At the end of August, my class and I hiked seven miles into the middle of nowhere along the Rubicon trail. These seven essays are a collection of stories from those three days.
"If you think about it, seven miles really isn't that much" I thought to myself the morning before leaving. I was right, it isn't much in relation to some things. Seven miles is less than the distance from my house to my school. It's only six more times around my neighborhood than I normally do, and it's definitely less than the 26.2 miles runners all of the world do all the time when they partake in a marathon.
It is not, however, at all easy.
I rode in the car in between two of my friends. Another girl sat in front of us and three others sat in the back. The drive up was shorter than I'd expected, so when we reached the parking lot before the trail at around 7:30 in the evening I wasn't as worried as I had been. I pulled on a jacket and my headlight before struggling to pull on the huge backpack that held my clothes, food, supplies, etc. for the next three days. When almost twenty minutes had gone by, I was convinced we'd be hiking in the dark. I knew we would be at least a little, but when it was 9:00 and we hadn't left yet, I knew I had seven miles of darkness to look forward to.
Our leader gathered me, the 22 other seniors, and the sponsors into a circle to give us some last minute advice. Something about how to fall correctly (ha), something about helping each other out, and something about bears. No worries. My friend Mary and I stood together in the circle and tried to make sure the other was okay, but when you take two girls who have a tendency to worry and put them in the middle of nowhere in pitch black and start talking about bears, it's not going to be easy.
Finally, we started walking. The first mile wasn't bad. In fact, I was convinced I'd be perfectly fine. The backpack wasn't too heavy, and I was walking by a few of my friends so I wasn't worried. Once we reached a small body of water, however, I cracked. "Claira, are you okay?" I heard someone ask. I hadn't realized it until then, but I felt tears slip down my cheeks. I heard someone tell us to take our socks and shoes off, and I choked back my fear of water and slipped my feet out of my tennis shoes and two pairs of socks ("to prevent blisters"). A couple of the guys in my class helped us across and soon we were on the other side. Being passed the water, I thought I'd be fine. However, I couldn't envision myself walking another six miles in the darkness, especially because I knew that the other side didn't hold my warm bed, Netflix, or my stuffed moose.
A few miles and hours later and I wasn't as confident as I'd been heading out. My backpack felt heavier with each step, I was out of breath, and I really just wanted to go to sleep. Because I'd left my watch at home and my phone had turned off, I had no idea what time it was. Thinking back, it's probably good I didn't know. I'm sure knowing the time would only have made me feel sleepier. Eventually, we all stopped at a lookout point. There was a huge rock and I dumped the backpack at my feet and sat next to it. I lifted my head and saw more stars than I've ever seen at once before. "This is worth it" I thought, and felt my eyes begin to close. They were opened a few moments later, however, because I could hear the sound of backpacks being lifted back on and the scurry of feet moving again. My friend Joe lifted my backpack onto my shoulders and once again, I was moving.
The next couple miles passed without too much excitement. I found that if I looked at the ground and focused on simply putting one foot in front of the other, it didn't feel so rough. It began to feel almost monotonous, and although I was tired, I was also bored, which I was thankful for. Eventually, however, the sleepiness set in. I heard someone say it was almost 2 o'clock in the morning, and when the group stopped again, I curled up in what I would later discover was a makeshift graveyard (more on this later), and fell asleep on my backpack for a good five minutes. One of my friends curled up next to me, and we could hear soft voices of laughter as our classmates noticed some people were falling asleep.
We were woken up after a few minutes and the walking continued. At this point, I was done. I could feel myself choking back tear after tear and my legs felt numb. My shoulders ached from the weight of the backpack and I was cold. We reached another body of water and before reaching the clearing my ankle got cut on a fallen tree branch. I sat next to one of my friends and tried to breathe as deeply as possible as I shined my headlight on the bright red cut. "I'd honestly rather be anywhere but here" I thought. Yes, the stars had been worth it, but sitting on the sidelines as some people tried building a makeshift bridge to get us all across the water was not. When the bridge was complete, we were each helped across and stopped on some of the sand that lay on the other side. Based on my limited knowledge and the pictures I'd seen from last year's seniors, I and a few others assumed we'd reached the campsite. Someone even pulled out a ukulele before we heard a couple sponsors tell us to put our backpacks back on and keep moving.
The sound of groans and a few sniffles accomponied our trail as we all continued to walk forward. Soon, it was just me, another girl, and our sponsor walking in a small group. We reached a fairly steep hill and I heard our sponsor say that all we had to do was reach the light on the other side. He was right, there was definitely something shining quite a ways ahead of us. I was almost delirious with lack of sleep at this point, but I kept moving forward.
Finally, after what seemed like an eternity of putting one foot in front of the other, we could see the campsite. It was then that my legs gave out. I honestly have no idea what happened to make them do that, but I physically could not make myself take another step. Joe, who was slightly in front of me, turned around to see what had happened, and took my backpack off my shoulders and carried it to the campsite. When the 20-some students and five sponsors had all finally reached our destination, we set up the tarps, unwrapped sleeping bags, and were able to fall asleep. Ironically, this was the second time that week I'd fallen asleep at 4:00, and if you know anything about my sleep habits you'll know this isn't the smartest thing for me.
Obviously, when we got to where we were going it was still totally dark, so we couldn't see what was surrounding us. When I woke up the next morning, this was my view:
Again, I had a moment of thinking the hike was worth it. This certainly wasn't the last time I thought this, but those stories will have to wait :-).