Adventures and photos by Reese Sun
For my fellow trekkers, you and I – we understand the beauty and wonder that comes with jelly-legs and trail-stink, the awe that arises from looking down over switchbacks lined with our fresh footprints. It’s easy to stand on top of a mountain and feel whole. The hard part sometimes is sharing that joy with the ones you love. How do you convince someone perfectly sane (including yourself) that it’s enjoyable to carry a 35+ pound backpack until your legs feel like they’re exploding and not shower for days on straight? And to those browsing through the pages of REI wanting to take that first step on the trail, how do you graduate from day-hikes in the park to something with a little more “oomph”?
To the experienced and the curious, ask yourself… “what if?”
Three months ago, I took two of my good friends (who had never camped before) outside of our bubble of graduation anxiety, grades, and Starbucks and convinced them that it was a good idea to trek a 16.5 mile canyon hike in the middle of winter. We had one week and an entire southwest itinerary – the main course being our two day backpacking trip down to the Colorado River. After months of brainstorming and panicked research sessions in-between classes, we finally packed our bags in our rental car and set sail.
The following days manifested into a rollercoaster of emotions, late-starts, cold toes, and full hearts. It was grueling and, at times, scary to be the one responsible for someone’s first backpacking experience let alone their life. But there’s nothing as rewarding as seeing a spark ignite in their eyes when they watch the sunset from the middle of the Grand Canyon instead of the top. Or hearing their laughter through the exhaustion as we give thanks for the opportunity to be alive on this earth, pushing the limits of what we thought we were capable of.
As far as to-do’s, this is what I learned:
1 | Challenge to Inspire (Type II Fun)
The key ingredients in igniting a curiosity for the grandiose: blisters, sweat, and tears.
Bonding through adversity is real, and so is the value of type II fun – the type of fun that turns “oh no, we’re actually only half-way there” into “THIS WAS SO WORTH IT!!” Although a day-hike through your backyard park or a SUP session on the river are great (and more sane) ways to get in a dose of nature, there’s nothing quite like slogging through that last uphill stretch together. When you force your friends to challenge themselves, they stop psyching themselves out before they have a chance to grow. And, better yet, they learn to love the challenge.
To quote my girl Kelly Clarkson, “what doesn’t kill you makes you stronger” (within the boundaries of safety, of course). Things statistically will not go 100% smoothly, and that’s okay. Life’s throwing you some building blocks. Some prime examples:
Exhibit A: Arriving to -15ºF in the Grand Canyon – the coldest in the entire U.S. that night, including Alaska – when we were expecting 20ºF. We decided to rough it out at the campground anyways. After a couple of extra Firebellys in our sleeping bags and waking up wrapped like breakfast burritos, camping at the bottom of the canyon was a walk in the park.
Although there was plenty of good conversation during our trip, some of the most memorable experiences were without. From awe-struck sunrises to exhausted appreciation for $18 Hawaiian pizza, there is something to be said about opportunities that inspire the ability to exist in a comfortable silence. The point is not that talking is bad, but that silence is perfectly okay and often an invitation to be present. This also includes the outside world, Facebook, Instagram, Snapchat, etc. When they’re not subconsciously reaching for their phones, you know it’s good.
What experiences or to-do’s (or to-don’ts) have you discovered? Share them with us!