“You can do it,” my husband said for the 100th time. I wanted to believe him.
We were hiking up (straight up, it seemed) from the Yosemite National Park valley nestled at 4,000 feet, to the back of Half Dome at 8,000 feet. And I had taken on symptoms of asthma and altitude sickness along the way. And of course, we were backpacking with all our gear, food and water strapped to our backs.
The grandness of the scenery…waterfalls…mountains and evergreens…helped take my mind off of my discomfort. I kept putting one foot in front of the other and stopped every few yards to try and gasp some oxygen into my struggling lungs. The hours slipped by, dusk fell and still I kept plodding forward, my husband encouraging me on.
I’ll never forget that trek, because I did make it (years later my husband would admit he didn’t think I was going to be able to do it!). We had just enough light to cook some grub, eat and collapse, curled up in sleeping bags in our tent. Sometime during the night, the heavy padding of a bear nearby roused me. But I was too exhausted to care , even when I heard him sniff the tent, right next to my head. I remember thinking, “do what you have to do bear, ‘cause I can’t move.” Thankfully he wandered off and I went right back to sleep.
I can still picture the morning we woke up to 28 degrees and a wonderland of white, sparkling frost. It covered every leaf, every blade of grass. A magical moment that almost made me forget the cold. Never has a hot cup of cocoa and some oatmeal tasted so good.
We both learned a lot about ourselves during that backpacking trip. There’s something about pushing yourself beyond what you think you can endure, and finding out just what you’re made of, that gives you confidence in life – gives you faith in your own fortitude.
And talk about the ultimate experience for being self-reliant – that was one of them. What a liberating feeling, knowing that we carried with us our shelter, a means to create fire and cook food, and a way to gather and filter water. Sure, it was a far cry from what a true survivalist could do. Tom Brown would have laughed at our ungainly packs and trudged off into the woods with only a handmade knife to survive off the land. But still, it was a beginning for us. And we’ve grown from that point, ever learning that we need knowledge and experience to be less dependent upon modern society.
That said, I’d be lying if I didn’t tell you how blessed we felt a week later, when we were able to hike back into the valley and pay for a long, long hot shower! Best two dollars I’ve ever spent! And then we treated ourselves to a warm restaurant with pizza and beer. Absolute heaven!
Ultimately, being self-reliant has taught me to never take for granted the myriad modern day conveniences we enjoy every single minute of our days. And to never take it for granted that we will always have them to enjoy.
What’s your favorite outdoor experience? What knowledge did you gain about yourself?