It is when Lara Dykstra hears only the silence of morning that she knows she is exactly where she needs to be. There are no phones. No cars. No horns or televisions or radios. No other people, aside from her father, who is as quiet as the world around her.
Nothing beats that first morning, when the invariably cacophonous world of Southern California melts into the wilderness of Mammoth Mountain, Yosemite, Mount Baldi – anywhere the service is minimal, the air is crisp, and the only way to get where she has set up her tent and sleeping bag is by foot.
“The best morning is the first morning, because you hiked 10 to 15 miles to get into the wilderness and you wake up and you’re just surrounded by pure beauty,” said Dykstra, who played beach volleyball for Pepperdine. “There’s no cell service, and I think I really loved — there’s a spiritual connection. It’s very calming, it’s always after season, so it always resets me mentally. It’s not a break on your body but mentally I always felt really great, refreshed afterwards.”
This is what off-season looks like for Dykstra, a former standout at Pepperdine who has made 11 AVP main draws in the past two years. The beach volleyball season is a fast-paced one, filled to the brim with social media, YouTube, hotel rooms, AirBNBs — a go-go-go lifestyle that rarely slows down. Every player treats their off-season differently. Few do it quite like Dykstra.
Three weeks ago, she and her father, Joe, completed a hike from Mammoth to Yosemite, a four-day, 60-mile journey that ended in Tuolumne Meadows.
“The first day, the legs felt pretty good because we were really fresh,” said Dykstra, whose career earnings surpassed $25,000 this season. “Usually the second day is where your body is confused and the legs are sore but also, usually, you feel some shoulder soreness and your hips get super tight. We call it the backpacker’s special — shoulders, hips, and for me, my hamstrings and IT band get really tight.”
She’d have laughed, had you told a younger Lara that the thing she’d look forward to most every year is that backpacker’s special. That she’d willingly subject her body to that type of discomfort and her mind to the dopamine withdrawal of no cell service for a little less than a week. It is funny, though, that the elements of these treks that once gave her pause are now the exact things she looks forward to most.
The athlete in her loves the challenge of 60 miles of rough terrain. The quiet side of her is enamored with the absence of her phone, finally getting away from a world that is in constant need of a response, a comment, a like, an answer. The daughter in her cherishes the time with her father, just the two of them, out in the world, trekking.
“As one of five kids, you don’t get a lot of solo time with your dad, so until these trips, we’ve really had a cool connection and bond because I’m the only kid who goes on these trips with him,” the 5-foot-9 Dykstra said. “Someone said ‘That’s so cool your dad goes with you. I didn’t grow up with a dad, you’re so lucky that you’re able to do that.’ And I was like ‘Oh my gosh, yeah, I feel very blessed.’”
The rest of the Dykstras get their moments, too. They’re a skiing family, and Lara lists Mammoth Mountain as their favorite place in the world. While she is without question an excellent skier, she prefers the trekking to the slopes, something she admits took a few years to grow on her.
“Before our first trip I was not stoked about it,” she said. “I was really nervous. I was like ‘I don’t understand!’ I had never even gone camping before. I had four siblings, so trying to take us all camping as kids would have been a nightmare. I had never slept in a tent, I had never carried a pack, I didn’t realize how heavy it could be and then it was after that first trip – the first hour you’re on the hike is just awful. Nothing can prepare you for it. You can train, be a professional athlete, but when you’re walking at altitude with at least 30 pounds on your back, it’s such a unique type of pain.”
And such a unique type of liberation when the service is extinguished and it’s just you, your family, and a world of redwoods and sierras.
“The first time I went with my dad I was like ‘What do you mean we won’t have cell service? I have to have my phone!’” she said. “The first time we went on one of these was probably the first time I didn’t look at my phone in three or four days. It’s so liberating. It’s not just social media. It’s text messages. It’s emails. People expect you to respond every second of the day. There’s nowhere anymore that’s off limits to text people now so we just leave the phones off or only use them to take pictures. It’s just really liberating to feel like nothing really matters but being where you are, being super present, being in nature, being calm.”
Lara and Joe are already planning other treks. They might pop over to the Grand Canyon for New Years. The Mount Everest base camp is on the list.
Anywhere with her dad and nature will do.