Interview with Thru hiker Tami Fandrei

photography by J. Gracie Photography

If you think you are too late to start a life of adventure, think again. There is always an excuse to be made and there is always a reason to follow your dreams. The choice is yours. But just in case you need a little inspiration to nudge you a bit towards your dream life, read on as we speak to Thru hiker Tami Fandrei who might be in the fifth decade of her life yet that does not stop her from following her heart.

Can you tell us a bit about yourself?

I am a thru hiker and adventurer, wife of 31 years, empty nester, and mom to three amazing creatives. In 2020, I turned 50 years old and it sparked something for me.  It was the recognition that I have so much more to do and see in life.  I dedicated 27 years of my life and energy to my family, dealing with military deployments and raising kids.  I am a semi-retired contractor, so I have flexibility in life to travel when I want to!

Can you tell us about Healing. Exploring. Rising project and how did it come to be?

HER stands for Healing, Exploring, Rising.

In the middle of the pandemic, a long time friend of mine found herself in a similar phase in life and together we embarked on #traillife. One of our first thru hikes was the TCT.  It was on this trail that we began to understand that we were in the middle of something much bigger than ourselves. In these transformational places the idea of HER was born and we imagined HER. A collective of women, who are choosing to enter into their lives in a new and different way.  We noticed that many of our peers were also navigating transitional places. Thru hiker Tami Fandrei

Moving out of places where we often make ourselves small, taking up less space, erecting walls around our caretaking roles. By the time most of us reach our 50s, we have had to confront shades of grief and loss but rarely the opportunity to process and heal. We felt this collective invitation to rise up, as women, to prioritize the journey of rediscovering ourselves…a re-wilding, of sorts. We began to wonder about the power of nature in this process. Nature is a teacher, showing us how to traverse challenging paths and enter into the places of beauty, holy spaces….to call us back to ourselves, a grounding to the core of who we are and what it means to take up space. We believe that nature heals us. It asks us to breathe deeply, to look deeply and to remember things we didn’t know we had forgotten.

Nature brings us home to ourselves and our most primitive places. It asks us to be curious. Nature teaches about the power of resilience, how to adapt to life changes and the importance of interdependence.  For now, HER represents this movement by women and for women; all women, especially those who may have never considered themselves equipped for this kind of journey. We hope to inspire women who may have never considered embarking on such a journey, are intimidated by it.  We know that we are stronger together, when we lift one another up and champion each other. We are looking for collective ways to change the narrative and embark upon this multi-faceted journey together. Thru hiker Tami Fandrei

You only started traveling recently, is that true? what took you so long?

I have traveled much in my life for vacation, but not adventure.  We lived abroad for five years in Okinawa and traveled a good deal throughout Asia.  More domestically, I’ve traveled all throughout Mexico, Hawaii, and the Caribbean.  When my last child went off to college 2 years ago, I realized it was finally MY time to accomplish things I wanted!

What have been some of the most incredible adventures you have done so far?

In 2022, I completed the John Muir Trail with a summit of Mt. Whitney.  It was a 220 mile journey, at elevations of 10,000 to 14,500 feet.   This year, I had the opportunity to backpack to Havasupai in Arizona, the Shenandoah section of the Appalachian Trail in Virginia, and The Enchantments in Washington!

You have a growing and very engaged community on instagram. How has the platform allowed you to connect with like-minded travelers and share your experiences?

I just recently had the opportunity to meet up and backpack with friends I met through Instagram.  We backpacked up into The Enchantments near Leavenworth, Washington.  It was a trip of a lifetime and I was grateful to be invited to be a part of a group of 8.  My friend, Ivan, of hikesandmics secured a permit for the Colchuck Zone and we set up camp at Colchuck Lake and tackled ascending and descending Asgard Pass, a scree and boulder climb of 2000 feet in 3/4 mile!

How did you start backpacking?

My husband and I planned and took a backpacking trip about 30 years ago.  We spent a few nights in the mountains in Missouri with our dogs and through the second night, we heard a pack of wolves close by. We quickly realized at the time that it wasn’t for us!  Fast forward to 2021 and the adventure that sparked this new journey for me was a backpacking and paddle boarding trip with my oldest daughter, Paige.  We traveled all over Idaho, backpacking up into a series of hot springs pools. We spent a harrowing night there through thunderstorms and bats flying around!  I was hooked and once I returned home, I started purchasing equipment and made plans to start small trips to build up to the John Muir Trail. Thru hiker Tami Fandrei

So you are based in California mostly. Would you like to tell our readers across the pond about the exciting opportunities of hiking and backpacking over there?

California is a mecca for adventure.  I live in Northern California and a two hour drive to Lake Tahoe and the Eastern Sierra, two hours to the ocean, and I have easy access to many local lakes and rivers.  In my opinion, California has the best of everything when it comes to adventure!  People come from all over the world to experience our amazing national parks!

You have done some tough physical challenges like iron woman. Considering that you just started this lifestyle over a year and a half ago, its pretty impressive. Can you tell us a bit about it? Did you always lived an active lifestyle?

I have always lived an active lifestyle and yes, I have done a few triathlons but I was mostly active playing tennis.  However, an ACL and meniscus knee injury in 2020 sidelined me from playing competitive tennis.  My surgeon told me to find an alternative to tennis and hiking filled that desire for me! I’m continuously striving to find things that challenge me as much as being on the tennis court, though.  Five surgeries later and I’m 10 months out from a total knee replacement and hiking and backpacking anywhere I want and back with some limited time on the tennis court.

What motivates you to go for these big challenges and what gets you through the hardest parts?

I’m the type of person that needs to have a goal in sight.  I’m competitive, by nature, and love to push myself past my “comfort” zone and accomplish goals!  I always carry a Garmin inReach because it keeps me connected to my family, who really supports me through the most challenging parts of my adventuring!  It still brings tears to my eyes to see the messages from my husband and kids as I was getting set up to climb Mt. Whitney for a sunrise summit!

Are there any other traveler bloggers, explores or people who have inspired your journey?

I am continuously inspired by so many other like minded adventurers.  Some of my favorite Instagram accounts to follow:  nevertoolatetoroam, wishfornatureandtravel, hikesandmics

Thru hiker Tami Fandrei

Solo traveling comes with its pros and cons. What are the biggest advantages and disadvantages in your opinion and how do you deal with the disadvantages?

Solo traveling is fun because it frees you to go wherever you want and change up your itinerary on a whim!  The disadvantages for me solo traveling are that I’m really an extrovert who enjoys traveling and adventuring with others!

What advice would you give to people over 50, particularly women who want to explore the world and feel its a bit too late for them?

It’s NEVER too late to start something new!  Did you see that a 93 year old man summited Half Dome this year?!  Honestly, the timing of my 50th birthday and my last child going to college hit me all at once.  It was like a wake up call to get out and do the things I’ve always dreamed of doing.  Start small, take a walk, find a trail, and then build from there.  My intent is to show women my age that there are no limits to what you can accomplish!

What are your top travel destinations that you have been to so far and what makes them so special for you?

My top three destinations are in this order:  Bora Bora, Bali, and Costa Rica.  I recently took a trip to Bora Bora with my husband to celebrate our 31st anniversary and it was the most beautiful place I’ve ever been too, with the exception of the Eastern Sierra!  I have a healthy respect for the ocean and being able to see the ocean floor with clarity gave me peace of mind, especially since we saw sharks and sting ray swimming all around us!  We took a trip to Bali as a young family.  I fell in love with the Indonesian culture and arts.  I would love to go back!  Costa Rica was the last family vacation we all took together just before my kids went off to college.  Hiking through the jungles with monkeys was by far such a cool experience! I hope to make my way back to Costa Rica again!

What are the places on top of your bucket list and why?

I have ticked so many things off of my “bucket” list this year and have to continuously create new lists! If I were to name my top three, I’d say that the Tour du Mont Blanc is #1 on my list as well as backpacking in the North Cascades in Washington state, Peru and Patagonia.

Thru hiker Tami Fandrei

Are there any life lessons that you learned during your adventures?

I have learned to always trust my instincts.  We were about 1/8 of a mile away from the summit in Mo’orea and as we climbed the last section, there were some landslides from the previous night’s rain and as I was continuing on, I saw where the path narrowed into a very thin section and there were shoe prints of those who had slid down the side of the mountain.  While I’m not one to stop short of a summit, or goal, it just didn’t feel safe to me to continue on.  We turned around, missing out on the summit and the amazing tree swing at the top.  Always trust your instincts.

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