Reynoldsburg News

Pacific Coast Trail

Family hikes 2,650 miles to honor dad, late husband

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Chris Parker/ThisWeekNEWS
Reynoldsburg residents Janis, Ryan and Lindsay Shepard stand in front of the chalk drawing Ryan created when he and his sister finished hiking the Pacific Coast Trail in honor of their late father, Michael. Their mom, Janis, started the trip with them but had to drop out after she fell and injured her knee.
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By ThisWeek Community News  • 

Three members of a Reynoldsburg family pulled on 30-pound backpacks in April and prepared to hike the 2,650-mile Pacific Crest Trail from the Mexican border to the Canadian border.

The trip was made to honor a husband and dad who died too soon.

Lindsay Shepard, 26, and her brother, Ryan Shepard, 23, both Reynoldsburg High School graduates, with mom Janis, 49, started their trek April 25 in Campo, Calif., at the California/Mexican border.

The trip was to honor Michael Shepard, who was diagnosed with a brain tumor in October 2007 and died June 23, 2008, just weeks after Ryan graduated from high school.

It was also a way for the family to raise funds for the National Brain Tumor Society.

In a mission statement posted online at solesonthepct.blogspot.com, the three wrote, "Thru-hiking the 2,650 mile Pacific Crest trail is a dream we are committed to put into action, as we recognize that every moment of life is beautiful, but brief. This is also our individual and collective opportunity to remember and honor Michael Shepard, our father, husband and friend who believed in living life passionately and positively, and others affected by brain tumors."

Lindsay and Ryan finished the trip Oct. 12 near Manning Park, British Columbia, Canada.

Mrs. Shepherd had to end her hike early, after injuring her knee May 5 on Hauser Mountain, in an area of the trail hikers call "hell."

"I made a novice's mistake and looked up to appreciate the view, then stepped into a shallow hole," she said. "The next thing I knew, my pack weight had thrown me to the ground. I learned never to take my eyes off the trail while I was moving."

Although she continued to hike the trail on a painful knee, Mrs. Shepherd eventually was forced to rest at a hotel on doctor's orders, then later learned she had a hairline fracture that would force her to end her hike in mid-May.

"I was disappointed in myself, because before I left, a lot of people said, 'You are too old to do this.' I was most devastated by the fact I could not hike Mount Whitney, which is the highest peak in the U.S.," she said. "I'm afraid of heights, but it was supposed to be us three reaching the top of Mount Whitney to spread some of my late husband's ashes."

Mrs. Shepherd said something her late husband said when he was diagnosed with a stage 4 brain tumor resonated with her and her children and became a motto for the hike, especially when bones ached and temperatures spiked to 105 degrees or more.

"Michael told the doctors, 'You ain't seen the fight in this dog,' " she said. "We used that phrase when it got tough and it seemed as if Michael was with us on the trip."

Lindsay and Ryan did make it to the top of Mount Whitney, at 14,505 feet -- on their dad's birthday, June 16.

"We worked our butts off to get there on that day," Lindsay said. "We were doing huge miles that we were not accustomed to, so it was an amazing feeling of accomplishment and a really wonderful thing to experience as siblings. Ryan slowed down for me because he said were going to reach the top together."

Lindsay wrote in her blog soon after reaching that summit, "Ryan and I met halfway to lock our circle of ashes around the rock cairn we had made to honor the man who balanced father and friend so well. ... When Ryan and I were huddling close for warmth and consolation, I was reminded again of how truly blessed I am. I am surrounded by an overwhelming amount of love and support and spending 20 years with a dad that has earned the title in every way was a privilege.

"Nothing has ever filled me with more pride than being able to tell people that the great Michael Shepard was my daddy."

Ryan said he thought of his dad and his mom as he hiked up the mountain.

"We talked about what we remembered of dad and how it felt like he was still living through us," he said. "When we finally made it to the top, we built a rock cairn to memorialize him. It was a breathtaking view from the top."

He wrote in his blog that he found one bar on his phone at the top of the mountain, so that he could call their mom "so we could tell her how much we wish she was with us for the ascent."

"We sat around the rock cairn on that ledge for quite some time," he wrote. "We remembered. We thanked. We honored. We opened the small vials of ashes and spread them in a circle around the cairn. It was up on that mountain that I remembered he will always be with me.

"Even if I have trouble picturing a memory of him, I take comfort knowing that I carry him in my heart. ... I carry him in the lessons he taught me and in the way I was raised. Whether or not he looks down on us from a better place or his energy has dissipated into the world to become something new, I know that his influence on me, in life and in death, has shaped and continues to shape me into the man I am today."

It took the siblings five months and 17 days to finish the hike.

Most nights were spent sleeping on the ground in tents that were made out of a material that proved too light in September at Stevens Pass in Washington, near the end of the trip, when a snowstorm buried the trail in 13 feet of snow.

"We were forced to sit tight at a trail angel's house for almost 12 days," Ryan said.

Lindsay said she bundled up in everything she owned while in the tent, but still "shivered all night."

"Trail angels" are people the hikers met on the way, who helped in many ways, sometimes providing water, food or a place to shower and rest.

"I think all three of us can agree that this trip has a way of restoring your faith in humanity," Lindsay said. "We were not prepared for people to be so generous and giving."

Donations to the National Brain Tumor Society may be made at braintumorcommunity.org/goto/trailangels.

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