I recently found a new blog, The Wilder Coast, www.thewildercoast.com, which is just fabulous. I have been reading about the blog's author, Melina's,adventures in climbing, kayaking, skiing, traveling, and just generally living and loving. While I have never been a real outdoor enthusiast, I have found myself reminiscing of the hiking and climbing trip I took to Colorado way back in 1992.
I was a junior in high school and very involved in a Christian youth organization called, Young Life. I loved Young Life! I am fairly certain that had it not been for their Windy Gap camp, which is nestled in the mountains of North Carolina, I would never have become a christian. I met Jesus at Windy Gap. I remember being completely overwhelmed with what Christ did for me, while I sat in their auditorium one hot, July night. It holds a very dear place in my heart.
When deciding what camp I wanted to go to the summer between my junior and senior year of high school, I decided to go to Wilderness. Wilderness is a seven day hiking and climbing trip in the San Juan mountains. While Windy Gap was a week of spectacular luxury, Wilderness was all about putting everything you owned in a backpack, cooking your own food, sleeping in tents, going to the bathroom outside(in a toliet you dug!) and NOT SHOWERING for the duration of the week. It is important, at this point, to remember that I AM NOT A NO SHOWERING kind of a gal. In fact, I have been known to be a "two shower a day" kind. For the life of me, I can't really understand what motivated me to sign up. I remember buying all the gear, wearing my trusty brand new hiking boots around my hometown, proclaiming to anyone that would listen, that I was going hiking..in COLORADO to boot,( pun intended). It is also worth noting that I was in about the same shape in high school that I am now. Not the greatest. Although I was on the swim team back then, so I had that going for me.
I remember arriving to the base camp and being overcome with altitude sickness. Nausea and general maliase. It was about this time, that fear began to creep into my soul.We were all assigned our gear, loaded it into our packs and then headed to bed for our last night of sleeping in a real bed for seven days. The next morning, when it was still dark, we began our trek up from base camp, into the mountains. I made it about three hours before I literally wanted to die. I remember thinking that there was absolutely nothing in my pack that I needed, and was dead serious about wanting to fling it ,and its contents over the edge of the mountain. Each step I took seemed to take an enormous amount of effort. Somehow I managed to make it to the spot we were camping at that night. I was still dealing with the effects of altitude sickness and let's just say that I spend a majority of the night stooped over the freshly dug bathroom hole. I felt feverish , exhausted and miserable. The next morning we began again and the day was much like the first, not fun. The third day was the low point. We were climbing to the peak and it was grueling. At one point I just sat down on the trail, cried and demanded that everyone just go on with out me. I could not take one more step. The counselors, in their grace and patience, tried to inspire me with bible verses and promises that God would see me through this. I definitely did not find solace in their promises. I remember telling them that I was good to die right there if it meant not having to walk anymore. It was on this third day that I began to witness some wonderful selflessness. One of the counselors took several items out of my pack and distributed it amongst other hikers who had volunteered to help literally lighten my load. Two of these campers were guys I went to high school with. They were the guys you would literally be mortified to show weakness in front of. (Cute, popular, etc). I could have cared less. The rest of the day was a little less like hell, with my newly lightened load. By the next morning I had a renewed resolve to suck it up and do this hiking thing. I realized that in my self-loathing and misery, I was missing so much of the beauty and majesty around me. We were in the midst of the San Juan mountains and I all I was managing to do was wish it all away. I decided to change my attitude the next day. I realized that hiking would still be hard, and the upcoming rock climbing would perhaps kill me, but I would try to embrace the adventure. The next days were filled with wonderful sights of majestic peaks, beautiful, glistening streams, thunderstorms that literally rolled under our sleeping bags as we slept. There was such power in the beauty that surrounded me. There was power in the vulnerability that I felt. There was grace in cool kids taking my pack contents without judgement. There was redemption in knowing that you literally could be at your lowest and feel the collective power of the holy spirit raising you out of your despair.
The rock climbing we did on the last day was physically the most demanding thing I have ever done. I am sorry to say that I may have temporarily lost my positive attitude yet again, while I struggled to hold myself onto those damn rocks with my bare hands. I hated every minute of it. But, when I reached the top, HOLY accomplishment. Worth every grueling moment on that rock. The sights and scenery were somehow sweeter because I had worked so hard to get to it.
By the time I came off the mountain seven days later, dirty and smellier than I have ever been in my life, I felt invigorated. I had made it. I was changed. The thing was, I had no idea how powerful that trip would be for me in the months and years to come. It was nearly twenty two years ago that I took that trip to Colorado. I am amazed that I continue to learn lessons from the mountains,the rocks, the struggles, and the accomplishments of it all.
As my graduation from Western draws near, I find myself drawing many parallels between my trip and the experience of going back to school at age 36, married with three little children. There are many similarities of moments in graduate school where I felt my load was too heavy to bear. I have spent much of the last two years processing my own "stuff", writing, reading, participating in groups, and working at two internships. My internship this year at the Children's Trauma Assessment Center has been some of the most difficult work I have ever done. There were times when I felt like the same girl who was clinging for dear life to the side of that rock, all those years ago. Moments of despair over the many injustices and cruelities children in our world are subjected to brought me to my knees in anguish many a Friday night, after the assessments were done, and the children and I forever went out separate ways.
Three weeks from now, I will reach the peak, so to speak:), and graduate. I am proud of my accomplishment. I am grateful for all the people who helped me make it through these last two years. I am thankful for all the wonderful new friends and professionals I have met along this journey. Currently, I do not have a job, so the next adventure remains to be seen. I know that all of my collective experiences, from Wilderness to Western, have equipped me to take it one step at a time, one day at a time, with some help with my "stuff" along the way, I will hopefully see a few more peaks in this crazy adventure called life!