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A Letter to my Family

"Love You Forever" book -- a dad favorite! L to R: Jackie, Dad, Shelley, Jamie

Letter to my Family (written while on trail, posted later)

I’ve been thinking a lot about my family while I’m out here. I feel so fortunate to have such a loving and supportive family, and also a very active one! Each family member, appreciates and engages in the outdoors and suffering in different ways, and I feel like I am channeling their energy to help me along the way out here.

Leadville, 2023: John, Jamie, Shelley, Robbie, Jackie, Dad, Mom

India. Mom, Jamie, Shelley, Jackie, Dad

Mom and Dad, the OG backpackers

Start of the Colorado Crush (CO Trail). L to R: Robbie, Shelley, Jackie John, Jamie hugging mom. It's a family affair!

Robbie – This is nothing like the Transcon or the Colorado Crush! However, days on end of beating up my body, while moving on foot is something you have internalized in the deepest way. I think about the times I have accompanied you on both the Colorado Trail and the Transcon and how you pushed on at night, in the cold, in the rain, and when things were mentally tough.

I think about your feet. And then I look at mine. I remember just how tough you are! I am really grateful my feet look nothing like what I’ve seen yours look like with regard to blisters because I don’t think I could push on!

Your mental fortitude combined with physical endurance, inspires me basically every single mile while I’m out here. I have witnessed it and I know and appreciate how strong you are and I feel encouraged by your resilience.

Update: Congrats on your recent sub 3 hour marathon after an insane ankle sprain in the middle of your training cycle! Setbacks seem to only cause you to dig a little deeper and it is inspiring!

Dad — Hiker of all hikers! You took us hiking when we were little and I remember earning the trail name “Hiker” on the Greenbelt in Austin when I was around five or six years old (Shelley was “Trooper” and I can’t recall what Jamie’s trail name was). You taught me, literally what the word “endurance” means. At the time, it meant running around the indoor track at the YMCA 17 1/2 times just to get 1 mile, and then we would count to get 7 miles together when I was about 10 years old. It meant running the Cap 10K with you for years on end (it will always be our race!). It meant listening to your stories about hiking the Appalachian Trail while I was in high school and college.

It now looks like chipping away at 12-15 mile segments of the Ice Age Trail in the Wisconsin winter, obsessively knocking off CityStride streets to run every street in each city like it’s your part-time job, and continuing to take trips to Spain with mom to hike the Camino in the most lightweight fashion imaginable.

L to R: Dad, Jackie, Jamie, Shelley (there is a map involved!)

You are my gear guru, and you follow my every step. I guess that’s why you have the trail name “Steps.” Thank you for anticipating my every move, advising me on weather conditions, and helping me navigate with your research specialty. Sometimes you know where I am before I do! Actually, a lot of the time you do! Just yesterday you told me I was approaching I-10 before I realized I was. I feel supported and held knowing you are watching my little GPS tracker dot on the screen morning, day, and night. You take my calls and listen to me rattle off my ailments, and you keep me optimistic, but reasonable. Thank you for all you have taught me about hiking and endurance!

Update: Your endurance and strength shines again as I sit here in awe as you recover from open heart surgery! You have pushed the limits with a bicuspid valve for years longer than most people with a leaky valve! I’m so proud of how well you’re recovering so far!

Jamie Suzanne Howard <3

Jamie – your grit to take on winter truly astounds me! I don’t know how you do it coming from Texas. You skin up mountains by yourself just to ski down them in the night after working a full day and are now a winter sport lover!

L to R: Shelley & Jamie

When it’s cold, I think about you! You are tough and strong when it comes to wind and cold and I am inspired! You also are the queen of showing up to trail races (or races in general) unprepared or untrained. Maybe this isn’t ideal, but you push through with mental fortitude and cheer and impress me every single time. I showed up to the Arizona trail grossly unprepared and highly untrained and I think about how you have put on a smile and completed endurance events time and time again knowing that 90% of the effort is mental.

Mom – I think about you out here while I’m taking photos.

Mom in CDMX

Mom savoring through photography in Mexico City

Some of my favorite memories together are strolling down the streets of Mexico City, or just going for a little walk in on the Greenbelt and stopping to take hundreds of photos.

I took over 500 photos in the first two days out here. I kept thinking “mom would absolutely love this! It is a photographer’s paradise! “Savoring every small thorn on a succulent along with the vast 360 degree view that the mountainous desert provides, has me drinking, inhaling, and living art every single mile. My appreciation of this world through an artistic lens reminds me of you.

Arizona Trail sunrise
AZT: Funky Saguaro

I also think about you when I am tending to my gear or my trash. You are so tidy and thoughtful with regard to not making a mess that it translates to my Leave-No-Trace (LNT) practice on trail beautifully. I tie my trash into little bows so my wrappers don’t get melted chocolate or crumbs all over the inside of my trash Ziploc bag. I carefully tend to my hygiene, food, and gear in a way that leaves everything pretty clean, almost as if I’m not a dirtbag living on a trail.

When they going gets tough, and I feel like my bones are breaking, I think about trying to stave off osteoporosis and how you have taught me that weight-bearing is critical to my bone health and longevity. I convince myself that carrying this heavy pack is good for my bones and of course, think of you when I question if my hip bones might be fracturing.

John – I am stoked to spend more time in the Grand Canyon, and I think about how you took my sister out there in a raft last year. Being out here for a month feels like an eternity, and then I think about how you traversed the river of the Grand Canyon for one month completely off the grid and it keeps me moving forward toward that glorious box!

John & Jamie, CO

John & Jamie, CO

Update: John, having your nursing expertise in the hospital has been a great source of comfort for my dad and all of us. Your support in helping with the behind-the-scenes logistics like getting the car, ordering food for the support team, & figuring out a way to clear out the furniture at the Murmuring Creek house helps my family focus on my dad's recovery and it is so appreciated!

Shelley & Jackie, Big Bend Ultra

Shelley — Waking up early is hard for me… (always has been! I’m more of a night owl!) But to beat the heat and have a decent day, it is critical for me to get an early start. It allows for more spacious breaks throughout the day when I’m more tired. I think about how you get up at 4:00 or 4:30 AM to get your marathon training run in before working 12 hour shifts helping mamas as they bring new life into this world. My slow protesting in the mornings are often met with thoughts of you to help me get out of my cozy, warm sleeping bag and hit the trail, even though it’s cold and dark. You do this every single day!

Soccer! (rolled up arm sleeves). L to R: Jackie, tia Meña, Shelley, baby Laylah (cousin)

Cousin Khaled, Jackie, Shelley, cousin Danny (Big Bend hiking trip?)

I sometimes think about our very first backpacking trip on the Appalachian Trail with the Alamis, when I was 16 and you were 14. We shared a sleeping bag to save weight and ate king-sized Snicker’s bars for lunch! Back then, we used a water pump to filter water and probably only covered 8-10 miles per day. I remember going to Academy and each of us picking out our backpacks that we had saved up to buy. 22 years ago the idea of being completely self-sufficient with all of our stuff on our backs as the “Boxcar Children was born into reality.”

Thank you for taking on traits of our dad and keeping up with my progress and being available to walk me through the ailment of the moment while I’m on trail. I am grateful for our sisterhood and adventures together.

Update: You never cease to amaze me and CONGRATS on a massive marathon PR/BQ of 3:25 in London! Getting to the start line and finish line injury free and with minimal GI issues is a feat in it of itself. But you went for it speed-wise too and I am the proudest sister!!!

Jackie & Shelley, eclipse weekend 2024


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