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"Bliss(ters)," the book: Duluth woman writes about 2,700-mile hike

Nov 06, 2017 09:50AM ● Published by Editor

Gail Francis of Duluth stands alongside a monument marking the end of the 2,700-mile Pacific Crest Trail, which she hiked in 2012. She has written a book about her hike titled, "Bliss(ters) -- How I Walked from Mexico to Canada one summer." Gail Francis photo 

By Sam Cook from the Duluth News Tribune - November 4, 2017

Ultimately, Duluth's Gail Francis couldn't think of any good reasons not to hike across America. The year was 2012. She had a good job as an analyst working on climate-change issues. She had done some other long-distance backpacking, including one seven-week stint on the Appalachian Trail.

At 39, she was thinking of walking the Pacific Crest Trail, which traverses blistering desert country and high mountain peaks as it winds from the Mexican border to the Canadian border through California, Oregon and Washington.

"It's something I had wanted to do for a long time," Francis, now 45, said in an interview this past week. "I reached the point where I thought, 'Well, I don't have kids. I don't have to make a house payment.' I wasn't getting any younger. I thought, 'If I'm going to do it, I need to decide to do it and accept whatever comes out of it.'"

She asked for a leave of absence from her job. It was denied. So she quit.

The story of her five-month odyssey is chronicled in her new book, "Bliss(ters): How I Walked from Mexico to Canada in One Summer."

The book, just published, is a sometimes soul-searching, sometimes humorous, always forthright account of her five months on the trail. She writes about the repeated kindness of total strangers and the camaraderie she found with other "thru-hikers" — those hiking the entire route. But she also acknowledges having to fight off the inclination to give up her hike at several points.

Despite her extensive hiking experience — often alone — before the trip, she had recurring doubts about herself early in this hike.

"It was a surprise to me how much I had this feeling of not really being sure of myself," Francis said. "I felt that actually I was not that good, even though I had backpacked 1,500 miles and been charged by a grizzly bear. Somehow, I assumed I wasn't a real backpacker. I had all these other people to compare myself to."

 

The cover of Bliss(ters), a new book by Gail Francis.

Loose-knit collection

On any popular trail, a hiker encounters the same fellow travelers again and again. Hikers move along in a kind of elastic pack, sometimes some forging ahead, sometimes falling back, often camping together in groups near water sources. They become this loose association of companions, often encouraging others as they go.

They take on — or are given — trail names. Francis often came across Collector, Memphis, Castle and Train. A thru-hiker called Wolf gave Francis her trail name: NightinGail.

"I tend to sing a lot on the trail," she said.

Though Francis had always enjoyed being alone in nature, something changed on this hike.

"I actually really came to enjoy the company of other people in the backcountry," she said. "By the end of the trail, I really liked having another human being to share the sunrise with."

Although the backpackers traveled independently, they buoyed each other's spirits and looked out for each other.

"It was just always really lighthearted around other hikers," Francis said. "The political tensions we have now were just becoming huge, but our main conversations might be about bowel movements. You get real basic and connect on this mammalian level... If something serious happened to any one of us, there was no chance that anyone would be left to suffer harm out there. It's really a unique bond and doesn't seem to have much to do with how we form bonds in the rest of our lives."

'Trail angels'

The kindness of these strangers extended to off-the-trail encounters, too. If Francis emerged at a road and needed a ride to a nearby town for supplies, someone always stopped to pick her up, she said. Some gave her lodging. Others, called "trail angels," would set up specifically near trailheads offering food, water and other supplies to hikers — free. And Francis' friends back home were there for her, too, across the miles.

"It's amazing to me how kind people were," she said. "They were so consistently kind. Strangers giving me rides, or trail angels — that group is amazing. And this group back home — some people I didn't know all that well — sending me packages and emails in a way that felt really great. I hope I can try to be more of that way and not so closed in on myself sometimes."

In fact, the hike has had an enduring impact on Francis. In her epilogue to the book, she writes: "The most enduring change the hike provoked has been a sense of optimism. Something about finally pursuing and achieving a long-held dream has made me happier than I could have imagined... Although I still have my struggles and my bouts of sadness, they seem manageable. They don't seem as hard as hiking through the desert."

Five years from her hike, that feeling remains, Francis said. Upon returning from her hike, she was rehired as a climate-change analyst. Over this past Labor Day weekend, she was married.

"Being constantly immersed in something I love flipped a switch inside of me and made me love more things," she said.

The Gail Francis file

The book: "Bliss(ters): How I Walked from Mexico to Canada One Summer," $10.95, paperback.

Author: Gail M. Francis, Duluth

Age during hike: 39 at start, 40 at end

The trail: The Pacific Crest Trail, 2,700 miles from the Mexico border to the Canadian border

Five months: April to September 2012

Weight of pack: About 40 pounds in the beginning, 30 toward the end

Temperature range: Below freezing to over 100 degrees

Find the book: On Amazon and Kindle, and soon in local bookstores

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    Click to view our current list of Group Exercise classes, pool schedule and gym schedule!


  • Day Pass Sale

    11/29/2017
    06:00AM

    The Day Pass Sale is back! Shop Local November 24th-29th Give the gift of health and share a vis...


  • Blue Water Suite

    11/29/2017
    09:00AM

    Blue Water Suite is open for a one of a kind stay. Located above the Blue Water Café, lots of r...


  • Anxiety/Depression Support Group for Women

    11/29/2017
    10:00AM — 11:00AM

    Weekly support group for women. $2.00 suggested donation. No registration required. Please joi...


  • Lunch at the Senior Center

    11/29/2017
    12:00PM — 12:30PM

    Tatertot Hotdish/Fruit/ Dessert/Milk


  • Lunch at the Senior Center

    11/29/2017
    12:00PM — 12:30PM

    Spaghetti/Salad/Pudding/Milk


  • 20th anniversary exhibit, Begin | Continue

    11/29/2017
    04:00PM — 06:00PM

    A celebratory 20th anniversary exhibit titled Begin | Continue will feature the work of North Hou...


  • Beginning Swedish language- 4 sessions

    11/29/2017
    05:30PM — 07:00PM

    Beginning Swedish Language - 4 sessions Instructor: Rose Arrowsmith DeCoux Dates: November 1st,...


  • Square Dance Lessons

    11/29/2017
    07:30PM — 09:00PM

    Modern Western Square Dance Schedule for November 30 through January 25. Time: 7:30 – 9:00 PM...


  • Terra Bella Floral fall hours

    11/30/2017
    12:00AM

    Monday and Tuesday Noon to 6 Wednesday through Friday 10 to 4 Saturday 10 to 2 Sunday Closed


  • YMCA Classes

    11/30/2017
    12:00AM

    Click to view our current list of Group Exercise classes, pool schedule and gym schedule!


  • Lunch at the Senior Center

    11/30/2017
    12:00PM — 12:30PM

    BBQ Chicken/Baled Potato/Coleslaw/Jello/Milk


  • 20th anniversary exhibit, Begin | Continue

    11/30/2017
    04:00PM — 06:00PM

    A celebratory 20th anniversary exhibit titled Begin | Continue will feature the work of North Hou...


  • Alcoholics Anonymous

    11/30/2017
    06:30PM

    Alcoholics Anonymous is a fellowship of men and women who share their experience, strength and ho...


  • Square Dance Lessons

    11/30/2017
    07:30PM — 09:00PM

    Modern Western Square Dance Schedule for November 30 through January 25. Time: 7:30 – 9:00 PM...


  • Terra Bella Floral fall hours

    12/01/2017
    12:00AM

    Monday and Tuesday Noon to 6 Wednesday through Friday 10 to 4 Saturday 10 to 2 Sunday Closed


  • YMCA Classes

    12/01/2017
    12:00AM

    Click to view our current list of Group Exercise classes, pool schedule and gym schedule!


  • Lunch at the Senior Center

    12/01/2017
    12:00PM — 12:55PM

    Polish Sausage/ Sauerkraut/ Potato/Dessert/Milk


  • 20th anniversary exhibit, Begin | Continue

    12/01/2017
    04:00PM — 06:00PM

    A celebratory 20th anniversary exhibit titled Begin | Continue will feature the work of North Hou...


  • Terra Bella Floral fall hours

    12/02/2017
    12:00AM

    Monday and Tuesday Noon to 6 Wednesday through Friday 10 to 4 Saturday 10 to 2 Sunday Closed


  • YMCA Classes

    12/02/2017
    12:00AM

    Click to view our current list of Group Exercise classes, pool schedule and gym schedule!


  • Trails Final Check

    12/02/2017
    09:00AM — 02:00PM

    We welcome you to join us at 9 a.m. at the Groomer building on Caribou Trail to do the final trai...


  • 20th anniversary exhibit, Begin | Continue

    12/02/2017
    04:00PM — 06:00PM

    A celebratory 20th anniversary exhibit titled Begin | Continue will feature the work of North Hou...


  • Square Dance Lessons

    12/02/2017
    07:30PM — 09:00PM

    Modern Western Square Dance Schedule for November 30 through January 25. Time: 7:30 – 9:00 PM...


  • Terra Bella Floral fall hours

    12/03/2017
    12:00AM

    Monday and Tuesday Noon to 6 Wednesday through Friday 10 to 4 Saturday 10 to 2 Sunday Closed


  • YMCA Classes

    12/03/2017
    12:00AM

    Click to view our current list of Group Exercise classes, pool schedule and gym schedule!


  • 20th anniversary exhibit, Begin | Continue

    12/03/2017
    04:00PM — 06:00PM

    A celebratory 20th anniversary exhibit titled Begin | Continue will feature the work of North Hou...


  • Alcoholics Anonymous

    12/03/2017
    06:30PM — 07:30PM

    Alcoholics Anonymous is a fellowship of men and women who share their experience, strength and ho...


  • Terra Bella Floral fall hours

    12/04/2017
    12:00AM

    Monday and Tuesday Noon to 6 Wednesday through Friday 10 to 4 Saturday 10 to 2 Sunday Closed


  • YMCA Classes

    12/04/2017
    12:00AM

    Click to view our current list of Group Exercise classes, pool schedule and gym schedule!


  • Lunch at the Senior Center

    12/04/2017
    12:00PM — 12:30PM

    Chicken Stew with Dumplings/Brussels Sprouts/Fruit/Milk


  • 20th anniversary exhibit, Begin | Continue

    12/04/2017
    04:00PM — 06:00PM

    A celebratory 20th anniversary exhibit titled Begin | Continue will feature the work of North Hou...


  • Co-Dependents Anonymous

    12/04/2017
    05:30PM

    Co-Dependents Anonymous is a Fellowship of men and women whose common purpose is to develop healt...


  • Open Mic Every Monday at 6PM!

    12/04/2017
    06:00PM — 11:55PM

    Grand Marais Music Collaborative presents "Open Mic Night", every Monday at Grandma Ray's! The s...


  • Square Dance Lessons

    12/04/2017
    07:30PM — 09:00PM

    Modern Western Square Dance Schedule for November 30 through January 25. Time: 7:30 – 9:00 PM...


  • Terra Bella Floral fall hours

    12/05/2017
    12:00AM

    Monday and Tuesday Noon to 6 Wednesday through Friday 10 to 4 Saturday 10 to 2 Sunday Closed


  • YMCA Classes

    12/05/2017
    12:00AM

    Click to view our current list of Group Exercise classes, pool schedule and gym schedule!


  • Overeaters Anonymous

    12/05/2017
    11:00AM

    Overeaters Anonymous is a fellowship of individuals who, through shared experience, strength and...


  • Lunch at the Senior Center

    12/05/2017
    12:00PM — 12:30PM

    Tuna Hotdish/Salad/Fruit/Milk


  • 20th anniversary exhibit, Begin | Continue

    12/05/2017
    04:00PM — 06:00PM

    A celebratory 20th anniversary exhibit titled Begin | Continue will feature the work of North Hou...


  • Trivia Night at Grandma Ray's

    12/05/2017
    07:00PM — 09:00PM

    Trivia Night from 7:00-9:00pm every Tuesday down at Grandma Ray's.


  • Terra Bella Floral fall hours

    12/06/2017
    12:00AM

    Monday and Tuesday Noon to 6 Wednesday through Friday 10 to 4 Saturday 10 to 2 Sunday Closed


  • YMCA Classes

    12/06/2017
    12:00AM

    Click to view our current list of Group Exercise classes, pool schedule and gym schedule!


  • Anxiety/Depression Support Group for Women

    12/06/2017
    10:00AM — 11:00AM

    Weekly support group for women. $2.00 suggested donation. No registration required. Please joi...


  • Lunch at the Senior Center

    12/06/2017
    12:00PM — 12:30PM

    Meatloaf/Baked Potato/Beets/Dessert/Milk


  • 20th anniversary exhibit, Begin | Continue

    12/06/2017
    04:00PM — 06:00PM

    A celebratory 20th anniversary exhibit titled Begin | Continue will feature the work of North Hou...


  • Square Dance Lessons

    12/06/2017
    07:30PM — 09:00PM

    Modern Western Square Dance Schedule for November 30 through January 25. Time: 7:30 – 9:00 PM...


  • Terra Bella Floral fall hours

    12/07/2017
    12:00AM

    Monday and Tuesday Noon to 6 Wednesday through Friday 10 to 4 Saturday 10 to 2 Sunday Closed


  • YMCA Classes

    12/07/2017
    12:00AM

    Click to view our current list of Group Exercise classes, pool schedule and gym schedule!


  • Lunch at the Senior Center

    12/07/2017
    12:00PM — 12:30PM

    Linda Johnson's Treat!!!


  • 20th anniversary exhibit, Begin | Continue

    12/07/2017
    04:00PM — 06:00PM

    A celebratory 20th anniversary exhibit titled Begin | Continue will feature the work of North Hou...


  • Light Up a Life

    12/07/2017
    05:30PM — 06:30PM

    The 9th Annual “Light up a Life” offers community members the opportunity to celebrate the life o...


  • Alcoholics Anonymous

    12/07/2017
    06:30PM

    Alcoholics Anonymous is a fellowship of men and women who share their experience, strength and ho...


  • Square Dance Lessons

    12/07/2017
    07:30PM — 09:00PM

    Modern Western Square Dance Schedule for November 30 through January 25. Time: 7:30 – 9:00 PM...


  • Terra Bella Floral fall hours

    12/08/2017
    12:00AM

    Monday and Tuesday Noon to 6 Wednesday through Friday 10 to 4 Saturday 10 to 2 Sunday Closed


  • YMCA Classes

    12/08/2017
    12:00AM

    Click to view our current list of Group Exercise classes, pool schedule and gym schedule!


  • Caregiver Coffee - Tofte

    12/08/2017
    10:00AM — 11:30AM

    Caregiver Coffee Join us to get to know other caregivers in a casual setting. Take part in a d...


  • Lunch at the Senior Center

    12/08/2017
    12:00PM — 12:30PM

    Beef Stew/Salad/Biscuit/Dessert/Milk


  • 20th anniversary exhibit, Begin | Continue

    12/08/2017
    04:00PM — 06:00PM

    A celebratory 20th anniversary exhibit titled Begin | Continue will feature the work of North Hou...


  • Terra Bella Floral fall hours

    12/09/2017
    12:00AM

    Monday and Tuesday Noon to 6 Wednesday through Friday 10 to 4 Saturday 10 to 2 Sunday Closed


  • YMCA Classes

    12/09/2017
    12:00AM

    Click to view our current list of Group Exercise classes, pool schedule and gym schedule!


  • 20th anniversary exhibit, Begin | Continue

    12/09/2017
    04:00PM — 06:00PM

    A celebratory 20th anniversary exhibit titled Begin | Continue will feature the work of North Hou...


  • In the spirit of gratitude, pride, and recognition of the community that has valued and fostered ...


  • Square Dance Lessons

    12/09/2017
    07:30PM — 09:00PM

    Modern Western Square Dance Schedule for November 30 through January 25. Time: 7:30 – 9:00 PM...


  • Terra Bella Floral fall hours

    12/10/2017
    12:00AM

    Monday and Tuesday Noon to 6 Wednesday through Friday 10 to 4 Saturday 10 to 2 Sunday Closed


  • YMCA Classes

    12/10/2017
    12:00AM

    Click to view our current list of Group Exercise classes, pool schedule and gym schedule!


  • 20th anniversary exhibit, Begin | Continue

    12/10/2017
    04:00PM — 06:00PM

    A celebratory 20th anniversary exhibit titled Begin | Continue will feature the work of North Hou...


  • Alcoholics Anonymous

    12/10/2017
    06:30PM — 07:30PM

    Alcoholics Anonymous is a fellowship of men and women who share their experience, strength and ho...


  • Terra Bella Floral fall hours

    12/11/2017
    12:00AM

    Monday and Tuesday Noon to 6 Wednesday through Friday 10 to 4 Saturday 10 to 2 Sunday Closed


  • YMCA Classes

    12/11/2017
    12:00AM

    Click to view our current list of Group Exercise classes, pool schedule and gym schedule!


  • Lunch at the Senior Center

    12/11/2017
    12:00PM — 12:30PM

    Boiled Dinner/Biscuit/Fruit/Milk


  • 20th anniversary exhibit, Begin | Continue

    12/11/2017
    04:00PM — 06:00PM

    A celebratory 20th anniversary exhibit titled Begin | Continue will feature the work of North Hou...


  • Co-Dependents Anonymous

    12/11/2017
    05:30PM

    Co-Dependents Anonymous is a Fellowship of men and women whose common purpose is to develop healt...


  • Open Mic Every Monday at 6PM!

    12/11/2017
    06:00PM — 11:55PM

    Grand Marais Music Collaborative presents "Open Mic Night", every Monday at Grandma Ray's! The s...


  • Over 75 talented Cook County singers and musicians in the Borealis Chorale & Orchestra continue t...


  • Square Dance Lessons

    12/11/2017
    07:30PM — 09:00PM

    Modern Western Square Dance Schedule for November 30 through January 25. Time: 7:30 – 9:00 PM...


Minnesota Fire Danger
Boreal Ship Spotter - larger view here