My STEP signature project was a hiking/backpacking trip through Yosemite National Park. I flew from my hometown of Dayton, to the park which is located outside of Fresno California. While there I experienced a variety of beautiful terrain and met many interesting people.
While in the park I experienced a shift in my perspective of the world and myself. I have always believed myself to be an independent person, and this trip solidified that sentiment by building on my self-reliance. Now that I am back at school, I feel confident in my ability to control my own path and continue to follow my aspirations. Even though this trip grew me as an individual, I feel it also reinforced the value in meeting diverse groups of people. I find myself seeking personal connections with people whom I would not expect myself to be drawn too. Everybody has their own life experiences, and each of them brings value because of those diverse backgrounds. Everybody has some sort of commonality, (whether it be a love for nature or something else) and it is important to realize that.
Prior to my backpacking tour, I camped three nights at the historic campground Camp 4. While at my campsite I shared space with dozens of other campers who filtered in an out throughout the week. One of my neighbors was a climbing couple who were from France and Canada. They met through their worldwide travels. The Canadian spoke multiple languages and taught English to school children around the world. She met her boyfriend in a climbing group while teaching in China. I was amazed to hear all the amazing places she has lived when only being a few years older than myself. It was inspiring to see someone who had a dream to see the world and was actually able to do it. Meeting those climbers showed me that traveling across the US did not have to be the end of my travels; people travel to follow their dreams and so can I.
My favorite interaction of the week was with my neighbors the last night at Camp 4. They were a large family from Los Angeles who were visiting just to have a good time. The older family members immigrated from Hong Kong and raised their kids in California. They invited me to their campsite for a cookout where they proceeded to feed loads of grill food and shots of bourbon. Maybe it was the altitude or maybe it was liquor they brought but I was “feeling myself”. I spent hours around the campfire in tears from laughing alongside these people I never met. I never expected one of my favorite nights of my life to be with some strangers who spoke broken English at a park. I learned that everyone can get along and enjoy each other’s company no matter how different as long as they have a good heart.
On my backpacking tour I was with a diverse group of people: a father and son from San Diego, a couple from Britain, and a nurse from Kentucky. Trey, our tour guide, was the definition of a mountain hippy. He lived out of his Subaru, carried an acoustic guitar everywhere he went, and probably hasn’t worn closed toed shoes in his life. The other guide Sophie was equally “outdoorsy” but in the opposite way. She was an Environmental Science student who spent her summers guiding trips in Yosemite. Over the four days I spent with them I got to know everyone very well. It was surprising how many personal conversations and how close I grew to these people in such sort time. I had many interesting conversations but one stuck out the most. While hiking with Trey we started talking about our lives. I told him how jealous I was that he had so much freedom. I envied his ability to pack up his Subaru and drive anywhere he pleased and experience so much beautiful nature. My envy was ironic in that he envied a lot of my life. He told me he thought it was cool that I had a contract with the Air Force and how no matter what I will have a good paying job and a secure future. Trey said he worried a lot about his future because he had no idea how he could reach his goal of having a wife and a big house for his kids someday. It was interesting that our lives were so different yet we each envied the things each other had. I think there is a balance between our lives we need to find. I need to continue to find ways to balance my passion for the outdoors with my fast-paced life. I hope Trey will find his balance too.
I think this trip has forever changed my values and aspirations. I never realized how capable I am on my own. Thousands of miles away from anybody I knew, I was able to travel and meet so many amazing people. I am now confident enough to start planning a cross-country road trip next summer. This experience and the people I met showed me how possible it is to follow my aspirations and I am excited to continue to travel and meet new people. Additionally, I am more outgoing now. Before the trip I had a really tough time meeting new people but now I feel that the task of making connections with others is not so daunting. If I can share my life with so many great people while traveling, there is no reason I cannot continue this here in Ohio. Going forward I will be more confident in my ability as an individual and in the value of meeting new people.step reflection