Thursday, July 23, 2015

The Mountains are Calling

In a week or so me and my husband will be heading up into the Wind River Mountains to celebrate our third wedding anniversary (my how time flies).  It's been so long since I've gotten to go back packing that it's getting hard to contain my growing excitement.  It was in my first post that I mentioned being a part of a National Outdoor Leadership School (or NOLS for short) expedition in the Wind River Mountains which are located in Central Wyoming. This expedition has had such a profound influence on my life that it deserves a second and maybe even a third post.

I was nineteen years old and like most nineteen year olds I didn't know what I wanted to do with myself. It was just about a year earlier that my family had moved from south Florida to Lander, Wyoming a town of roughly a 7,000 people (talk about a huge culture shift).  For the last six years I grew up in Homestead which is about an hour south Miami. The most I did outside was surf and play soccer. It was a fend for yourself kind of world, while Lander is the opposite.

We made the move in the month of January not an ideal time to move out west, but we did it. Once I was able to look past the mountains and blue sky that surround the town I noticed that everyone walked or rode their bikes everywhere. As the year warmed up it became even more apparent and I began to hear the word Nolsie tossed around.  I learned to associate it will hippie, yuppie types of people around town.

"Disheveled, yet put together",  as my dad would later call them, because of their paired patched thrift store pants and general sloppy unshowered appearance with expensive big-name outdoor brand

sweaters or jackets.  It's a look I've learned to embrace and even love in its own way, but enough of that for now. How did I get get mixed up with this group? Someone mentioned the school to my mom because they thought I might be interested, though I'm still not sure how they knew.

I was curious about a school that was completely conducted outdoors because I never got along with traditional education. My hopes where quickly crushed once I saw the tuition price for a month long course. There was just no way that I or my parents could afford a course like this.  My worrying was in vain thankfully. They had a specific scholarships for the people in my county since it was the headquarters of the school.

I quickly applied for the Paul Petzoldt Scholarship and waited to receive the letter that would tell me whether I was a recipient of the scholarship or not. It felt like such a long wait, though; I'm sure you've already guessed the outcome. I got the scholarship! and it wasn't just a partial scholarship put a full ride, everything was paid for.  Now it was time to start preparing for a month in the mountains.

A whole month! I really don't know what I was thinking since the longest hike I'd ever done had been three miles with only a water bottle to carry. I would just have to love it, because if I didn't it was going to be one long miserable month.  The day finally came and I was introduced to the "gang", which; consisted of three instructors and ten other students. There were only three other girls.

As an introvert I knew it was going to be a challenge to be around people all day and not really be able to get away for some good quality quite time. I was so nervous after our first meeting. I didn't really seem to fit in, but I wasn't going to let that stop me. I wanted to see mountains and wild places I could only imagine. It was a Monday morning at the NOLS Rocky Mountains branch that we bagged tons of food (literally) and were issued all our gear. Needless to say it was all a bit overwhelming and I was trusting that my instructors knew their stuff. Which could be a challenge when you're told you could only have a couple pair of underwear and no deodorant for the next month.

 By three'o clock we were bused out to Sinks Canyon and dropped off for the night. It was actually happing! We camped that night in the Canyon and were given three very vital lessons, how to purify water along with why it was important, how to properly pitch a tent and last but not least . . . . how to poop in the woods,(I'm sorry there is just no nice way to say it). With these three vital skills we laid down in our tents under the cool starry skies and fell fast asleep.

Day two was one of the hardest days for me, which as I look back makes me laugh since our second day out really wasn't as hard as many of our future days turned out to be. Day two for me was the measuring rod. If I wasn't able to hike up this ridge with 65 lbs now I just knew that I wouldn't have what it took to make it the rest of this trip. Every step was painful, my knees hurt, my back hurt, the backpack dug awkwardly into my shoulders. Oh my goodness! 65 pounds was so heavy!

Every step was hard, but it was also beautiful. Each step up the ridge was one more step away from everything I was familiar with. I was entering places which where completely unknown to me and it made the pain worth every step.  With every step I took the mountains unfolded before my feet urging me forward to see what was over the next ridge. I was hooked or perhaps more appropriately I was in love.

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