I am officially a woman who goes backpacking.
I love to romanticize the idea of hiking and camping, living off the land, not caring about regular showers or plumbing in general. The earth is beautiful and mysterious and I so desperately want to feel One with it. A fan-girl of Cheryl Strayed’s Wild, I’ve wanted to experience the transformation of a woman who goes from total beginner to total badass on the trail. But the reality of what it takes to accomplish such a feat, as I found out a few weeks ago, requires more than just planning a cute hiking ensemble and daydreaming about the envy-worthy landscape photos I’d take.
Those bunch of times I car-camped with my family as a kid did not prepare me for what it was like to sleep in a two-person tent on a super windy Grand Canyon night on top of Horseshoe Mesa. Nor did all the trampoline and HIIT classes I took as training before this trip save my legs and ass from soreness and fatigue. I’m not sure anything could have prepared me for the fear I felt on our way out of the canyon, trying to navigate narrow and icy switchbacks with high exposure and a heavy bag about ½ my size on my back.
This is where I admit I have zero tips to offer on backpacking or camping.
I wish I did. One day I would love to speak with authority about hydration tips on the trail and delicious and simple meal ideas guaranteed to satiate and satisfy! But I am humble enough now to recognize that I have a long way to go until then. I was mostly dehydrated the first day of our excursion no matter how much water I drank and my meal strategy all three days was to eat anything and everything anytime we stopped. We were burning so much energy! On the morning of day three we were only 30 minutes into the start of our hike before my stomach was growling and I was genuinely hungry again. We just had breakfast! Um, what?
What I really want to talk about is how it felt to willingly walk into a situation that was completely outside of my comfort zone. The weeks leading up to our trip filled with a mix of giddy excitement and anxiety dreams. I had been wanting to go to the Grand Canyon so badly the past few years; I do not know why. It was just a calling. My partner, Ben, surprised me with this trip and when he told me we were going I was crazy excited and completely intimidated.
Isn’t it strange you can feel called to something that also scares the sh*t out of you?
Fear isn’t always bad. Fear can protect us when we need it. But in this case, that fear felt like a decoy, trying to keep me in the comfort of my current homeostasis and distract me from growth. It also felt like a rite of passage. For three days in the Grand Canyon it was just me and Ben out in nature, working as a team to get from one camp to the next. Seeing landscapes that looked unreal to us – like someone had painted a backdrop of the Grand Canyon on a giant canvas for us to walk past and sleep next to. It was breathtaking and beautiful. In those moments that I did feel fearful I was still able to move forward. I was tired and sore and legit terrified at times, but I did not stop putting one foot in front of the other. Why? Why didn’t I just sit down and give up? Why didn’t I tell Ben “You know, I’m good. Go on without me. I’m just going to call for a helicopter or something”?
Because I wanted to finish this trip! I wanted to be an active participant, an equal partner in this experience with Ben. I wanted the satisfaction of being pushed to my limits and growing from that.
I wanted to have my own Cheryl Strayed, Wild-esque, Cinderella story where I witness my mental and physical selves evolve by the end of my story.
I trusted myself. But maybe more important on this adventure, when in doubt, I trusted my partner. Ben has a lot more experience than I do, so when I was not so sure that I could keep up with him, he assured me I could and I listened to that. When I was unable to see my next steps in the ice, Ben guided me. And I let him. When Ben first took me rock climbing last summer I remember thinking “all couples should be required to do this for team building”. Like a trust fall, but better. Rock climbing requires you and your partner to exercise clear communication, attention to detail, and trust (literally with your life). Now I feel the exact same way about backpacking.
When we decide to take new action in our nutrition and well-being journey we are going through these same steps: facing fears, coming up against resistance when our mind and body sense change, needing to practice trust in ourselves and maybe in others. In my mind, it doesn’t really matter if you are working on bringing in a new habit of making coffee at home in the morning instead of buying out to save money or lifting your tired boot to take yet another tough step on a trail. If it’s new, it’s new. And you have that decision to make every time – am I going to boil the water and pour it over the grounds today? Am I going to keep moving on this trail? What is my end goal? Will this help me get there? How badly do I want it? Will I show up for it?
At the end of the day I did still get my awe inspiring landscape photos from this backpacking trip. But as with most life changing experiences, the photos are not what I’m most proud of. I am proud of Ben for being such an amazing, strong, empathetic, thrill seeker who guided me with total grace. I’m proud of myself for being adventurous and brave and for embracing fear and trust in the same breath when necessary. I’m always impressed with our ability to act as a team. Which is definitely why I said yes when Ben asked me to marry him on day two of our trip!
We are planning to backpack for four days in the Grand Tetons this coming summer, but before getting too excited/intimidated about that I’m going to ride the high from this experience for a few more months!