Out of My Element

By: Laura Pacheco

I am completely out of my element. My first week and a half on this course revolved around this unfortunate statement of fact. I could potentially support this fact with another unfortunate statement: I have never been camping before but to say that NOLS is camping is a gross understatement and frankly one that would make my instructors cringe. Thus far my actual definition of NOLS is a wilderness expedition with a group of people who are equally unprepared, inexperienced, and smelly as you. Unfortunately for me, I did not become aware of this and for the first week I felt that I was a fish out of water alone.

The most apparent and obvious way I was out of my element was the physical toll of NOLS. My first day of hiking was embarrassingly difficult. Already green from altitude sickness and coming down with some kind of cold/black plague hybrid that I still have on day 12 I was struggling. Even worse is the fact that I am not in shape. I love sleep. I love lying in bed all day. I love soda and friend food and running is my enemy. These factors resulted in me, with 2 hours left in a 5 mile off trail hike with a 45 pound backpack (which I will add for anyone who thinks that sounds easy is NOT) thinking that if I could just sing Bohemian Rhapsody another 12 times in my head, mathematically we could be at camp.

Another way I find myself to be completely out of my element is being in the wilderness in general. Everything about it. I have never slept in a tent, I have never used the bathroom outside, I don’t like dehydrated beans and I assume any weird plant is poison ivy and is hiking snakes or some other organism that invariably wants to kill me. Adjusting to this lifestyle that is so monotonous yet so nomadic is without a doubt unlike any lifestyle change I have ever experienced.

Thankfully, today is one of the first days I woke up and felt truly comfortable and happy on this trip. And as someone who classifies anything out of their small comfort zone as terrifying and inherently undoable, that’s a big step. Sometimes that happiness fades a little when I think about my family back home, my best friends, music, perfectly combed hair; the things and people I am so full of love for I think about them constantly when things get hard but I am learning to find happiness in other things as well. Moments like right now where I’m lying in sunshine so comfortable you forget you’re 10,000 feet in the air and soon it will be covered in snow. My classrooms are beautiful corners of the world that 98% of people will never see. I have a group of people that are so encouraging, accepting, hilarious, and relatable that they make thinking of the people I left behind to come on this journey a little easier.

To put it simply, I have ventured out of my element into the elements to find a new element. I feel myself getting stronger every day, my pack is getting lighter, the hikes getting easier, the little roadblocks more surmountable. I am proud of myself in a way I never thought possible and I know that maybe I will never be an outdoorsman, I may never get the thrill of hiking that some do but I will have an experience unlike any other that will have taught me strength of mind and body, resilience, optimism, acceptance of adversity, and most importantly, appreciation of everything I can’t wait to come home to in 12 days.



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