Thanks to the STEP Fellowship I have been able to live out a leadership dream of mine- to backpack the Sky Pilot Loop in the Wind River Range (Bridger-Teton National Forest) of Wyoming. This was incredible leadership experience for me, one that has eclipsed all conferences, courses, and personal experiences I have had in terms of leadership development and self-understanding. This 60 mile backpacking loop around one of the most beautiful mountain ranges in the world has escaped many of those who have come to complete it. With the proper knowledge, gear, and drive, my friend Connor Gallagher and I were able to complete this trip and gain an insurmountable amount of skills in a realm of leadership.

During this trek through the Bridger Wilderness, I learned a great deal about myself, more than I thought I would. Starting from day one, I was already learning to adapt more quickly. Things were bound to go wrong on the trip, and I had to react responsibly and quickly in order to mitigate risks for my friend and I. I was never known to be the guy who always takes a step back and thinks before he acts. Usually I have my gut instinct, and I go with that. Here, I took more than a step back, because I knew lives could be at stake. There were bears, snakes, wolves, and countless other predators and ways to die in the Wilderness, so making rational decisions was a skill that had to be gained quickly, and implemented properly. My transformation into a more capable leader came from overcoming all the challenges we had to face and overcome.

During the fourth night, at Trapper Lake, while my friend was fast asleep, I kept hearing noises outside of the tent: footsteps creeping, gear being riffled through, and eventually hearing fishing poles topple to the ground. After a quick sweep peering through an unzipped part of my tent, I saw a small black bear inside of our campsite. I had to take a moment to calm myself before I decided against waking up my friend and telling him about the bear. The last thing that was needed was two people in a confined area to be hyped-up on adrenaline and thinking irrationally. I grabbed my bear spray and bowie knife, and tried to fall asleep. On another occasion, Gallagher and I realized there were a pack of wolves very close to us, and getting closer. Gallagher grabbed the SPOT Emergency Locator just in case we were attacked. At this moment, the risk-mitigating decision was made to get off the trail and head in the opposite direction of the wolves, even if that meant getting lost in 3.4 million acres of an unknown area. It was safer to be lost for a small amount of time, than to risk an encounter with wolves. Making split-second & rational decisions is a skill I picked up while on this journey. Learning how to deal with and adapt to a changing environment is a skill that most people think they understand, but only true leaders have grasped. This trip has gotten me closer to mastering such an important life skill. Everyday we were faced with new challenges, challenges that neither of us have ever had to face before. We had to deal with 28 degree weather while in summer-wear, the physical pains of carrying 86lbs of gear up and down mountains on an average of 400 calories a day, climbing to the summit of a 13,745′ peak during multiples hail storms, starting a fire during rain, snow, sleet, hail, and 60mph wind gusts, and wicked Chipotle cravings.

This experience was just as much mental as it was physical, sure we got beaten up pretty bad and lost a lot of weight on this trip (I lost 12 lbs), but the physical endurance was not much compared to the beating our minds took. When you’re out in the wild and know there is a million and one things that can go wrong, your mind starts to race, blood-pressure rises, thoughts turn into irrational actions, and mistakes are made. Having gone through this incredible experience I know my mind is a lot more capable and prepared for all the challenges I will face in life. As far as my professional goals and career path goes, the skills I learned here about stress management, risk mitigation, positivity, motivation, and critical/rational thinking will be instrumental in any career or profession I choose.

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