47 days ago I received an email inviting me to attend 2014 Mountain Seminar – an 8 day backpacking trip through Yosemite with nine other people (only three of whom I’m familiar with).
Part of the invitation read: “Since 2006, we have had a tradition of spending time in the backcountry each summer with a small group of close friends and acquaintances. This year, we are heading to Yosemite and we hope you’ll join us… We are inviting you because we believe you have something to offer the team of thoughtful professionals and educators who’ll comprise the expedition.”
Although I respect the hell out of the men who invited me, my first instinct was to chuckle. It was a personal invite meant for me, but I had to wonder if they were serious. Certainly they didn’t really mean to invite me. I didn’t even consider accepting the invitation. Perhaps if it was for a retreat at a cabin in the woods, I may have been more interested. But a week backpacking through Yosemite? That’s not me. No way.
I read the email aloud to Jake and Josh who were sitting near me, expecting validation on my thoughts that I was not a proper candidate for this experience. I was surprised when they didn’t laugh, but actually encouraged me to consider it.
As I read through the pages of the information packet, a tiny spark flickered inside me.
“We’re thrilled about the adventure we are going to share! The time we spend together in the back country – hiking, reading, pondering, being still, discussing – will be fun and memorable, and will help us reconnect to the silent, deep leadership within us. We are confident we’ll come home with an elevated sense of purpose about our lives and leadership.”
Honestly, I can’t even tell you what happened but while I read through the pages, something deep down shifted. This may not be who I am, but it’s who I want to be. I’ve spent my life on the sidelines, working to stay in the shadows. Jake and the boys have always been active and enjoyed the outdoors, but I’ve found excuses to not participate in their activities. Staying always in a supportive role.
Here was my chance to step out from the shadows and do something. The problem was, this wasn’t an invitation to take baby steps. They were asking me to take a giant leap off a cliff. 8 days in the backcountry? Completely out of my depth. 8 days in the backcountry with people I don’t know? That’s enough to send my introvert self over the edge.
By the time I had finished reviewing the paperwork, I had made a decision. All told, it was within an hour of opening the original email. I was going for it. I wanted this and all it entailed. I was diving right off the cliff and hoping I was up for the challenge. I had 51 days to prepare, physically and emotionally.
But first I begged Jake to go with me. I wanted to do this, but I didn’t want to do it alone. I wanted to take my best friend and partner in all. From the beginning he was pretty adamant about not going. In his eyes, this was an opportunity for me to grow and it wouldn’t be as impactful if he was along. I suppose he was right, but dang-it. I don’t need to grow that much do I? This was a topic we’d return to again and again over the next 7 weeks. Me begging him to go, him assuring me I’d be fine.
The morning after I committed it was time to test my fitness level. I may have lost 100 pounds in the last 14 months, but I hadn’t been doing much in regards to my physical fitness. I fell considerably short of the target of being able to run 3 miles without stopping, do 20 pushups, and hike 8 miles without stopping. Time to up the ante. For the last seven weeks, I’ve been working out 5-6 days a week for at least an hour each day. I’ve been riding my bike, walking with a 30 pound pack, using a Couch 2 5k app, and adding in pushups, sit-ups, and squats. All under the hot Texas summer sun. I’m still not on target, but I’m much closer than I was when I began.
I’ve had several crises of faith along the way. My inadequacy at the task at hand seemed overwhelming. But in the back of my mind was the commitment I had made and the plea to those who were participating:
“Please don’t back out. Yes, conflicts will arise and you’ll be tempted to dog. But if you commit, please keep that commitment; you won’t regret it. The most meaningful things in life often demand a heavy price; eight days in the mountains is as meaningful as it gets, so be prepared to navigate around and through obstacles to keep your commitment.”
I don’t think a day has gone by in the last 7 weeks that I haven’t wondered what in the world have I got myself into? What was I possibly thinking to believe I’d be up for this challenge?
The day I learned who the other participants were, I may or may not have curled into the fetal position and cried. I then wrote an email to one of the organizers and explained my concerns. Perhaps they didn’t understand that I was a beginner in every sense of the word. The other participants were obviously experienced outdoors people. I know because I stalked them on Facebook. I’m sure all of them know how to pitch a tent, pack a pack, and administer first aid. They are probably all comfortable going potty in the woods (yes I wrote that – as an Alaskan, I’m an expert in peeing in the woods, but have spent the majority of my life avoiding the need to poo outdoors). My inferiority in every sense washed over me as I wrote the email. I offered as politely as I could to give up my spot on the expedition. I suggested I could get more experience this year and perhaps try again next year.
Within minutes of hitting send, my phone rang. It was Pete, the recipient of my anxious email. He said that he had started to respond to my email, but opted to call me instead so that he could hear the fear in my voice. Ha! I had to laugh and offered him some tears to go with the fear. We talked for a while and he suggested that all would be well. I was training just how I should, and he was confident I’d be fine. He did say that I would probably be uncomfortable, but that comes with the territory and it would be more psychological than physical. I took a deep breath and realized I wasn’t off the hook. My commitment was still intact and I needed to continue my preparation. Honestly, I wasn’t sure how I felt about that. At the same time both relieved and stressed that I was still going.
Perhaps my moment of greatest doubt came the other day when all the participants met online for a colloquium on Emerson’s Self-Reliance. It was also an opportunity to get to know each other and ask questions about the expedition. Imagine my surprise when I learned that two of the four women who were scheduled to attend would not be able to. Our party is now 8 men and 2 women. One of those women being me. I can’t begin to describe the anxiety that coursed through my body when I found out. Upon pondering why I was so stressed by this news, I realized that I was hoping for safety in numbers with other women. Not physical safety, but perhaps emotional safety? It was ironic that we were discussing Self-Reliance during my full blown panic attack at having to be self-reliant.
In a renewed fervor I began to beg Jake to come with me. I can do anything with him by my side. I can conquer the world. Without him? I’m afraid I’ll wither and die. Maybe not literally (although certainly a possibility) but non literal deaths are just as stressful. In a moment of weakness at my pleading at his feet he told me he would come. Hallelujah!
Unfortunately it didn’t take long to realize that wasn’t the solution. We’re down to our last two weeks here in Texas before we leave for New Mexico for Jake’s training and there is too much to do. It just makes sense for Jake to stay while I go. Logic won over emotions. Time for me to man up.
So that, my friends, is what is going on. I leave on Friday and my adventure starts Saturday. If you think of me while I’m gone, would you mind offering a prayer on my behalf? I’m fairly certain that I’m going to live. My hope is that I thrive and it is everything I hope/want it to be. I’ve been posting my preparations on Instagram at @simplybphotos if you want to follow along!