I am huddled under a rain-soaked tarp in the same damp, muddy clothes I’ve been wearing all week. Though I’m ravenous after seven hours of climbing steadily uphill in the rain, I find it hard to motivate myself to eat freeze-dried broccoli soup from the same unwashed cup I had oatmeal in that morning. As a gust of bone chilling wind rushes through the tent and blows open the door flap to offer a view of the snow, mountains, and glaciers surrounding us, I can’t help but think “This is not how I planned on spending my July.”
Earlier this year, my pastor approached the incoming seniors of my church with a plan: a summertime backpacking trip to British Columbia that would unite our youth group heading into the last year of our high school lives. Though this was completely out of character for me, I signed up. Whenever I mentioned my trip to anyone, they would reply in shock, “You?” Despite everyone’s misgivings, however, I was fairly confident the trip would be a rough experience, but nothing I couldn’t handle with a moderate level of effort.
Putting on my 45-pound backpack and promptly toppling over from being off balance was the first sign this wasn’t what I expected. After the first hour of steep mountaineering, I was on the verge of tears. After six more hours of excruciating hiking, we finally set up our first camp. Lying in my tent that night, I was convinced I’d made a terrible mistake. To put it mildly, the trip was more physically and mentally exhausting than I ever envisioned. I was terrified to think I had five more days of this.
As days progressed, the weather worsened, our tents became wet, and our clothes smelled like rotting corpses. One night, we had a lightening scare and almost had to crouch on foam pads in the snow to avoid ground currents. But there were moments of laughter and beauty that gave us strength: neon blue glacier melt, vivid purple flowers peeking out of the snow. On the day we planned to summit, a snowstorm growing in severity forced us to turn back a mere 200 feet from the peak. Despite our disappointment at narrowly missing our goal, smiles broke out on every exhausted face as our guides produced a rare treat: Snickers. When our journey ended, I felt the relief I’d anticipated, but also a sadness to leave the mountain that had been home for a week.
I didn’t become fearless. I was still terrified of the rivers we crossed as deafening waterfalls roared next to us and rock climbing still filled me with dread, but I changed in ways I never expected. I gained an understanding of the power of the human body. If I was aware of what I was in for before my trip, I would’ve never had the courage to go. But I climbed a mountain, and I crossed those rivers. I learned the sense of comfort found in someone holding their hand out to you, in acknowledging how difficult what you are doing is, but telling you that you can do it anyway. I am entering senior year with strengthened faith and the unbreakable group bond that can only come from being together at our worst and knowing it was our companionship that pulled us through.
This summer I embarked on the only true adventure of my life. It was the biggest challenge I have ever undertaken, but because of this challenge I learned I am capable of things I never dreamed of being able to accomplish.
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