Blogs from the trail: NOLS 2014

TentviewLast night, I slept out under the stars with five other people. It was so fun to lay out there and just stare at them because the stars were so utterly amazing and bright. We were looking for shooting stars, and it felt like we were seeing some every couple of minutes. I saw the longest and brightest shooting star I’ve ever seen. Of course, when we all saw one, we would all freak out and make sure everyone else saw it too. It was so much fun just lying and talking out under the stars and a great way to get to know each other while taking in all of  nature.

It was a cold Friday morning. All my expedition partners and I woke up covered in frost. After making breakfast, one of the instructors offered to teach a yoga class to us. Most of us agreed, and those who didn’t still joined. The instructor told us to breathe in and out and started to show us the yoga poses. At the first pose, my idea of yoga changed. I thought it would be a waste of time but it turned out to be the most relaxed I had felt in my life. Just the calmness of the instructor’s voice, the view of the mountains at the horizon, and the empty fields stretching so far that we couldn’t see where it ended, was all it took to make me fall in love with Wyoming.

As I sit outside and gaze upon the trees I hear howling coyotes, the roar of the grizzly, the chirping of a finch, and the peaceful sound of running water. You might think I’m crazy to avoid a tent. The beauty of the stars may never happen again. Why not use every moment possible to enjoy the scenery? There is nothing more fun than spotting shooting stars with my expedition team. This experience is changing my life one day at a time. So enjoy your bed while I enjoy the stars.

Not everything is all fun and games on the trail. Scraping the bottom of the barrel of your food bag in order to piece together breakfast can be quite stressful. Hiking up the side of a mountain is taxing, and going down the other side is no more relaxing. Sometimes you fall. Sometimes you get cut and bruised. Sometimes you get soaked. Sometimes, you wonder, “Is this really worth it?” But when you find the answer to that question while sitting around a roaring campfire with a dozen or so of your best friends, laughing and singing and having fun, you realize that it’s not worth letting the little things get you down, and that you don’t want to miss a second of this.

It’s hard to believe that we are already in day 4 of our NOLS expedition. We have had some rewarding days on the trails and have seemed to have gotten our personal and group systems down. Today we were greeted with a beautiful sunrise and a nice day for a four mile hike to Simpson Lake. It was our second day of “off-trailing” which requires more thought without the easy guidance of a trail. Using a topographic map, we continued to practice our skills with using handrails and trapping land features to bring us to our destination. Shortly after our arrival to camp we learned the risk management of a lightning storm as we sat in our tents waiting for one to pass over. Despite the cold and dampness, we were treated to a bonfire and eagerly await tomorrow!

Learning about the packsToday was our first full day of hiking. We hiked four miles and took plenty of breaks to look at the breathtaking view, which included the Tetons. We split up into smaller groups for hiking which helped everyone talk one on one and get to know each other better. When we arrived at camp we were immediately surrounded by snowcapped mountains and an open field filled with boulders. We set up our tents and kitchens, and then cooked dinner for the next hour. Soon after we gathered around for our afternoon meeting. As we settled in, we took a moment to appreciate our surroundings as the sun began to set. We talked about how to debrief each night and what kind of attitudes we wanted during our expedition. As he meeting came to a close, all the Gap kids relaxed under the night sky looking for shooting stars, letting out loud squeals each time one was spotted. Exhausted from the day, we all headed to bed, excited for the day tomorrow.

Wyoming is beautiful! Today we hiked four miles along a river which brought us deeper into the mountains towards the continental divide. It was our first day hiking off trail and it proved to be very interesting. Our guide left it up to each group of five students to navigate their way to the next campsite. It took us five hours to get to our destination. We hiked across boulder fields, hopped streams, and climbed over many rock piles. Our navigation of the terrain helped us to better read and understand the maps. The group that I was in continually voted on what direction to head when faced with an obstacle. The terrain was challenging which led each group to get to know each other personally and work together. Overall, the day went smoothly and was full of great conversations and amazing views.

Just crawled into the tent, escaping the rain by one minute! Today was an amazing day full of peaks, passes, and positive attitudes. I got to lead the group with my new friends. I’ve never felt so alive in these bold and majestic mountains. Our group saw a giant Bald Eagle fishing for trout in a passing river, and just then, WHOOSH! the eagle grabbed a fat trout right out of the water. The group was tired and wet, we had crossed three rivers today and tempers were wearing thin. Finally we made it to this beautiful campsite with a fire pit and trout jumping, I had never seen anything like it. I would definitely say this is an amazing way to kick off my first semester.

Today was our first off-trail hiking day. I didn’t know what to expect but my group couldn’t have handled the challenge better. We all huddled around the map to figure out where we were and when we were unsure about which way to go, we used a diplomatic system and weighed the pros and cons. Although making the decisions as a group slowed our pace down, we all learned so much about different terrains and map reading. After four hours and 20 minute of hiking, I could tell our group was getting tired. We had gone up steep mountains, across a boulder field, and through many wet marsh fields. As we bushwhacked through willow plants yet again we started to lose hope. Then, all of a sudden, we heard voices. I had never moved faster in my life. We shouted back and forth with the other group until we finally met up with them. I’ve never felt so accomplished. All my groups hard work wasn’t for nothing in the back country.

Standing at the edge of a cliff, overlooking an unbelievable view of crystal clear lakes, flowing rivers, tall pine trees, and snow topped mountains, I truly understood the meaning of living in the moment. I felt a grin form across my face as I began to fully understand how lucky I was to be in one of the most beautiful places on Earth. Wyoming had always been that big, quiet state that I had only heard of. Now, I was standing in one of its many great forests and admiring all it had to offer. Sure, it was August and the ground was still scattered with snow, and yes, we did have to climb one of the steepest slopes I had ever seen to get where I was, but in that moment, I have not only been happy to be here, but felt blessed as well. Although I am writing this under a tent, soaked in freezing rain, this is turning out to be the best times of my life.

Today was the first real day of off-trail hiking. We bushwhacked, climbed up ridges, walked down valleys, crossed rivers, and finally stumbled into our camp just as a thunderstorm began. With tired and wet bodies, everyone was ready for a hot dinner. My cook mates were already setting up and together, we started making a hot meal. We made “Gado gado” which is a favorite meal of one of my tent mates. It was so great! This dish, with peanut sauce and rice, was perfect for a rainy afternoon. After we had cleaned up dinner, we decided to make brownies. They were cooked perfectly. Even though they were only cooked halfway, they warmed us up and made us feel so much better. After cleaning and putting everything away, we went down to the fire that our trip leaders had started. We dried our socks, wet shoes, feet, and warmed our bodies. It was the perfect ending to a hard day. Students enjoying the sunset

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