By Josh Stevenson
The morning after I took my day of rest halfway through my 35-mile, solo backpack trip in the Lost Creek Wilderness, I set out with high hopes of putting in 9 miles on very hilly terrain. I soon found out that “hilly” wasn’t exactly the right term for the 1000 foot mountains I had to traverse. No kidding. Between miles 17 and 19, the elevation jumped from 8904 up to 10,144 feet. That was one of the toughest moments of my trip, chugging up that mountain 50 feet at a time, gasping for air as my lungs burned as if someone were torching them from the inside.
By the time I’d climbed the mountain and trekked the last of the 9 miles through some comparatively drab lodge pole pine forests and wispy, windswept mountain pastures, I collapsed in my tent and fell asleep immediately. That night, I was way too tired to dream.
Little did I know, when I packed up my tent the next morning and shouldered my pack for what would end up being a 13.7-mile harrowing ordeal that set the real distance of the backpacking trip to 37.6 miles, that I would soon come face-to-face with the toughest temptation to give up that I’ve ever experienced.
Yes, it was a long way—the longest I had hiked in one day yet—but I had to make it. I had no other options. There wasn’t enough food for another day.
During the first 5.6 miles or so, I distracted myself from my newly opened blisters and aching body by counting the piles of elk poop along the trail. In total, I tallied up 126 poop piles. But soon I could no longer count let alone laugh about it. I’d reached the road once again, and now had 8 ascending miles of compact dirt and burning blisters between me and my vehicle.
At about mile 10 of my 13.6-mile pain-fest, the thoughts started to bombard me: You can’t really do this. You don’t have what it takes. Stop, sit down, give in—just for a little bit. But I knew I couldn’t. I had to keep going. My feet had ceased to hurt with normal, surface-level pain. It was deep now, inside me, seeming to come from the inside out. The moment I sat down… well, I didn’t want to find out if that was where my body failed, because I was pretty sure it was. So in the end, I had to keep going, because that’s literally all I could do.
About a mile before I reached my vehicle, I met a group of 6 hikers. Friendly elderly folk.
“Did you come from the trailhead?” they asked.
“Yeah,” I responded, trying to smile, a lollypop that I’d brought with me hanging from the corner of my mouth. “I did the loop.”
“Oh,” one of them said, a man with a kind, bronzed face, “how far was that?”
I hesitated. “About 37 miles.”
He looked at me and smiled. “Good job.”
I smiled back, a little embarrassed. “Thanks,” I said.
By the end of my little adventure, I came to understand what being “brave” really means. Bravery isn’t about completely defeating fears. It isn’t about ignoring them either. I saw for myself that bravery is still acting even in the face of those fears. I understood that my fears would never fully go away, but that was okay. Every time I faced them, my courage would grow.
And now, when I look back on that solo trek in the wild, searching for something wild in myself, I realize that adventure isn’t something I can just dream about. It’s a dream I have to live.