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About Eileen

My First Backpacking Trip

By About Eileen, Affirmations, Backpacking, Follow Your Dreams, Living Our Best Lives, Making It Happen

For a long, long time, I’ve wanted to go backpacking.

I can’t pinpoint exactly when or from where this desire first sprang. Maybe it followed a day hike in the Sierras with fantastic views of a vast and beautiful wilderness beyond the reach of cars? Maybe it was a shared desire for adventure after reading “Into the Woods” by Bill Bryson or “Wild” by Cheryl Strayed?

Whatever its source, the desire grew within me. Problem was, no one I knew had any interest in backpacking. Not my husband nor any of my friends.

And so I was stuck – and for a long time.

Finally, about a year ago, I’d had enough. Enough of waiting for someone to come along to help me make my dream of backpacking come true. Enough of allowing my fears to keep me from forging ahead on my own.

So I started to do my homework – figuring out what equipment I’d need and what route would be appropriate for a beginner like me. I recruited my son Declan (12) who’d enjoyed two short backpacking trips with his Scout troop. We made a plan – a three day hike through Desolation Wilderness high above Lake Tahoe.

The night prior to our start, we car-camped near Fallen Leaf Lake. We pitched our tent amidst a dozen variously-sized RVs. Their generators hummed as we roasted marshmallows for s’mores in our fire pit. When bears started to roam the campgrounds after dark, as the rangers had warned they would, folks started to honk car horns to ward them off. We were sleeping on the ground in our tent, yes, but it didn’t feel like we’d really escaped to the mountains at all. The loud, frenetic din of modern life was all around us.

The next morning we set off. The first 2.5 miles were nearly straight up, some 1,000 feet, on narrow switchbacks through groves of red fir. Over the following four miles, we hiked along the saddle between two peaks, taking in stunning views of Lake Tahoe to the east and high Sierra peaks to the west. Snow still covered some of the north-facing slopes above 8,000 feet, creating several streams that we had to ford over rocks and downed tree limbs. We reached our destination – Upper Velma Lake – in mid-afternoon and set up our campsite. We swam in the lake’s crystal clear waters and hiked to a beautiful waterfall for lunch. We had crossed paths with a handful of other backpackers and were expecting some number of them to share our lakeside campground, but no one ever came. It was just me and Declan.

Now, if you’d told me I’d be all alone in the mountains with Declan for the night, back when I was planning the trip, or even when we were standing at the trailhead earlier that morning, I would have broken out in a cold sweat. Because, really, what beginner backpacker should be alone at 8,400 feet with her 12 year old? So many things could go wrong, from bears getting into our food – or our tent! – to a lightning strike, to a snake bite …. You get the picture.

I had expected that there would be some other people around, with more experience, who we could ask for help, if something went awry.

But there weren’t.


Turns out it was a blessing. When the sun went down and we tucked into our sleeping bags, all we could hear was the sound of the nearby waterfall. No generators, no car horns. (And if there were any bears nearby, they left us alone!)

Over the next two days, as we continued our journey, I felt the weight of so many doubts and fears that I’d been carrying slough off, one by one. And they weren’t just concerns about staying hydrated on our hike or getting comfortable pooping in the woods. They were the kinds of everyday self-doubts that keep you from taking risks. The kind of everyday fears that allow you to settle for something less than you deserve.

When we returned to the trailhead, I found myself at once energized and at peace, realizing that I can do just about anything if I set my mind to it. And, really, can’t we all?


The Instant My Mom’s World Was Upended

By About Eileen, Financial Planning, My Why

“Mrs. McPeake, we believe your husband has died of a heart attack.”

These words were the first the doctor had spoken. These were the first words anyone had spoken to me or my Mom since the police officers had picked us up at our home and driven us to the ER. Along the way, we’d passed the scene of the accident. I could see my father’s car smashed up against a tree on the side of the road.

It was 1978. I was nine. My Mom and I were sitting inside a tiny, windowless room at the hospital. I didn’t want to hear any more and bolted out of the room and into the hallway. Clutching my beloved Pooh Bear, I rocked back and forth on a hard plastic chair mumbling “he didn’t say died” over and over.

But it was true. And my and my mother’s lives were forever changed.

I got up the courage to return to the tiny, windowless room after the doctor had left. I sat down next to my Mom, who was just staring blankly ahead. I hugged her and asked, “Are you going to get remarried?”

Looking back, I’m deeply embarrassed that these were my first words to her, but to be fair, I knew that my father was the breadwinner while my mom stayed at home with me.

My parents had both grown up in working class families in the 1940’s and 1950’s. Families where the month always lasted longer than the money. My mom was the oldest of six. She was Valedictorian of her high school and dreamed of going to college, but instead went to work as a secretary to help provide for her younger brothers and sisters. My father had been the youngest of four. His own father had died when my dad was a toddler and his mother had worked in the textile mills of southern New England to support her family. My father put himself through college, studied Electrical Engineering and started a career in management of technology companies. Together, my parents were able to buy a house in the suburbs, put two cars in the garage, give me a room filled with all the toys I could want and build a solid upper middle class life for our family.

But now, all of the financial security that she and my father had finally come to enjoy was gone.

What was going to happen to us?

That’s exactly the question my mother was asking herself.

What would she do for income? She hadn’t worked in nearly ten years, and, then, as a secretary. She could never match my father’s c-suite earnings….How drastically could she reduce our expenses? We had just upgraded to a five bedroom home in a nicer suburb….What about health insurance? This was 1978 and there was no COBRA protection. My father’s company-issued policy would expire at the end of the month….

Over the years, I watched as concerns about money consumed my mother. It was quite understandable in the first six years when we were subsisting on Social Security Survivors’ benefits and she put herself through college and then law school. They persisted, however, even after she embarked on a successful legal career. So often she said “no” to herself, when she could have said “yes.” Yes, I can afford a new TV. Yes, I can afford a vacation.

She never found the person who could help her answer the questions that kept her up at night. A professional to work with her to build a financial plan and regain some of the security she’d lost when my dad died.

This is the reason I’ve become a financial planner. I help women, like my mother, who are going through profound life transitions. Some have recently been widowed while others are newly divorced. Still others have been flying solo for some time but seek to retire or otherwise change course in a profound way. For these women, I build financial plans that help them regain financial security and allow them to say “yes” to themselves.