About 12 years ago when I was in grade 10, I went on a three-week hiking trip in the Rocky Mountains in Alberta, Canada. I was very excited at first. When we were on the bus headed for the mountains, there was a cute brunette girl that I’d hoped would be in my hiking group. Unfortunately, she was in another hiking group and I never saw her again. Also on that first day, we were given lots of delicious food to eat, I still remember how amazing the pasta tasted. Everyone was impressed with my large appetite. How could a little guy like me eat so much? I was eating more than all the Goliaths combined. And I was under the impression that the entire hiking trip was going to be a culinary delight – I couldn’t have been more wrong. Food was scarce after that initial feast.
When the actual hiking began, I was a little surprised. My backpack was so heavy. (We had to hike with heavy backpacks that contained all our supplies.) My legs were already tired. And the worst part was that we had only been hiking for 20 minutes… A few hours later I was ready to lie down permanently. After one week of back-breaking hiking I panicked and asked the counsellor, “If my backpack is so heavy, won’t it stunt my growth?” The counsellor laughed and said, “Of course not.” I was only 14 at the time and my plan was to grow at least six more inches – a plan that failed miserably because I only grew an inch or two after that hiking trip. Also, at the one week mark, I asked whether a helicopter could come pick me up and take me home. I was exhausted. Again the counsellor said, “Of course not!” It’s difficult for a helicopter to land in such a rocky environment.
The most annoying part of the trip was halfway when we had to undergo ‘solitary confinement’, where you had to literally be by yourself for three days with nothing to do and no one to talk to – there was no one in your immediate vicinity. Everyone was spread out and only an emergency warranted human contact. The only comfort was that it was a much-needed break from hiking. The purpose of being by yourself was to focus on your inner self and perhaps write some notes and reflect on your trip and your life – I was too tired or hungry to care about this stuff. Also, I was afraid a bear might attack me, which is why I made sure the area I was confined to was located as close as possible to the counsellor’s.
No technology was allowed on this trip. We didn’t have access to showers or washrooms, we had to use leaves or moss instead of toilet paper. We had to bury our feces in the ground. (Life Pro Tip: moss is very comfortable to use when wiping, nice and soft.) But to overcome the boredom of ‘solitary confinement’, I had snuck a couple of books in my backpack – strictly against the rules but I needed some kind of mental stimulation. Unfortunately, I got caught reading when the counsellor was making his daily rounds to ensure we were following the rules. With my books confiscated, I had no choice but to engage in some good old-fashioned introspection.
I’m just happy I wasn’t the weak link in the hiking group. We had to march according to the slowest person’s pace (who would lead the group at the front), and thankfully I was the second or third slowest. At one point someone else had to carry the slowest person’s backpack. But after two weeks we were all exhausted. When the counsellor told us we wouldn’t be able to climb a certain mountain we were aiming for because we were behind schedule, nobody complained. The most fun I had was near the end of a trip when we climbed down a waterfall. Also at the very beginning of the trip, on the day of the feast, we did a little rock climbing and I did really well – I felt like Spider-Man – that was incredibly fun too. When we had just about finished the trip and got a chance to shower, we all celebrated.
But the best part of the trip was at the end when I was at the airport, waiting for the plane to take me back home. After three hard weeks of hiking, I was famished. At the airport I ate more than I’ve ever eaten in my life – a whole pizza, a foot long subway sandwich, cotton candy, apple pie – and while I was stuffing my face, I remembered that the counsellor had told us that even though we might not appreciate the rigors of hiking while we were hiking, we would look back fondly on the trip after it was over. Because only after it was over would we appreciate the difficult experience we endured. Today, I can confidently say that the experience made me stronger.
The only thing I don’t miss about that trip was when my friend took off his socks in the tent. On that particular occasion, his feet smelled really bad.