(by Chris Casado, Co-Founder, TSX Challenge, originally published 2019, updated 2020)
It’s time to come clean. Two moms are largely responsible for making TSX a reality.
I started TSX in late-2010 with the help of Mike Murphy and incredible family support. At that time, our family had two full-time working parents, two young kids under the age of three, and a separate fledgling start-up in the works. Despite these constraints, my wife Un, who had never before been backpacking, bought into the idea that supporting a small seasonal backpacking operation would be a good idea.
If she only knew!
Our original vision with TSX was to deliver one experience, a Trans-Sierra trek to Mt. Whitney, over one route, three or four times a year. After years removed from the trail with both Un and I working in finance in Toronto, and San Francisco, TSX was started as a way to help us get out of the office and reconnect with the outdoors I experienced as a kid, while doing something that would make a lasting, meaningful impact on others.
Un was hesitant. She decided she had to experience the trail for herself to really know if this was worth the effort. So in our first season of operation, I put her on the trail with our founding guides Tim and Alex – two incredible guys and guides who have continued to support TSX trips as their schedule allows to present day. One week in the Sierra, no internet, no Blackberry (remember those?), no shower, and about 70 miles hiking over incredibly rugged terrain.
It was her first-ever overnight backpacking trek.
And her last-ever overnight backpacking trek.
She said Alex’s constant chatting and encouragement got her though it (if you’ve had Alex as a guide with us, I’m sure you can relate!).
It was the hardest thing she’d ever done, but she got it. After exiting the trail, and hugging her kids, she described in detail the lives and stories, and challenges and triumphs of the people she got to know and spend time with on the trail. “You’re right Chris, this trail does change lives,” … and she has been a supporter ever since.
Throughout the years, this full-time working Mom has supported TSX in more ways than I can count. She’s cancelled meetings to cover as a volunteer driver; greeted participants with meals as they return from Hell For Sure; covered kid duties at the drop of the hat when I left to support an injured hiker in the Grand Canyon; and the topper of all, she delivered our third child in 2014, on the same day I was with a team on the summit of Mt. Whitney (pictured)! I’ll save that story for another day.
Thank you to Un, and the incredible moms who support and sacrifice for their spouses, kids and families day in and day out. We love you.
But that’s not the end of the story… the stage for TSX was actually set in the early 90s by another mom that has been instrumental in making TSX a reality.
Before 1993, our family of six had never been backpacking. Ever. Our dad worked in produce, and summer was his busy season. When Mike Murphy, a 5th grade teacher at our elementary school offered an opportunity to take my brother and I backpacking for a week in the Sierra, our parents signed us up. I think Mom had visions of a (more) peaceful week at home with half the kids, and half the craziness. My brother Denver (who had just turned 11) and I were scheduled to depart in late July.
Two nights before the start date, those visions quickly faded. I broke my toe. Mom and Dad hatched this great idea that mom, Valerie, would take my place and join the trip to Mt. Whitney with Denver and Mike. She made a quick run to Big 5 to pick up some hiking boots, cobbled together some over-sized gear for her five-foot nothing frame, and 36 hours later, she hit the trail. No training, no prep, nothing.
This also was Mom’s first-ever backpacking trip.
And her last-ever backpacking trip.
There were moments of joy, and tears, and everything in between. But she made the summit and persevered. Unfortunately, the new boots ended up giving her two quarter-sized blisters that wore deep into each of her Achilles. When she got home and put her feet up, they locked in place! She ended up in physical therapy and on crutches for the next six weeks!
But again, she got it! And believed in the experience, eventually sending all four of her children to Mt. Whitney with Mike. Mom has helped support TSX every year in many ways behind the scenes – driving, helping with shopping, preparing food, watching kids while I’m out traveling. Couldn’t have done it without her!
Thank you Un, Mom, and all the other women, and men, to who sacrifice, take chances, and believe in their family with unconditional love and support.