to her toe from hiking in freezing temperatures, Sue is undeterred. She received her second dose of the COVID-19 vaccine at the Sharp Coronado Hospital vaccination station and was given the green light to hit the trail by her orthopedic and podiatry doctors at Sharp Rees-Stealy, who helped ensure she was pain-free and ready to go.

She hopes to start out her long-distance hike at a pace of 10 miles each day and will likely increase her daily mileage to 15 miles to beat the weather. She has to precisely time her arrival in the Sierras after the snow melts and the many streams are no longer raging and more difficult and dangerous to pass.

"I'm not afraid of the weather, the dark, being alone or the animals I could encounter," Sue says. "In fact, it would be a thrill to see a mountain lion or bear. It's the river crossings in the Sierras I'm most concerned about."

Preparing for the PCT
Sue, who lives part of the year in San Diego and part in New Hampshire, has been training for her upcoming adventure for several years. She has traveled and hiked all over the world and hikes 4 to 5 times a week, reaching a combined distance of up to 50 miles at various elevations and temperatures. "At 70," she says, "if you don't do it often, you lose it."

She's also been sleeping in a tent each night to get used to the enclosed environment and changes in weather. She's read everything she can get her hands on about other hikers' experiences on the trail, meticulously whittled down the items she'll carry with her, and has spent much of the last several weeks focused on her nutritional needs for the journey.

Sue Rose, an accomplished photographer and writer, will be submitting blog posts throughout her hike sharing photography of the stellar landscape along with tales of her time on the trail.

Sue Rose, an accomplished photographer and writer, will be submitting blog posts throughout her hike sharing photography of the stellar landscape along with tales of her time on the trail.

A retired nurse practitioner and midwife, Sue has always been interested in nutrition and the healthiest way to fuel your body. So she plans to stay away from the toaster pastries, ramen and candy bars many hikers rely on. In fact, she even removed all sweets from her diet over the past 18 months to ensure her body, now extra-sensitive to the effects of sugar, will get the energy boost she'll need when she allows herself a treat on the trail.

"I know I'm going to have days where I'll be lonely, hungry, cold or wet," Sue says. "I'm hoping I can draw on lots of life experience to get through these times. I tell myself over and over that I'm going to do it and I'm going to love it."

Sorting support and supplies before she goes
Sue will also have the support of her friends and family members who will be sending both strength and good wishes along with precisely timed packages to help her get through. The supply restocking kits will be shipped from San Diego to locations where Sue can collect them in small towns along the trail. And she can take the opportunity at these stops to shower, do laundry and possibly have a meal cooked by someone else in a kitchen, rather than by herself over her tiny, one-burner camp stove.

On her back, she'll carry only the necessities. This includes what she needs to set up camp and make her meals; water and water purification tablets; a couple of changes of clothes to cover the range of temperatures; lightweight food items, such as pasta and freeze-dried vegetables; her smartphone, personal locator GPS device and digital e-reader; and her one "luxury" item - a large camera.

Sue, an accomplished photographer and writer, will be submitting blog posts throughout her hike for The Trek, a web-based platform for backpackers to share their experiences and wisdom. She will also be continuously updating her personal blog, Meandering Old Folks, with her stellar photography featuring landscapes and people in nature along with tales of her time on the trail.

"It's great to travel alone and learn how to enjoy being alone, but it's also important to make connections where you can," Sue says. "My blogging is a way for me to connect."

Perhaps the most important thing Sue will bring along on the adventure is her confidence. She admits that it might be difficult, or injuries or bad weather may hinder her ability to complete the trail, but she is determined to try and - as she's done since Dr. Barkley was a little girl - to be a good example.

"I'm doing this simply because I want to know if I can do it," she says. "And I also want to show others that people my age can challenge themselves. As long as we keep trying, anything is possible."

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