Returning to Wonderland, A Trek in My Husband’s Spiritual Homeland

Evening in Glacier Basin
Evening in Glacier Basin

In 1992, my husband Andy and I camped for 4 nights at Mount Rainier National Park in Washington state. It was our first trip to this spectacular park—a magnificent wilderness that ironically, Andy was indifferent to visiting. While hiking one day, we spotted a sign for the Wonderland Trail—a ~100-mile loop that circumnavigates the mountain. For the next 6 months, Andy thought of little else. It was as if that sign, and the trail that led away from it into the woods, had cast a spell upon his soul.

Out of the blue, my tech-centric husband began reading books on backpacking and outfitting himself with gear needed for a long backcountry trek. In June of 1993, he announced that he was going back to Rainier to hike the Wonderland Trail solo. Last month, I joined him on his 24th visit to that beguiling mountain. If you don’t have time to read further, check out the video of our latest trip, which is at the end of this post.

An Obsession is Born

When Andy first decided, nearly 3 decades ago, that he was going back to Rainier, neither of us could fully believe that he’d be “doing-this-dog” by himself. Prior to 1993, he’d never come close to attempting such a journey. But, off he went at the end of that summer, and home he came, two weeks later, grinning like a drunken convert, imbibed with a spiritual awakening imparted by his guru.

And so began Andy’s obsession with The Mountain. In 1994, he completed the Wonderland loop again and I joined him for a portion of the route. In 1995, we did the entire route together. In 1997, we returned for a shorter trek, known as the Northern Figure 8. In 1998, we went back again for another 100-mile gauntlet on the Wonderland. Are you noticing a pattern yet?

Rinse Repeat

Little did I know, Andy was just warming up. The birth of our children put an end to my Wonderlanding, but Andy continued to go almost every summer. Over the years, obtaining a permit for the entire loop became increasingly difficult. But, when a full Wonderland wasn’t possible, Andy usually found other trajectories inside the park that satisfied his annual withdrawal symptoms.

Last year, I began thinking that I would like to return to The Mountain, but the pandemic kept me away. (Although, Andy drove out to Rainier from Michigan, hiked for 10 days, and drove home. Of course he did.)

Map of the Wonderland Trail
Map of the Wonderland Trail

Return Journey

This year, however, I finally went back after a 23-year absence. I was more than a little worried before hitting the trail. I hadn’t backpacked once in all of that time. I remembered the route being difficult when I was in my mid-30s. I feared that I’d blow out a knee or slip and break something. However, I wanted to give it a try and so I met Andy for the last 38 miles of this year’s 100-mile pilgrimage.

It was nice to be back. It was almost like I’d never left. The landscape was totally familiar, kept alive in my memory by hundreds of photos (make that thousands) and stories that Andy has shared with me over the last quarter-century. I walked along at a fraction of my former pace and was exhausted at the end of every day. In the morning, however, I felt rejuvenated and eager to rediscover the next leg of our route.

I decided to commemorate my experience by creating a video with this year’s crop of pics/vids. Perhaps after watching, you’ll understand a bit better why someone might return year after year to the same indescribably beautiful piece of our planet. This summer marked Andy’s 20th loop on the Wonderland Trail.

Wonderland Trail 2021

About Carol A. Seidl

Serial software entrepreneur, writer, French to English translator, mother, and lover of: books, travel, history, cultures, art, cooking, fitness, nature.

23 Comments

  1. What a wonderful post! Mt Rainier is in my backyard and it’s such a treat to see it through the eyes of someone who doesn’t get to experience its majesty each and every day. And so wonderful that you got to revisit this year Carol! Next time you are here, let’s try to connect live.

  2. It’s magnificent scenery, and a hundred-mile trek would be a daunting endeavor for most people. I can understand that it has a profound effect and attraction. At least it provides the spiritual awakening without the burden of the actual guru.

    Did you or Andy ever see any dangerous animals during those hikes? Outside the urban areas it can get pretty wild in the Pacific northwest.

    Gotta run — I’m prepping for the grueling 200-inch trek to the kitchen to get some more tea.

    • We have both seen bears at Rainier but only had a problem once, in 2014. You can find the full story by clicking on the “stories” link in this post. Look for “The Summerland Bear Incident”.

      My biggest fear has always been and continues to be an unexpected fall. This is certainly the biggest cause of injury or death out there.

      The trek is at least 50% mental. If you take your time, you can eventually arrive where you want to go but modern man is not naturally inclined to that mode of being.

      Thanks for stopping by and enjoy that tea. Sounds pretty zen to me.

  3. Loved your Rainier video. We used to live in Seattle and went to Rainier often, never on such a long trek. We had little ones. You have shown me how expansive the park is. Thank you, Carol.

  4. Such a joyful post and such dedication (or obsession? haha) from Andy! Stunning scenery but not the toothbrush! 😉

  5. Thank you so much for the video! The wildflowers are magical.

  6. I really enjoyed reading your post, and the video is fantastic! It brought back memories of when I had the opportunity to go with you and Andy. An amazing adventure and one that I will always treasure!

    • While out there, Renee, we reminisced about our prior trips including the trek we did with you and Dan. It was a very fun adventure to share with good friends.

      We had one semi-dangerous crossing this year where the trail had washed away. It reminded me of the nerve-wracking detour we took together many years ago.

  7. Thanks for sharing. I really enjoyed the video

  8. What a wonderful obsession. Keep it up! I live my obsession every day, especially when Autumn comes. Your writing really makes it come to life for the rest of us.

  9. Wow it really does look like such a beautiful place. I’m glad you guys were able to go back and thanks for sharing your experience with us the video was great

  10. Wow, congratulations on returning to “The Mountain” after 23 years, and kudos to Andy on the 20th anniversary! Loved the video, thanks for sharing the beauty. Although I understood wanting to return to a beautiful place and admired the fitness goal, I never knew the origin story of the obsession, or the impressive duration. Cheers to you both! Here’s to many happy Rainier returns!

  11. Fabulous and inspiring. Kudos to you both. I ask reluctantly: through all these years, has Andy—and now have you as well—noticed changes in this glorious place due to the ravages of human onslaught?

    • Good question Annie. Happily, much of the park remains pristine and relatively untouched by man. However, The glaciers are noticeably smaller. There once were ice caves that you could explore but those disappeared in the 70s.

      Natural erosion causes continual rerouting of parts of the trail. This has been the case for as long as we’ve known it, but perhaps it’s accelerated.

      Weather in the mountains is always more unpredictable than elsewhere. Rainier has had wide variations in snowfall and summer heat from year to year. Sometimes, roads into the park are closed by the end of September. Last week they were all still open and people were still heading out to hike the Wonderland.

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