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JBLM Spouse takes to trails to cope with husband’s deployment

Wilderness hikes provide good therapy

JBLM spouse Amber Strickland-Mearns stands near Mount Rainier National Park’s Narada Falls after finishing a long hike. Marques Hunter

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Amber Strickland-Mearns' legs burned more than ever. The steep climb and sharp switchbacks weren't exactly what she had imagined when she mapped out a nearly four-mile hike near Mount Rainier National Park's Narada Falls recently.

Hiking for Strickland-Mearns, 27, has become a newfound hobby since her husband, Staff Sgt. Thomas Mearns, deployed to the Kandahar province of Afghanistan early this summer.

Last week she, along with this reporter and Jason Jackson, took on a challenging hike along the Wonderland Trail. A cool spray from Narada Falls chilled our nerves before we embarked on the two-and-a-half hour trail hike. What she thought would be a steady climb quickly turned into a harrowing series of switchbacks on dirt and volcanic rock pathways.

"This is not the workout I wanted today," Strickland-Mearns said in a tired voice.

Our legs burned from the workout. Sweat began to fall from our brows. This was no walk-in-the-park hike. It pushed our physical abilities and tested our mental fortitudes.

But we pushed on and embraced the view of Reflection Lake.

"Once you get to the top, everything just goes away," she said in a voice that seemingly defeated part of the trail.

The hike, albeit a very tough one, parallels Strickland-Mearns (and other Army wives') struggles to stay mentally and physically strong when her husband is deployed. She has discovered that hiking is one way to keep her mind from wondering how her husband is coping.

"It keeps me busy, so I don't think about him being home," she said. Her husband is currently stationed at Fort Carson, Colo., but spent 10 years at Joint Base Lewis-McChord. He has already completed four overseas tours and will return from this deployment in March.

In late July, Strickland-Mearns went to Franklin Falls at Snoqualmie River, and has embarked on four different trails since then. She is looking forward to more this month.

Last week's hike served as a metaphor for her occasional struggles with missing her husband - although the journey can be tough, it all pays off in the end.

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