You can check out but you can never leave

Even though the trek is over, I still feel like the journey hasn’t ended. Those 10 days in the backcountry were some of the most special moments of my life. From the start of the trek, I knew that my biggest challenge would be psychological. One aspect that I didn’t predict would be how this would evolve throughout the trip. I came on this trip to show myself how I could accomplish something vastly outside my comfort zone.

            After the overnight shakeout hike, I felt confident in my outdoor skills to allow myself to be excited for the trek. Despite the excitement I had my first and most predictable challenge. The travel day, day 1 and day 2 forced me to battle with the reality that all the discomfort that I felt sleeping in the tent was going to be present for more than a week. Each campsite provided a new rock, branch, or slant, forcing me to constantly adapt to the reality of being outside. Learning to deal with this was made easier by my great tent mates, Chris, and Simon. Chris and I are both don’t have a ton of experience with backpacking and neither of us are outdoor lovers. Our comradery really helped us both get over the hump of the beginning of the trek. As each day went by, the struggle decreased both because of getting used to the arrangement as well as waking up knowing that I was slightly closer to both Hanifl Centre and eventually New Jersey.  By the time we completed our first rest day on day 3, I felt comfortable with myself outside and confident in my ability to complete the hike.

            Day 4 and day 5 were truly two of the most challenging and rewarding days of my life. Day 4 started with a pleasant hike until around noon when it began to pour rain as we ascended through 11k feet. Once we arrived at camp, we quickly set up our tent and I went off to make popcorn for the group to help warm everyone else. The next 15-20 minutes were probably the lowest morale I had on the trip as the temperature dropped and I remained soaked. With my body frozen stuck burning popcorn, I was forced to remind myself of a rule from my wilderness advanced first aid course “number one, I am the one”. In this moment I was able to hand my role off to another team member, get to my tent and snuggle up in my sleeping bag for the next hour. After I had warmed up and changed, I exited my tent to see the clouds had cleared and the most beautiful view of the Himalayas yet. That night was a highlight of the trip where the whole group got together, admired the view, and drank tang. Day 5 we set out to cross a pass of snow to get to our next camp site, however after 6 hours and may miles we quickly realized that the next camp site was no longer a campsite. This was a turning point in the trek as our local guides Raju and Govind helped us identify a new campsite which changed the direction and destination for our trek. Our group came together and unanimously decided to walk the extra 5km to the new campsite. This was certainly a highlight in terms of group cohesion.

            When day 6 started we learned that we would have another rest day and only had about 10km to go in total hiking distance. At this moment I knew that physical challenge was something of the past as we had crossed snow, survived a rainstorm, and ate more than half the weight off our packs. Although I had completed most of the distance, my biggest struggle was yet to present itself. Starting on day 7 I spent more times thinking about different aspects of our lifestyle in the backcountry, including our proximity to both livestock and Shepard dogs. Especially with our food and cooking supplies being left outside, I became anxious about all the potential interactions and how they could have serious impacts on our health as a group. This was only exaggerated by the inability to clean dishes with anything besides water in the outdoors. For day 7 and day 8 I really began to struggle with this feeling of anxiety, enough that I decided to talk with Vipul. Vipul was a highlight of the trip, as our guide I felt he did an excellent job balancing both his fun and goofy side while still knowing how to be serious when he needed to be. Vipul comforted me by explaining how the cooking techniques, stoves, and food we use prevent any potential disease. Reflecting now, it certainly seems obvious, but I still am glad that I discussed with Vipul and I really feel that this reaction was caused by being so far outside of my comfort zone, which is what I signed up for.

            After working through these emotions, day 9 presented itself. The final hiking trek of the day was certainly eventful. We had the opportunity to see more village life and in the early afternoon we started heading down to our final camp site in the pouring rain. The feeling of accomplishment once our team had set up the tent and got inside was unmatched. We had completed the job. For the previous 10 days I had been entirely off the grid and had decided that if I had service this would be the night, I plugged back in. I was eager to get back online as I wanted to check in on my family back home and make sure that everyone was doing ok. Being disconnected made me really appreciate how technology enables us to stay connected and I was relieved to hear that everything back home was going well. Instantly I was presented with my first front country problem that we had often discussed in our outdoor education. One thing that had stuck with me to this point was a speech that Gaurav had given about how the outdoors doesn’t give second chances and how that prepares you to deal with problems in the indoors. Once all my personal texts were sent, I checked my email and saw an email from HR at the company I was planning to intern at this summer. This email outlined how the company had cancelled its internship program about 2 weeks before the start date, meaning I had lost my job for the summer. I truly believe that before the trek this would have crushed me but after walking through the rain and snow, I felt like it was just another opportunity to pivot. The snow had stopped us from reaching one campsite but that didn’t mean we had nowhere to stay.

            My main takeaway from this trip is the importance of picking your team well. One of the highlights was the guys I was able to share a tent with. At no point did Simon, Chris and I argue or bicker. I feel that our tent will stay close way past May 30th and their support helped me get through each of the challenges I faced on the trek. Finally I am truly grateful to go to a University and a Business School that values this sort of education. This experience was so unique and I feel it’s lessons will pay dividends for the rest of my life.