Written by: Sasha Cox, Founder of Trail Mavens
My first experience backpacking was as a twelve-year-old on a school trip. Each year, my (very fancy) all-girls private school in Washington, DC sent the entire seventh grade class on a three day adventure in the Shenandoah Valley, in the hopes it would toughen up us, building character a la Calvin's dad, and break down the incredibly rigid cliques that defined our class by subdividing us into twelve-person units.
That trip was twenty (!) years ago and my memories of it come in flashes, rather than in a steady stream. I remember the clunky brown hiking boots my mom and I bought and brushed waterproofing onto the day before the trip; belaying off a cliff on the last day, my palms damp with fear; and sweet, sweet Little Debbie Oatmeal pies for dessert. I remember spending much of each day walking at the head of my unit beside our guide, feeling strong, like I could go faster, like it was fun.
What stands out most, however, was about five seconds of a conversation my unit had around the campfire our first night. Each girl was asked to share an experience or reflection from the day, and a classmate - not someone from my group of friends - spoke about how challenging the day was for her, adding: "Not like Sasha, all 'Ten miles and going strong!'"
I didn't know quite how to feel in that moment. The self-conscious, awkward part of my pre-adolescent psyche was embarrassed at having been called out in this backhanded-ish way. Had I done something wrong? Another part of me thought, "Huh! Maybe I'm kind of good at this? Weird. Who knew?"
I didn't follow up on the second feeling until almost ten years later. Almost everything about my next backpacking trip was different: I was in the Cordillera Blanca range in Peru; there was no guide, just a boyfriend and me; and sadly, there were no Little Debbie snacks, though we made up for it by sucking on foil packets of manjar, a Peruvian caramel sauce. The only constant? That feeling of strength, of pushing my body and finding it capable, of trying something new and succeeding (or even better, screwing up and then fixing it).
It's that feeling that keeps me exploring outdoors. Natural beauty is a powerful motivator, too - think absurdly turquoise glacial lakes in Montana, fields of wildflowers around Mt. Rainier in late July - but nothing beats the feeling of 'I got this' that comes from stepping outside your comfort zone, into the canyons, the mountains, and the forests.