The summer before my junior year of high school, I spent three weeks living in the Alaskan wilderness. I backpacked over 120 miles through the Talkeetna Mountain Range, sea kayaked through Prince William Sound, and ate a lot of peanut butter and granola bars. Although tough and arguably kinda smelly (I also didn't shower for three weeks) I still think that I'll find it hard to top those three weeks of my life.
Sea-kayaking through ice, otters, and seals
What I loved the most about my time in Alaska was the feeling that I woke up each day with a distinct sense of purpose. My to-do list wasn't complicated, but it was there: get water to boil for breakfast, hike 10 miles, write in my journal, explore each new campsite...the list went on. I was confident in everything that I was doing. There were no distractions from cell phones ringing or buzzing with each latest call and text--it was me and 11 other teenagers my age and 2 adult leaders (who were less like adults and more like super cool older friends you always wanted to hang out with) and nature (which sometimes sounds like a scary moose waiting outside your tent to kill you but is usually just a flap on the tent hitting a tent pole in the wind). I spent only three weeks with those people, but I think I know them better than a lot of the people I've known for years.
But anyways, let me get to the real juice of the story: the time we got lost backpacking and ended up on the top of a mountain covered in snow and ice at around 2:00 in the morning in the Alaskan wilderness. The day started off absolutely great. For the first time in 10 days, we woke up to find that it wasn't raining and it was actually sunny. After 10 days of being soaking wet and getting into a wet tent with a wet sleeping bag in wet socks, we thought our luck was finally changing. We thought that the day would be an easy one, so we took our time eating breakfast and packing up. We hiked about 7 miles, enjoying the beautiful view of mountains all around us, lush green grasses, and wildflowers of all colors. We even saw a herd of caribou running through a valley--could it get any more picturesque?
Enjoying the view before things went south
Unfortunately, that lovely day quickly turned terrible when we realized we had walked about 5 miles in the wrong direction. It was starting to get late in the day, and we were supposed to arrive at a campsite next to an airstrip that night to pick up more supplies and meet up with some whitewater rafting guides. I'm not going to lie, I shed a couple of tears, because I was tired and we were almost out of summer sausage (I'm telling you, backpacking makes you want to eat weird things and my current vegetarian self cringes) but I sucked it up, put back on my giant backpack, and turned around. We finally got back to where we had made our wrong turn, and realized the only way to go was up. We climbed and climbed. The mountain beneath us was muddy, rocky, and sometimes it felt like you were walking through quick sand. We finally got to the top, and by this time, it was dark. Not completely dark, because it's Alaska in the summer, but dark enough to notice that the sun isn't warming your back anymore. We sighed with relief, took off our backpacks, and walked to look down at the other edge, only to notice that it was frozen solid with ice and snow. I think this moment was the true inspiration for this Disney hit. We weren't going to be able to get down the other side of that mountain. We realized this, sat down in a huddle, and oddly enough, we laughed. We laughed so hard that our stomachs hurt.
End result? We climbed back down the mountain we had spent two hours climbing up and we set up camp. You know what saved me that night? A Snickers bar that I had been carrying since the beginning of our trip to use in case times got rough. I swear to you this is not even an attempt at product placement because I sometimes think that I truly owe my life to that Snickers. We slept about 5 hours, woke up, and started walking again, this time up a different mountain and back down a much more inviting cliff. We finally made it, although I did tear a ligament in my ankle.
I think about this day often, especially when I'm in a tough situation. It's more than just a reminder of the incredible physical strength that our bodies can produce in our time of need, but also about mental strength. I was in a terrible situation, and I laughed. I climbed back down that mountain and then ran around and played in the quicksand-like mud. I relished the thought of the fresh pair of socks I had stuffed in the bottom of my sleeping bag that I could change into once we set up camp. It was and still is the most powerful moment of positive thinking I've ever experienced. Maybe it was all thanks to the Snickers, but I'm dedicating my life to making sure that I'll have many, many more of those moments.