By Liz Song
I have a confession.
I’m not a fan of pooping and peeing in the woods. Or being bothered by mosquitoes. Or getting my hands incessantly dirty. Or getting dusty. Or developing the dry dirty boogers that form because of the dust. I’m not a fan of all those things that happen when one immerses herself in the wilderness. Yet, I love encouraging women to be outside whenever they can.
This upcoming Camp Like a Girl weekend, July 29-31, would be a good time. Get outside, record and post to social media with #CampLikeAGirl2016.
Let me preface that growing up outside was not my jam. When I was younger, I would rather go to the mall and (eye-)shop. I was more curious about cute clothes and how I might elevate my social status than the trees and trails. I didn’t go on my first real hike until after high school primarily because my immigrant parents worked seven days a week and vacations and going into the woods weren’t really part of our family culture. So I grew up feeling really unfamiliar with the woods. Plus, this suburban Los Angeles girl would have had no idea what to do if I ever went.
I would joke with my friends that we’d just get eaten by a bear, while inside I actually feared that I would. I made up all these negative stories about the outdoors because I had no category for the kind of soul-nourishing experience I would actually have until I finally experienced it first hand in my late 20s.
One of my first backpacking trips was spent on the High Sierra Trail exactly five years ago. My friends and I spent seven days hiking 72 miles from Sequoia National Park, summiting Mount Whitney, and finally reaching civilization at Whitney Portal. I saved up a little money for this trip and bought a bunch of new gear. I was brimming with excitement to go on my first long backpacking trip, so I didn’t care that I loaded up almost 50 pounds – fifty pounds – of gear on my small 5-foot-3 frame. It was excruciating most of the time, but my naive excitement balanced out the pain.
It was my first time being so steeped in the wilderness and I had no idea what to expect. From awe to misery to learning new backpacking tricks to understanding my body’s needs, my mind and heart mirrored each valley and mountaintop we hiked. As I reflect on this adventure I took five years ago, I wanted to share five things I’ve kept close with me all these years from that adventure:
1. Beginnings and endings can be anti-climactic. Sometimes when you’re about to do something for the first time, all of the anticipation can make the start feel epic before you even start. And sometimes the end of a journey can feel a bit disappointing as you take your final steps because it just ends. It doesn’t matter though. It’s everything that happens between your first and last steps that counts. Staying present to all the small (and sometimes big things) that happen in between are the moments that truly matter.
2. It’s okay to rest. I remember on the fifth day, we had two passes over 11,000 feet that we had to climb. On the way up the second pass, I was so exhausted, I sat on a rock step on the trail to take a quick break. With my 50-pound pack still strapped to my body, my face fell into my hands and I fell asleep instantly. I don’t know how long I slept, but I woke up suddenly and disoriented, but ready to start hiking again. Thankfully I continued in the right direction. Sometimes we just need to take a break to be able to restart.
3. We can’t go through this life alone. The final day, we woke up at 3 a.m. to start the ascent on Mount Whitney. I was crawling up the mountain because I was feeling the effects of altitude sickness. My head was pounding, my stomach was churning, and I could barely get one foot in front of the other. My friends were worried because it had been several hours since they saw me. I had tried to squeak out, “Help,” but it was swallowed by the silence of the wilderness and the vastness of the granite mountains. One friend finally hiked back down and asked if he could help carry my pack. I dropped it, relieved, and my eyes filled with tears of gratitude. I am certain that I could not have made it up that mountain with out my friends’ support.
4. Surprise yourself. The glacial lakes were OMG cold, so I’d jump in when I least expected it. Doing this helped prevent overthinking how cold and shocked I’d be. I would end up laughing and actually doing the thing I was scared about. Sometimes we just need to surprise ourselves with the decisions we make and the stuff we say to help shake us out of what we know and are comfortable with.
5. Paint your toes! I seriously love the intersection of cute and fun with rugged and worn in this photo. I think it’s a must for anyone going outside. Have fun with your adventures and bring your sense of individuality wherever you go!
The reason I tolerate all those things I don’t like about being in the woods is because all of that is part of the gift of being in the wilderness. This year’s Camp Like A Girl weekend is a tremendous opportunity to explore the outdoors and camp with other like-minded women. Maybe it’s not backpacking 72 miles, but I think any opportunity to be outside (especially with other women) and step into the wilderness will be nourishing for your body, mind, and spirit.
I hope you also have a tremendous time being outside. I hope you feel deeply satisfied and connected to something larger than yourself. I hope you surprise yourself and have fun being exactly who you are. I hope you expand because you’re faced with discomfort. I hope you feel like you’re completely enough.