How Backpacking The Sierras With Total Strangers Changed My Life

I’ve been spending a lot of time saying yes to my life this past year. If opportunities arise and they sound cool, I just say yes. I don’t think about it or worry. I go for it. It’s transforming my life in a myriad of ways and I couldn’t be happier.

I went to a presentation at REI on a whim. I wanted to start doing more outdoor activities on my own and stop relying on whatever guy I was with at the time to do so. I wanted to stay single and strong and learn independently. The talk I attended described an 8-day journey traveling through the backcountry of the Sierra Nevadas on a very remote trail. The slide show was breathtaking, and the company owner assured us that it was well organized and completely guided. I knew immediately that I wanted to go.

Now, I’ve never been on a backpacking trip in my life. I hike a lot and I’m very strong, but a 75-mile hike with massive elevation gains and losses ending at the summit of Mount Whitney? That’s a whole different ballgame. I didn’t tell myself I couldn’t handle it. I just said yes. I wanted to learn how to backpack efficiently and intelligently, so a guided trek seemed like just the ticket.

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I did not know a single soul attending. I had barely met the owner, who would end up being our lead guide. I was about to spend a week in the woods with thirteen complete strangers. We would be doing everything together all day every day. I didn’t talk myself out of it. I just said yes.

Months sped by and my trip was around the corner. I hadn’t trained as much as I would’ve liked. I didn’t have much equipment, but the guides were providing me with some. I was nervous, yes, but I figured I would just go with the flow. I was looking forward to something new. I was excited for what I was going to learn and see and experience.

It wasn’t easy. In fact, it was probably the toughest thing I’ve ever done in my life. I didn’t realize for the first two days that not only was my pack a little too big, I didn’t have it fitted properly. I was in pain. I was miserable. I couldn’t sleep well in my little tent and I was eating much less than normal, while working out a lot more than usual. It was rough for sure. I’m not proud to admit that my attitude was terrible, especially at the end of the second day.  I silently cursed myself. What had I done? I hated every minute. I wanted to be home.

Then something happened. I told myself that I had no choice but to continue, so I’d better suck it up and get over my pity party. I was having a wonderful time with the people I was lucky enough to journey alongside, so I decided to focus on that and the stunning beauty around us. I’ve always been one that naturally gravitated to focusing on the negative. No more. I was going to go up against difficulty and conquer it.

The next day wasn’t so bad. I fixed my pack, and I was getting used to the weight and the difficulty of our trek. I was by far the smallest person there, but my pack was no lighter than anyone else’s. We all began to get closer and have a great time with each other. Most of my companions were men a bit older than myself, and we got along fabulously. They frequently showed me much respect for my endurance and abilities. This gave me a boost, and made me feel capable and strong.

By the end of our trip, I had climbed Mount Whitney. I had camped in stunning, secluded locations and seen incredible sights. I made thirteen new friends who I still keep in touch with regularly. I found the type of people I want to be around. I was never bored, or anxious, or anything less than excited despite the difficulties. I reconfirmed my deep love of nature. I had definitely made the right decision.

It was the toughest – and best – journey of my life. I came back feeling confident and strong and prepared for anything. It taught me that I can accomplish whatever I want. I wouldn’t trade that experience for the world. I asked the owner afterwards if his company needs any female guides, and now I’m going to be leading the same trip next year. Am I scared? A little. Will I let it stop me? No way.