Trails never fail to work the mind and body.

Let other hikers stay svelte by pounding out miles around lady bird lake. Pam LeBlanc, fitness and adventure-travel writer for the Austin American-Statesman, prefers to maintain her trim physique on more exotic trails. The 52-year-old swimmer, cyclist and scuba diver just can’t get enough of the great outdoors. That’s how LeBlanc ended up lugging her backpack across nearly 200 miles of California’s John Muir Trail in September.

The trail, located in the Sierra Nevada mountain range and often described as America’s most beautiful, starts in Yosemite National Park and terminates at Mount Whitney, the highest peak in the lower 48 states. This trek is serious business. Its breathtaking terrain requires constant climbing and descending, at times forcing hikers up 3,000 feet of switchbacks in an afternoon.

Hauling 28 pounds on her back, including meals, a sleeping bag, an air mattress and a bear vault to protect food and other scented items, LeBlanc covered approximately 12 miles a day for 15 days. She slept in a tent (carried by her husband) under wide, star-studded skies and bathed without soap in lakes as clear as windows.

“You get to know everything about the people you’re hiking with,” LeBlanc laughs, “especially the foods they crave and way too much about their bodily functions.”

Bruised and battered toes tested LeBlanc’s resolve, and a running calorie deficit left her weak. Yet she did not bend or break. A fortnight after setting out to conquer the land named after the co-founder of the Sierra Club, LeBlanc emerged from the John Muir Trail to greet friends, a margarita and a burger.

“It was the biggest adventure of my life,” she says, recalling the rugged mountains, glittering alpine lakes, sweeping pine forests and golden meadows. “It was also the toughest thing I’ve ever done—not any one step of it, but the trip taken as a whole.”

The John Muir Trail may have pushed LeBlanc to her limit, but she has other ideas for Austinites looking for their own outdoor fitness adventures closer to home.

Here’s how Pam LeBlanc stays in great hiking shape:

“I like the River Place Nature Trail in Austin. The trail has nice elevation, and the ups and downs make it a great place to train. It’s also shady and close…to town. No matter where I hike, I try to go for a few hours each time, long enough and with enough elevation change to get my heart rate up.”

“I like dried mangos and something salty when I’m hiking or backpacking. I need variety, so I also pack almonds and cranberry-orange belVita breakfast biscuits. Oh, and I love thick sugar cookies and Doctor Kracker!”

“My backpack for overnight trips is an Osprey aura, a women’s-specific pack. For day trips, I carry something smaller, and I wear zip-off pants so I can change according to temperature. I also dress in layers and wear a long-sleeve shirt and a wide-brim hat for sun protection.”

“I hike to get to places you can’t reach by car and to see stuff most people never get to see. Nature just makes me happy. I love sleeping in a tent and seeing tumbling creeks, lush meadows and big skies. Plus, I like the burn in my legs and the way hiking calms my mind.”

“I like to listen to the sounds of nature. I want to hear birds, wind in the trees, water flowing in a creek, so I don’t listen to music when I hike.”

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