I always know how I'm going to spend my birthday. I'll wake up with the world spread out below me and a view for miles in every direction. As the sun rises, I'll hear the wind in the trees and feel the dirt crunching under my shoes — just like I have on the last day of May for years. If the winter had been harsh, I may even see some snow on neighboring peaks or in shady patches near the trail. Regardless of the weather, the day of the week or job commitments, I make sure I'm awake to greet the sunrise at the top of a mountain. May 31 isn't just my birthday. It's also my mom's, and she's been gone for nearly 30 years, since I was eight years old. I grew up near the beaches in Southern California, but my mom loved the big trees up north in Sequoia country. She had a special connection to those giants; it was her favorite place in the world. Her love for the woods definitely rubbed off on me. I still make it up to Sequoia at least once a year, usually with my brothers—sometimes with cousins, aunts and uncles, too. Every year we visit the big trees and mom's ashes, which are spread between them. My favorite birthday trek is to Kendrick Peak, which rises just north of my home in Flagstaff, Arizona. While I love the time spent in Sequoia, I actually feel closer to her in this particular spot, where I can disconnect from society and celebrate her memory. She lived for time spent outside, exploring nature. Maybe it was her natural curiosity, or her determination to make every moment count; whatever it was that drove her drives me, too.
Maybe it was her natural curiosity, or her determination to make every moment count; Whatever it was that drove her drives me, too."
At just over 10,000 feet high, Kendrick Peak falls well short of its more famous neighbor, Humphreys Peak, the tallest mountain in the state. But Kendrick has a better view and offers an amazing backcountry trek. The multi-day hike up allows me plenty of time to think about mom and keep her the memory of her alive. Whenever I take this trip, I make it a point to find an off-the-beaten-path camping spot near the top so I can get some peace away from other hikers. This year, I ran into a ranger at the lookout who asked if it was my flashlight he could see way out on the ridge the night before. He said he hadn't seen anyone out that way in years. I tend to pride myself on finding the most isolated spots and making them my own. The off-track journey was worth the extra haul. When I woke the next morning, I had a stunning view from my hammock. I paused to take in the wonder of it all, thinking of how mom would have loved the view as well. Though our time together was too brief, I cherish these shared moments when I can bask in the glow of our common passion for the outdoors. Parents pass on many traits to their children. I'm a lucky guy to have inherited this one.