ELBURN – Diane Venneri is an adventurous soul, with a wanderlust so great she is going to walk the 2,650-mile Pacific Crest Trail – like Reese Witherspoon in the movie “Wild.”
“I saw the movie three years ago and I said when I retired, that is what I was going to do,” Venneri said. “Life-changing moments can come from anywhere. They can come from books. They can come from movies.”
The Pacific Crest Trail extends from Mexico to Canada through California, Oregon and Washington, traversing mountains and deserts through the Sierra Nevada and the Cascade Range, according to the Pacific Crest Trail Association website, www.pcta.org.
The Elburn resident retired from teaching in 2017 after 35 years – 25 of them teaching 5th grade in Geneva – and will have her progress detailed online via YouTube @ATeacherHikesthePCTGPS, so former students, family and friends can follow her on this five-month journey.
“I’m going to have one pair of shoes to start with but most people say you can do 700 miles on a pair of shoes,” Venneri said. “When I need a new one, I’ll have a pair sent from home or just order online.”
Venneri will be carrying a one-person tent on her back, along with a sleeping bag, food, changes of clothes and a cell phone.
“I will be camping and sleeping on the trail. Or cowboy camp – that’s when people just sleep outside,” Venneri said. “There will be many days between showers. … I have done hiking and camping in the past and backpacking trips, but never anything like this.”
Venneri will have oatmeal and instant coffee for breakfast, tuna or peanut butter on pita bread for lunch, instant potatoes or quick-cook brown rice with salami or beef jerky for dinner. She will also eat Snickers and Pop-Tarts.
Hikers will be able to leave the trail to stop in towns along the way for a rest and shower. Venneri said these are called zero days.
Venneri will fly to San Diego where she will be picked up by a couple known as Trail Angels who will get her situated so she can start at the Mexican border.
She will be one of many starting off at the same time. Hikers can walk together or alone or a combination of both.
“You hike your own hike,” Venneri said.
Venneri trained all of February and March and most of April at Pound 4 Pound Fitness in Elburn. She walked on a treadmill and with her golden retriever Jupiter carrying a heavy backpack.
In fact, Venneri had planned to do this hike last year, but her horse, Silver Diamond, bucked during a ride and threw her off, breaking her collarbone in two places. It required surgery, a plate and two screws.
Dr. James Sostak at Fox Valley Orthopedics in Geneva advised her to delay the hike until she was completely healed, she said.
Walking this trail is not like a walk in the park.
The U.S. Forest Service manages the Pacific Crest Trail as part of the National Trail Service. It warns “The trail traverses through some of the most extreme wilderness in the continental USA,”on its website, www.fs.usda.gov.
Likewise, the Pacific Crest Trail Association, warns, “On the PCT, your safety is your own responsibility. While there are permits, no officials are actively monitoring or keeping track of your location. You should provide your itinerary to family or friends and check in with them frequently.”
This is not quite the laid-back retirement imagined by most 64-year-olds, but Venneri said she is prepared for the hardships.
“I’m very healthy and very active,” Venneri said.
Her horse will be cared for and her husband, son and daughter will look after the dog Jupiter and the cat named Georgia.
She acknowledged that they will all miss each other – but this hike is something she feels compelled to do.
“They know I’m a very adventurous type of person,” Venneri said of her family’s support. “I’m not sure they are thrilled, but they are allowing me to go.”
Her daughter, Laura Venneri, 20, said she was all for her mother’s adventure.
“I’m very thrilled for her,” Laura Venneri said. “It’s really outstanding that she gets to do this.”
Her husband, Jim Venneri, said being apart will be tough, but this is something she has put her mind to do.
“When Diane puts her mind to something, she sticks to it,” Jim Venneri said . “Whether I’m 100% in or not, I had to support her for this. … It’s tough when you’re not with your loved ones for five days, let alone five months. Part of me says she is going to have tougher hardships than I will and the children will for next five months.”
The Venneris’ son, John Venneri, 23, said he was proud that his mother was going on this endeavor – but admitted to being a little worried for her.
“How can you not be worried a bit?” John Venneri said. “It’s one of those things you feel worried – and proud and exited and curious to see how it goes.”
INFO BOX [this does not go in print!]
More information about the Pacific Crest Trail:
• The Pacific Crest Trail was officially completed in 1993 as a national scenic trail established by Congress pursuant to the criteria identified in the National Trail Systems Act of 1968.
• About 200 people attempt to hike the trail each season, generally going from south to north starting at the Mexican border in April and ending on the Canadian border in September.
• Responsibility for managing the Pacific Crest Trail was delegated to the U.S. Forest Service, Pacific Southwest Regional Forester.
• Many groups volunteer to maintain and support the Pacific Crest Trail, such as the Pacific Crest Trail Association.