The tl;dr here is: I overestimated my skills and learned a lot in the process. I got a bit wordy.
If you like hiking and backpacking, you have to start somewhere. At the age of 14, I’d hiked at summer camp and thought I was a big shot for climbing the occasional mountain. So when the chance to go on a Wider-Op in Girl Scouts came along (now known as Destinations, it’s been over a decade), I immediately signed up for a backpacking trip on Isle Royale.
Isle Royale is a fairly known national park in the middle of Lake Superior complete with lakes, bays, and ridges. And moose! Trails cover the island, which is only inhabited by hikers and park rangers and only accessible by boat, and I was beyond excited to get to go.
However, three miles into the second day of the hike with a 40 lb. backpack on my tiny (then) frame, I freaked out in the middle of the trail with a bag of GORP on my lap. I had bitten off way more than I could chew I’d never done anything so physically strenuous in all of my life, aside from fall up (yes, up) the stairs at school and occasionally hike a mile or two up a hill at camp. I started one of those awkward crying fits in front of people you really would rather not show any weakness to — ten other teens and two counselors you admire.
I remember my counselor comforting me and telling me that it was a mind over matter situation, that I could actually do this and I would have to, since we’d actually gone quite far and couldn’t catch the ferry back. At the end of her pep talk, I was not so much convinced, but realized her logic. I’d signed up for it, I’d have to go through with it.
It was probably the hardest I’d ever worked for anything in my life. Well, 14-year-olds don’t have much life experience, after all. I remember that as we ate things, our packs got easier to carry. I remember that powering through my exhaustion gave me a sense of self worth I’d never felt before. I remember being so tired at night that I didn’t care about smelling bad — the water was too cold to bathe anyway. At the end of the trip, we stood at the top of a hill and got our picture together. None of us had showered, obviously, and we looked pretty worn down. I still have that picture and can see how proud of myself I was that I had made it — I’ll have to find it to post it. I can remember that exact moment and that feeling. I’d just walked over 60 miles. I could handle anything.
I’ve stopped listening to my body on hikes — I developed that tool on this trip. Not in the “I’m going to injure myself” kind of way, but in the way that keeps me going when I’m feeling uncomfortable and tired. “Just one more mile” turns into seven or eight and suddenly I am at my stopping point for the day. This way, I can enjoy my hike, rather than suffer through it. I sing songs to myself, I think about all the things I’ve been putting off. I think about anything but how my body feels, soon it stops hurting, and I can start enjoying myself.
I’ve made a lot of mistakes since that first trip, like thinking that my lighter sleeping bag would work in 30 degree weather (it didn’t) or solo hiking eight miles in spring mud and subsequently sloshing around in my Vibrams in the coldest mud known to man (it probably wasn’t the coldest, but still). But all of these mistakes make for interesting stories and new tools to use that make each experience better than the last.
Have an adventure mishap to share?
Join the #STPlive chat with Sierra Trading Post on Thursday March 27th at 6:00 PM (Eastern) – and check out other adventurer’s mistakes here on the Sierra Social Hub.