For four weeks during the summer of 2017, I embarked on a solo road trip throughout the northwestern United States. I set out with the intention of learning new skills in alpine climbing and backpacking, as well as learning about myself and how to be on my own and a better leader for the Mountaineers at Ohio State club. I came back with so much more, and I feel much more confident in my abilities not only to climb and hike, but to be independent and be able to teach what I have learned to people wanting to go on similar life changing, transformational trips.
From the beginning this was quite the unplanned trip. All I had for certain were the flight tickets and a rental car. Everywhere in between was up to me. I was able to decide where I went, how long I was there, and what I did. This was my first time truly being on my own, and it was a humbling experience. I faced many hard times, times when I felt the most alone I have ever felt. My lack of planning led to some dangerous situations, and in the beginning of the trip I thought I couldn’t do it. But, through trial and error, I learned quickly what I was doing wrong, and towards the end of the journey I felt much more self-reliant. In addition to this, through journaling, reading, and meditation, I was able to come to terms with some inner demons and hardships I was facing and, for the most part, find peace. I asked myself tough questions about my life as a whole and my internal motivations, and I learned that a lot of the assumptions I had were wrong. Life isn’t always a linear path, and currently my life is incredibly turbulent, but through this trip I found more focus on what direction I want my life to go. After talking to many park employees along the way, the prospect of becoming a ranger at a National Park became more enticing. But my ultimate career goal is to help preserve the earth, and seeing the most beautiful places I have ever seen in my life only confirmed this.
I was born in California, but moved to Ohio at the young age of three months, and this trip was my first time being back to the West Coast. I always knew I would love it there, but I didn’t realize the extent to which I would. After this trip I know that if I choose to live in the Unites States after I graduate it would undoubtedly be in the Pacific Northwest. I absolutely loved the natural beauty of the area, as well as the culture and people I met. My view of the world became so much clearer from this experience. In my opinion, I think all people are good at heart, and this trip solidified that in my mind. I met some incredibly interesting and inspiring personalities, people from all over the world on their own spiritual or personal journeys in all different phases of their lives. I experienced so much genuine hospitality and kindness, sometimes from complete strangers. This made me really appreciate the openness of the world. After seeing the lifestyles of everyone I met on this trip, I now feel I could live nearly anywhere and find people I connect with and a way to live that makes me happy. This comes at an important time in my life because after next May, I want to move far away from Ohio and try out many different places, cultures and ways of living, meeting new people along the way and seeing where I fit in this grand world.
There are too many wonderful memories from this transformational experience to list all of them, but I will try to pick the few that impacted me the most. First would have to be the day that I went alpine rock climbing with an OSU alumnus from the Mountaineers club. There are many different kinds of climbing, and I only have extensive experience with “sport” climbing, which is when bolts are already in the rock. On that day in Rocky Mountain National Park we climbed “trad,” or traditional, style which is where you place your own protective gear in cracks in the rock. In addition, because the route is over 1000 ft tall, it is considered “multipitch” because it requires more than one length of rope. Trad and multipitch climbing are big steps up from sport climbing, so I was out of my league in that regard. However, for some reason I was not nervous, I felt confident and ready to take on the challenge. This was probably the longest and most strenuous day of the whole trip. We woke up at 4 am, got ready and drove to the park, and hiked three hours to the base of the mountain, the last hour of which was hiking over snow drifts. My friend Matt and his friend Zach went over the safety protocol for climbing in an alpine environment, and taught me the technique for anchor building and leading and following on trad and multipitch climbs. Then the long ascent began. We went up the Culp-Bossier route on Hallett’s Peak in Rocky Mountain National Park, and we were by no means fast. It took us about six hours to climb the whole thing. Never had I exerted my body to such extremes as I did that day, the endurance required to be able to climb the entire day was grueling but incredibly rewarding. I felt a wonderful sense of calm the entire day, I enjoyed every second of this once in a lifetime experience. After we reached the peak I felt a great sense of accomplishment. I discovered that my body is capable of so much more than I imagined. And I learned many technical skills in types of climbing that had previously been unattainable for me. Now that I have this knowledge I am excited to return to Columbus and help aspiring climbers in the Mountaineers at Ohio State club be able to go on similar trips.
Being on my own wasn’t always easy. One day in particular comes to mind when I think of hard times I faced on this trip. I was in the Wind River Reservation in Wyoming, and I was about to set out on my first backpacking trip of the month. I had learned about the trail from someone who worked at a gear shop in a town a few miles back, and it was quite literally in the middle of nowhere. My initial plan was to backpack about 10 miles to a group of lakes in the mountains, but about two hours into the hike, out of nowhere, it started to rain. I had not thought ahead to bring my rain gear, so all I could do was sit under a tree and wait it out. This was a low point; I felt foolish for not thinking it might rain. The rain lasted almost an hour, and by the time it ended my motivation had sunk so low that I decided to turn around and go to a different lake closer to the car to camp. When I got to that lake, I set up my hammock and started cooking dinner. I was in the process of setting up my tent when it started to rain again. This time my belongings were strewn all over the place, so I scrambled to grab them all to try to keep them dry. But while I was getting my food and hammock, my tent had blown away in the wind! I chased it down the mountain and eventually it ended up in the river downstream and I had to pull it out soaking wet with water inside. At this point, the day was a complete bust so I just went back to the car. Because my tent and hammock were wet, I ended up cowboy camping, just sleeping on the ground, and I saw the most stars I have ever seen in my life. My morale was so low until I looked up and remembered that there is so much more out there. This experience taught me that even in the worst of times there is always a lesson to learn. And from then on, my attempts at backpacking got better and better, until my last solo trip in Redwood National Park where I brought exactly the right amount of supplies and arrived at the campsite at the perfect time. I now have a list of things I should always bring and ways to prepare myself for backpacking trips and I feel much more self-assured in my backpacking skills. Hiking the entire length of the Appalachian Trail or the Pacific Crest Trail is one of my long term goals. This STEP experience solidified my love for backpacking and made me realize that with the right amount of training and preparation I can one day achieve this goal.
Another powerful moment from this trip was the day that I spent in downtown San Francisco. I set out with the intention of exploring the city, but still keeping myself open to wherever the day would take me. Other than the acquaintance whose apartment I had stayed at the night before, I did not know anyone in the city. But after only half an hour of walking around I met someone who changed the course of my day completely. His name was Free, an apt name for someone whose home was a big oak tree in Golden Gate Park. Free told me about this place down the street that was giving out free food, and I went with him – not knowing I was going to a homeless youth shelter until I was already inside. Larkin Street Youth Services provides the homeless population of San Francisco that is under 25 years of age with free breakfast every day, as well as counseling services for issues such as drug use, STDs, or depression, and referrals for potential job opportunities and ways to gain citizenship. I came in for the free food, but I ended up spending the rest of my day with the homeless youth I met there. Their stories were hard to listen to. Hearing how they became homeless at such a young age broke my heart. These kids were younger than me and they did not know where their next meal was going to come from! This day blew up any preconceptions I had and completely changed my mind on the homeless population. Too many times before I had walked by homeless people on the streets and felt uncomfortable by their presence and tried to avoid eye contact. But now I try to stop and talk to them, hear them out, and treat them like real people. Everyone deserves a better life than living on the streets, and while giving money is helpful, the real way to give back is by volunteering your time. Since this experience I have volunteered at homeless centers in Cullowhee, NC and Columbus, OH, and I hope to increase my activity in this field of community service.
This trip was valuable to me in so many ways. First, I learned tangible skills in alpine climbing and I now know how to prepare for backpacking trips and take the necessary safety precautions, which I hope to share with the Mountaineers at Ohio State club. Living and traveling on my own for the first time in my life allowed me to truly look inward. I discovered parts of myself that I didn’t know were there, and not all of them were good. I came face to face with some serious issues I was facing and came out a more confident and open minded individual. Professionally, I made meaningful connections with rangers at Grand Teton, Glacier, and Olympic National Parks, and they all told me that I would love working for the Park Service. I have the contact info of one of rangers, and she told me what website to go to and when the jobs usually open up, so I plan on applying at lots of parks for a seasonal ranger position next summer. I also met some inspiring individuals on this trip, people from all over the world on their own transformational journeys who I hope to stay in contact with for years to come. But the most important takeaway I gained from this experience is that I am capable of so much more than I realized. I am ready for wherever life takes me.
Summiting my climb of the Culp-Bossier route of Hallett Peak in Rocky Mountain National Park
A lake… or a mirror? – Grand Teton National Park
Backpacking in Glacier National Park
The morning light in Redwood National Park
The Valley in Yosemite National Park