I'm Becoming A Backpacking Guide At 33 - I'm Both Exhilarated And Terrified
When I asked to become a guide for TSX Challenge, I never thought they’d say yes.
I had literally just completed my first-ever backpacking trip with the company as a guest. Spending eight days in the Sierras busting my ass over rough backcountry terrain, water crossings, extreme elevation gains and losses, and in high altitude conditions was the toughest thing I’d ever done. I cried the first two nights of the trip alone in my tent, cursing myself for thinking I could do something so physically taxing. By the end I couldn’t believe what I’d accomplished. I was exhausted but ecstatic.
I woke up the next day and all I wanted was to be back out there again.
Backpacking is a strange beast. It’s tough as hell. You don’t sleep well, you don’t eat well, you beat up your body and then you get up early the next day to do it all over again. Still, the rewards are uniquely addictive. You see and experience natural beauty in a way you can’t by any other method. My rabid curiosity about what wonders were around the next corner drove me onwards, persistently, in spite of the aches and pains of my body.
There’s nothing like being out in the deep wilderness. There is no technology, no traffic, no real stressors. Everything is simple and lovely. You complete one task and move on to the next. It is how I believe life should always be. I’ve made more meaningful connections with the people I met out on the trail than anywhere else. You have the time and the space and the lack of distraction to actually get to know another human being. That’s sadly rare in our world these days.
I’d had a year of saying yes to everything after a rough transition in my life. I’d changed a lot. I’d grown a lot. I wanted to continue doing so. I felt so empowered and strong after completing our trip – which included camping on the back of Mount Whitney at 13500’ during a huge meteor shower and then hiking the remaining 1000’ up to the top in the dark for sunrise – that I realized I needed more.
I wanted to experience more of the same. I couldn’t afford to keep going on guided trips … but the company had no female guides. It was a small operation – the owner, Chris, even accompanied us on our trek. It couldn’t hurt to ask.
Only a few days after my return, I fired off an email. It had taken me one night of good sleep to recover. I felt great. I felt confident. I also thought there was a very small chance he’d actually take me up on the proposition.
It didn’t take him long to reply. He said that he thought I was a strong hiker with a great personality and he’d love to add me to the team. He asked if I could commit to at least two trips in the Sierras the following summer. I was so excited that I didn’t even think about backing off. I accepted the offer immediately.
That was close to a year ago now. So much has changed in my life for the better in the last two years that I can hardly believe it. If you had told me in my twenties that I would end up a registered yoga teacher and backpacking guide in my thirties I would have laughed in your face. Now that’s quickly becoming my reality.
Am I scared? Definitely. Like I said, I don’t have a ton of backpacking experience. I have faith in myself and I know I’m stubborn as hell, but it’s a big responsibility to be in charge of the health and well-being of other people. I want everyone to have a great experience. I want everyone to be safe. I’m not the only guide going, but I do feel the pressure to be a good example and be in great shape.
It doesn’t help that it’s been a record snowfall year for the Sierras and the terrain is even more daunting than before. There’s a ton of snow up there and the water crossings are going to be insane. I try not to think about it. I go on training hikes with my pack once a week and I remember that I am strong and capable and smart. I know that I will do my best to keep our guests out of harm’s way. I know that no matter what happens, every trip will be the experience of a lifetime.
I feel incredibly lucky, despite my lingering fears. How cool is it to get paid to go on a trip that most people pay to experience? You can’t really beat that. I’m a little older than some of the guides, yes, but I’m in the best shape of my life. Even more important, I’m in the best mental and emotional state of my life. Learning to believe in myself has changed everything in all the best ways.
In a year, I’ve gone from backpacking novice to someone who has backpacked the Sierras and the Grand Canyon and will soon be guiding in both. I’m incredibly grateful both to the people around me for believing in me and to myself for pushing out of my comfort zone. We are all capable of more if we only choose to trust ourselves. I’m living my best life every single day and I will never take it for granted.