Outdoors

Don't trust a man who's never had to bury his own shit

"Can you just poop over the cliff?!!”

When mother nature calls, you can only hit the decline button so many times before she takes over and answers her own call. My friend Jessica and I were scouting out a hazardous section of climbing along the Ko’olau Mountains. The trail had narrowed to a generous 16 inches and didn’t show signs of widening any time soon. We’d been crawling over and around a series of crumbling razor-thin edges for hours when the urge hit Jessica.

Considering we’d been fighting to hold together the eroding remnants of ground below our feet, trying to dig a hole directly on the path wasn’t exactly an option. The only space on either side of the path was air space - a direct drop-off into a plunging ravine of green below. And from the looks of the next climb, wrestling up a loose dirt overhang over a 1700 foot drop-off guaranteed to scare the shit out of both of us if we didn’t take care of it on our own.

And that is how my dear friend found herself jutting her butt over the side of the 1700 foot cliff. With one hand gripped around a small scrubby brush and the other hand digging deep into a mound of loose dirt for stability. So it goes on the Ko’olau Summit Trail.

No worries, she's just climbing here folks.

Ko’olau Summit Trail: Take 2

04/18/2015 Pupukea to Poamoaho: “Awwwwwww shit!!”

Long, ropey strands of wet toilet paper, stuck to a fern branch and twirling in the wind. And now stuck to my backpack. Whoever had left it probably hadn’t realized their doo wiper would be fluttering in the wind across the trail. We hadn’t really thought about preparing for it either, until after our first attempt at through backpacking. It went on the gear revision list, right next to dark chocolate:

‘bring an extra Ziploc bag for carrying out used toilet paper’

Had we completed the trail on our first try, we might not even have been forced to think about it. But it was our second time attempting the trail. We were now retracing our steps, and the steps of others, and there was definitely some er, shit, that they had left behind.

I hadn’t even planned on attempting this trail more than once, but the first attempt had been like pulling back a curtain to reveal a peek at a prize, and I was hooked. We went up again only four days after our first failed attempt. My knees weren’t quite ready. We’d cut our packs from 45 pounds to 35, but I was still struggling. In an effort to distract my mind from the excruciating pain that was shooting through my knees, I diverted my mind to a separate stream of consciousness – running chatter.

In all fairness, they probably didn’t realize their shit wouldn’t disappear quickly. In modern daily life, you flush and never have to think about it again. Out of sight, out of mind. You don’t really start thinking about your shit until you start spending more time in places where it doesn’t easily disappear. I guess that could go for a lot of things in life besides shit. If we had to pile our trash in our own yards and face our own mini landfills every day, we’d probably be more mindful about waste. Everybody should have to bury their shit at least once in life. It just adds a whole new level of – cognizance. Responsibility. Don’t trust a man who’s never had to bury his own shit.

I remembered reading an article that estimated there were about 300,000 dumps taken along the PCT last year.

Just imagine what the trail would look like if those hadn’t been buried away from the trail, and all the hikers left all their toilet paper. What if park rangers scolded hikers for leaving trash the way people scold their dogs for pooping on the carpet?

I imagined a park ranger gripping the collar of a hiker on the PCT and shoving his nose into the pile of dirty toilet paper and trash he had left behind while saying “No! Bad dog!” The thought made me giggle. It distracted from the shooting pain running between my knees and hips.

“Helene, on a scale of 1-10, how are you feeling?”

“Oh, about an eight!” was the cheery reply.

Fuck. I’m a solid three.

We’d decided to combine our two days from our first attempt since we’d had extra time both days, but I was feeling it. It was noon and we were at the first cabin. We’d conquered the bushes, but now we had the mud to fight through.

I sat down on a rock and put my head in my hands.

I can’t do this. I can’t. I just can’t. I literally don’t know how I’m going to move my feet.

“Slow is smooth, and smooth is fast,” Helene coached. She pointed out I couldn’t exactly bail at that point anyways. I had no choice but to find a way to keep going. If I could at least make it to the next cabin, there was a bailout I could take from there the next morning.

I felt like I was balancing the weight of the world on two little toothpick legs made of fine china. I focused my mind by breaking the trail into little checkpoints and hitting them. Get to this point by 1pm. Check. Get here by 2. Check. Get to the boot by 3. Check.

At the cabin, I chugged water and washed the blisters on my feet. I spent the rest of the night with my legs propped up, rubbing my calves to alleviate the throbbing pain.  I took a few breaks to rub my lower back and arms. Both Helene and I had extremely itchy rashes from being in the wet mountains for days without giving our skin a proper chance to recover.

04/19/2015 Poamoho to Waimano: Haunted by the mistakes of our past

No Man’s Land is that it is just that. It’s on the Leeward side of the mountains, between Poamoho and Kipapa. The wind is blocked, and it’s completely quiet. It’s a dark, formidable forest of fog and brush, and especially overgrown. Nobody seems to walk through these parts -- it’s a god-forsaken land. It’s also near impossible to tell the trail at times. About every 15 minutes, we’d find ourselves in the middle of a clearing where the trail seemed to end, and realize we had to retrace our steps back to the last spot until we found our clue- usually a small fragment of ribbon peeking out from behind a few branches.

The sad thing is that we still made every. single. mistake. that we had made the first time we hiked through here. No man’s land was still just as confusing. But since we’d made them before, we were a lot quicker to recognize it.

“Oh yeah, we did this last time. Welp, time to turn around again.”

I wondered to myself if that was how life was sometimes. Just because you made a mistake in life and fixed it, doesn’t mean you will never make the same mistake again. But maybe you’ll recognize it faster, and correct your steps quicker the second time around.

The quicker corrections made for quicker times, and this time we made it all the way to our intended campsite at Waimano. We threw together our yellow starfish and collapsed. Surprisingly, my legs had held up.

04/20/2015 Waimano to N. Haiku: Moke

I was in serious trouble. I’d been ignoring my legs successfully so far, but now they were starting to cramp up like crazy.  I chugged water and took salt pills in a desperate attempt to make the cramps go away so I could move my legs faster. That was one thing Helene had taught me- when you’re sweating a lot, you lose a lot of salt. Drinking water isn’t enough. Low sodium in the blood means trouble and cramping, especially for prolonged periods of time. Helene had brought along salt pills to replenish, and when I took them, they actually helped with the cramps.

As we progressed through the morning, we realized the climbing wasn’t going to stop anytime soon. The clouds cleared to reveal four prominent peaks in front of us.

“It’s like Goldilocks and the three little bears!”

I was lost in an animated world where everything was cute and fluffy. I panted as I pulled myself to the top of the first notch. Cartoons played in the back of my head. Goldilocks was chasing after us up each mountain peak, her cartoon hair bouncing with each step.

“First she tried Papa’s porridge, but it was too hot.”

I turned my feet sideways to try and catch some grip as I descended down the backside of the first peak. I pulled myself up the second mound, knees pressed to the hills. Small gnats buzzed around my red sweaty face as I pressed it close to the earth and grasped for any clumps of grass I could find to help leverage my pack up the incline. With one heavy gasp, I sucked a poor innocent gnat down my windpipe.

I don’t know why she swallowed a fly.

I collapsed at the top of the second peak, choking and wheezing.

“This porridge is too cold!”

Helene popped up behind me. “Or this mountain is too big!”

“Or that.”

As it turned out, Goldilocks and the three bears were joined by all their wicked cousins AND stepsisters. The peaks continued, one after the other. But by lunchtime, we were close to the first saddle – the treacherous climbing sections. FINALLY!

And it was pouring rain, which made it impossible to hike on the saddles. Of course.

Even though it was only the middle of the day, we had no choice but to take shelter in a nearby bunker. The bunker is one of many old abandoned bunkers left in the mountains from WWII.  It’s a small covered concrete square building, about 12’ x 12’, with an open door.

Almost all my water was gone. I’d sucked through 3 liters like it was nothing, trying to fight off the massive cramps. And our next planned water source was down in the middle of the saddle, two hours hike and one rainstorm too far away. As the sun set, the rain let up. I rocked back and forth on our small tarp, trying to conserve energy and pretend like I wasn’t thirsty. All I could think about was water. Nothing mattered except water.

Helene went outside to watch the sun. She started shouting.

“The SADDLE! I can see the saddle!”

She dragged me outside to share her first peek at the saddle with her. It dipped low from one mountain peak to another, a loss of about 1500 feet in elevation before climbing back up to the next peak in one smooth, graceful arc.

“It’s like the big grin of a Chesire cat. I can’t stop smiling back at it!” Helene was jumping up and down.

It was cold, so we brought out our emergency blankets and fell asleep huddled together on the tarp. Dreaming of water. Sweet, cold water.

We were awoken at 11pm by the sound of voices and two faint lights in the distance.

We were at least a good 5-6 hours hiking distance from any place in civilization. We weren’t exactly in a popular spot for hiking, either. Who was up here? And at 11 at night?

Night marchers? Ghosts?

“Ho shit, there’s people in there!” cried a man’s voice.

Crazy rapists living in the mountains? Helene and I were frozen.

Their faces filled the doorway. The light from their headlamps cut triangles of shadows underneath their eyebrows and noses. It was enough to recognize them. I sighed with relief. It was Kama and Mike, two men I’d met a couple months ago when I was helping search for a missing kid in the mountains. The very kid who had disappeared hiking the saddle that lay before us.

But what were they doing up here? As it turns out, it was Kama’s 50th day of searching for his little brother.

“Oh shit, you are the brother of that boy!” exclaimed Helene. I’d told her all about his disappearance when explaining why we had to take extra care on the saddles, but this really brought it home.

“Yeah, he’s in highschool. He’s supposed to graduate this spring,” said Kama.

Helene and I glanced at each other. Instant chills. Fifty days later, he was still looking. That’s family.

Kama went on to explain that they had hiked up with supplies to start exploring new areas of the mountains. This bunker was near a new area they wanted to check out, and they’d come up planning to spend the night so they had the following day for searching.

Mike pulled a water bottle out of his backpack. “We brought extras of these if you need any.”

I pounced. Self-sustained or not, I was parched. Helene didn’t want any. She still had enough, and she was dead set on only using what she brought up with her. 100% purist.

“Careful on the next section,” Mike warned, “There’s a piece on the saddle where the rope is gone, and it’s pretty sketchy to climb without. We climbed it with just our light daypacks, and there were rocks falling everywhere.”

This time around, I’d left the big camera behind. It’d been part of our weight cuts. In it’s place, I had a small gopro. I took a shaky photo of the four of us in the shack before we relegated to our separate corners for the night and fell back asleep.

04/21/2015 “What’s wrong?”In the past two weeks of hiking, it was the first time I’d ever seen Helene low. While I’d bumbled along whining, she’d prodded me along, cheerful and persistent. And now, for the first time ever, on our first saddle, she was hesitating. Her eyes were tearing up.“I’m crying because I’m scared,” wavered Helene. I was floored. It was the first time I’d seen any weakness in her. I’d almost begun to fear she was some insane athletic robot, and not actually a real human after all. I tried to put on a brave face, and we both started working away at the saddle, but the climb Mike had warned us about was everything he’d said and more. Rocks fell to either side as we ducked and struggled to find a way to get our heavy packs to the top of the vertical wall that crumbled before us. The weight addition of six liters of water to our packs at the stream in the middle was bringing back the old cramps and knee pains I’d been fighting since the day before. My knee was shaking uncontrollably. And now, of all things, it was starting to rain. The forecast had turned, again, to rain. For the next three days. The saddles just weren’t happening. After two hours of fighting the same spot, we decided we had to come down. There was no way around it.

What had happened to us? Hearing Kama talk about Moke had messed with both of our heads. It was one of those things that made you realize how serious things could get. It made us stop and wonder why.

Why are we doing this? Why do we take risks? Why do we set goals? When is a goal worth pursuing, and why is it worth it? How far would you go to reach that goal?

Our pant legs were catching on everything. They were shredding at the bottoms from catching on bushes. We tucked the torn remains into our long wool socks and pulled our pants high.

“We look like two fashionable old ladies on our way to bingo!” snorted Helene.

I giggled and held out my hand. “Come on then, old lady.”

We hobbled off the mountains and began the eight miles down the nearest trail option for bailing. Helene was flying back to Canada in just a few days. We were both spent, and there was no time, money, or energy left to try again. Altogether, she’d been here for three weeks working on the trail with me, and we’d done a lot. It’d been a good run. I drowned out the crunching below my feet with a steady chatter of inner thought.

If you wanted it enough to pursue it in the first place, it’s worth pursuing. You pick a direction, and goals that align with that direction, but there’s more to it than that. Maybe we challenge ourselves because we want to be better versions of the person we were yesterday.  Maybe it isn’t just about reaching the end goal. Maybe it isn’t just about the beautiful moments in the mountains, either. Maybe it’s the person you become in the process of reaching for the goal. About being humbled, and learning. About how your respond and grow from the struggles. Failing, but getting stronger from each time you fail, and never giving up. And about the moments you shared together in the journey. We had a good run.

I smiled as I looked at my fellow little old lady, hobbling down the trail with me. Helene silenced my inner chatter with three short words:

“I’m coming back.”

Chasing Giants

 Hiking the entire Ko'olau Summit Trail in one through-hike was a dream I had always thought was wildly raw, beautiful, savage, and impossible. But one thing the mountains taught me this year is that the first step to reaching your goals is to actually believe in them.

This was the first of three attempts hiking the Ko'olau Summit Trail.

4/11/2015 Day 1: 

Dark chocolate is amazing

The day started at 7am in Pupukea - two hefty backpacks with a couple of woman strapped to their backside. Helene and I hugged Jessica goodbye, the third lady of our group and our woman on the ground.“Make sure your tracking device is working!” she chirped in her mother-bird voice.This was it! After months of preparation, we were finally hiking the Ko’olau Summit Trail.

The Ko’olau Mountain range is the crumbling remains of a shield volcano on the island of Oahu. It’s the breathtaking backdrop to a place many call home, but to a very small group of people, it’s a unique trek. There are many hikes up the sides of the mountain range, but not many people hike along the summit line. The first part, the Ko'olau Summit Trail, is the remainder of an old contour trail. After the official trail ends, the summit line climbs along the spine. Altogether, it's a 52 mile stretch that runs from the North end of the island to the Southeast. While the highest point is only 3100 feet, the length involves climbing a total of 26,000 feet of elevation gain following the rise and fall of mountain peaks formed by fire, wind, and weather. It’s an obscure trek that few people care or even know about.

But for us, it was completely captivating.

We spent hours staring at these ridge lines on Google Earth

We spent hours staring at these ridge lines on Google Earth

It took all of about 20 minutes for the excitement to wear off and the pain to set in. My knees wobbled under 45 pounds of camera gear, camping supplies, a week of food, and dark chocolate.

"Dark chocolate is amazing"

This was the very first note we wrote at the top of our gear revision list. The thoughtful list was compiled after a two day series of misadventures that we called “gear testing.” It started with a beautiful sunset under our ultralight tarp tent.

It ended with a 3am chase after the blown away tarp and a sleepless struggle to stay warm and dry in the rain. The only thing that kept our spirits up was two squares of dark chocolate wrapped in a piece of crinkled foil. No doubt about it, chocolate was essential.

But altogether everything was HEAVY! The straps of my pack chomped into my shoulders.  There was a little goblin stabbing a five inch dagger under my shoulder blade.

I HATE the world. Absolutely hate it. My knees were already creaking for a rocking chair. It was impossible to think about anything but the pain. Pain and torture.

“Why are you doing this to yourself, you idiot! You can’t do this and you know it.”

WHY WHY WHY WHY WHY

We only knew of two people who had ever done the trek in one shot. After the first man documented hiking the entire length in 2012 in one self-sufficient trek (meaning no supply or water drops along the way), numerous athletes and backpackers were inspired to fly to Hawaii to attempt the trek in this way and failed. It’s not the typical mountain climb or trail run. It's dangerous. It can be deadly. It requires not just physical strength, but also an understanding of the unique terrain, weather, and navigational factors of Hawaii. It’s climbing loose crumbly terrain with a heavy pack, navigating a confusing network of trails in dense fog and jungle, hunting down unreliable water sources, and a constant fight against shifting weather patterns.

Helene blithely ambled behind me singing random bits of songs. She stopped to admire the different trees, feel the textures of the colored patches of bark, and inhale the sweet eucalyptus. “Look at those little roots hanging down, it’s like they want to be trees!” Helene pointed to a Banyan tree.

She wasn't even breaking a sweat.

I knew I wasn't strong enough for the trek, but Helene Dumais was.

 I'd first met her in the summer of 2014, which is when I told her about the trek. She was equally intrigued. I might not be capable, but if she did the trek, I could document it as an inspirational story about women adventurers. Originally, it was supposed to be her and one other ultra runner, but in the end, the other woman couldn't make it. Hiking alone in Hawaii is extremely dangerous. Shortly before Helene arrived, a solo hiker disappeared on one of the climbing sections of the trails, and still hadn't been found. So Helene got a SPOT satellite tracker. I agreed to go with her as far as I could, and then hike up at different sections to check on her and document.

At this point, I wasn't sure I'd make it past the first day. It wasn't long into the trail before we met the bushes.

THE HORRIBLE BUSH MONSTER.

The bushes didn’t just cross the path, they consumed it. When I tried to push through, they scratched and clawed at me, leaving red marks streaked across my neck. I took a step forward, only to be pulled back by bushes  viciously grabbing onto various parts of me. I sucked sticky spider webs down my pipes with each gasp as I struggled to push my way through.

I set my pack down to catch my breath. The top section of my pack has been partially detached by the powerful grip of the brown thorny masses.

THAT’S IT! I'VE HAD ENOUGH OF THIS! I AM GOING TO DESTROY YOU BUSHES!

Cue music: final countdown.  An epic battle was going down. I purposefully grabbed a handful of crunchy brown spindly branches between my US diver gloves and snapped them in half, just to make a point.

Take THAT, you bushes.

I sweated and struggled to fashion reattach the top of my pack with 550 paracord. Helene came up from behind, giggling. “Oh, these bushes are so lovely!”

The woman’s in her own world.

“What the heck is lovely about these bushes?” (everything is Alexanderandtheterriblehorriblenogoodverybadday right now)“They just love me so much!”“Oh, loving!”“Hehe, yes, loving! They don’t want to let me go!”You can’t go wrong with a French Canadian backpacking companion. The vivacious delivery of Frenglish phrases alone was enough to shake any bad mood. And she did have a way of looking at things.

"Liz, your own worst enemy is yourself."

My friend had laughingly told me this three years ago when I was flipping out on a hike. Now, the phrase was playing on repeat in my head.

Current mood: Aggravated with a hint of amused

We fixed my backpack together, and soon reached a summit with a clearing and views.

The green hills stacked against each other to block out any view of the city that we were in just a few hours ago. After hours of fighting through dense bushes, I was just happy to have clear space around my head.

“Oh yeah!” admired Helene, “Now you’re calling!”

“Talking?”

“Maybe?”

Slowly, a rhythm emerged. Whatever it was, this was the feeling I had been looking for. I was pretty sure the little goblin still had his dagger in my shoulder, but I wasn’t sure. My mind wouldn’t even give the pains the time of day; it had run off to frolic in the vast greenery. Everything started to move faster, one foot in front of the other.

 After a bumble in a confusing bog, we found ourselves at the cabin.

Helene perused our maps and munched on our rations of cold water and nutrient-infused mashed potatoes.

 I flipped through the stories in the logbook. One theme was consistent in the scribbles: “Look out for the rats.” “Rats live in the rafters now.” “Rats ate my special chocolate.““Do you hear that scrabbling sound above us?” We strained our ears, eyeing the rafters suspiciously. Suddenly, the light filtering through the dusty windows changed to a distinct golden glow. 

Somebody had graciously left a large oversized pair of rubber boots by the door. Helene slipped her petite feet into the fourty-sizes-too-big shoes, and together we clomped up the hill to get a better view of the sunset.

he thick layers of dense clouds acted like a dark filter, and made it possible to follow the distinct outline of the sun all the way down in its descent. It was eerily quiet as we watched the small round disk slide behind the dark peaks. A soft breeze of clouds and air swirled around us as we tripped our way back down the hill to our beds.

One solid chunk of dark chocolate down and my aches and pains were a distant memory. I drifted off into a content sleep- warm, dry, and hopeful.

Dark chocolate is truly amazing.

4/12/2015 Day 2: The Giant in the mountains

rats.

2:28am

I was awoken from the fog of a rodent dream by the distinct feeling of something in my sleeping bag.

SOMETHING IS IN MY SLEEPING BAG.

Half asleep, I shook my legs in the bag, and felt a soft fist-sized lump bump up against my leg.

Rats.

RATS

RATS!!!

“AHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHH” I screamed. I hopped around like a maniac until I managed to wriggle out of the bag, still screaming, and fumbled for my headlamp. By this time, Helene was fully awake.

“What is it?”

“RATTTSS!!! AHHHHHHH!!” I switched my headlamp on to its fullest beam and frantically shook my sleeping bag upside down to eradicate the intruder. A dark lump fell out. My pair of extra socks rolled menacingly to the floor. You just never know when a pair of socks will get a mind of their own and turn against you.

We look at each other and shook until the entire hill was pealing with laughter. It didn’t matter. We were in the middle of nowhere, miles from anybody else, just two girls in the mountain.

I knew for a fact the rats were up there in the roof, peering down from the rafter beams and cackling at us behind their tiny clawed hands.

We woke up again a few hours later. The early morning mountain range was one thick blanket of foggy white.“Ave Maria….” Neither of us knew all the words.

Like it mattered.

Helene added a latin rendition while I swept the cabin and she scrubbed our pot from our granola breakfast. There’s something decidedly both eerie and calming about singing in the clouds.

Putting on cold muddy socks and pants was like wrapping a cold slimy snail around our skin. We had optimistically hung our clothes up to dry. Silly, silly girls. Nothing EVER dries when you are up in the Ko’olaus.

My backpack was now one dinner and lunch lighter, and the pain in my shoulder felt more like a familiar friend than arch enemy.

We stepped out onto the trail and straight into knee high mud, setting the theme for the day.

Squelch, suck, squeak.

It was a bit of a struggle to stay balanced in all the mud, plus I had my new backpack. I remembered reading about the special new technology.

“This pack uses a custom 3D pivoting hipbelt for dynamic load transfer. Because the shoulder straps and hipbelt move with you, friction and hot spots are eliminated.”

It had sounded promising. Eliminating hot spots was good, right?

Maybe on a normal trail. The Ko’olou Summit Ridge is not a normal trail. Every time I slipped, my pack swung on my hip to compensate. But my pack was already really heavy, and as I slipped, my pack would swivel even further, hurling me into the ground with 45 pounds of force. Eventually my backpack and I shook hands and agreed that we were going to be going separate ways for the rest of the day.

Squelch. Suck. Thud! Helene and I pulled ourselves up from the mud, wiping hair out of our faces with our muddy paws. Helene burst out laughing as she looked at my face, and I laughed as I saw her disheveled hair and muddy streaks on her cheek. “Do I have mud on my face too?”

We weren't alone. Other pigs had left trails that criss crossed with ours, and we found ourselves wandering around in a boggy forest. The trees were covered in thick clumps of dangling moss.

We were lost.

We turned around and retraced our steps until we found the trail. We repeated this about five more times.

Around lunchtime, human figures appeared in the distance at the top of the approaching peaks. After two days of isolation, we were bummed to see people, but it marked our arrival at the Poamoho summit, which was incredibly clear and sunny.

 I had a feeling we might be paying for that clear summit later. 

We arrived at the next cabin around with the entire afternoon free to clean and plan. A look at the weather confirmed our worst fears. The weather had shifted, and a rainy streak was coming in fast. The three worst climbing sections were still ahead of us -- the “saddles.” There was no crossing the saddles unless the weather was clear and dry. 

We’d have to race to make the most of the last few days of clear skies before the rain swept in, so we might as well leave any excess food behind, and travel as quickly as we could.

“It’s in the box!” grinned Helene triumphantly.

“What box?” I glanced around.

“You know, it’s in the box. We’ve got this!”

“I think you mean it’s in the bag. And yeah it is!”

When I said it, I believed it. Helene’s persistently perky optimism was rubbing off on me.

Current Mood: Quiet calm, when your heart beats in rhythm with the rise and fall of the mountain ridge, and all else is silenced.

Somewhere in our muddy struggle, I had let go of my own internal struggle. Not only were we lightening our packs by eating through our food, but the giant load on my mind had been lightened as well. We were feeling silly and giddy, light and happy. We were having fun. For the first time, I had a bold thought. Maybe I actually could do this whole trail!

Helene clomped in from washing our dish outside, wearing an oversized pair of slippers she had found to spare her feet from our wet shoes. “I think there is a giant living in these mountains,” she said, “and he goes stomping around leaving his massive boots and slippers in different places. Wherever he is at, I think we’re getting closer.”

4/13/15 Day 3: It’s in the box

The small ping of Helene’s watch was enough to wake me up, but it was still dark outside. Helene slept right through her alarm. Everything was so warm and cozy. It sounded so cold and wet outside. I could sleep all day.

The lullaby of comfort was drowned out by the voice of the little inner photographer shouting in my face. “GOOOOOOOOD MORNINGGG RISE AND SHINE! Sunrises are always worth the struggle, you know this!”

I sighed, and swung my feet onto the floor in resignation.“Helene, wake up, your alarm went off.”

We did the cold-wet-clothes-dressing dance, and shuffled out onto the trail. The trail from here was easy and clear to see. We were finally on a nice section of the contour that cut through the mountain.About time.The contour led us around the corner and out to the windward side where we could see the….OH.MY.GOD.

It was a sunrise sundae. The same view from the summit yesterday, but this time the cones were topped with cotton candy clouds and dripping in brilliant golden hues. The clouds slowly lifted and permitted rays of carmel to flow into the valleys. Rays so vibrant we could taste them - sweet, syrupy, melt in your mouth delight. The flowers and seed tops of the plants waved gently, and the dew drops on a spider web caught the light like a million diamonds.

I inhaled deeply - everything was so fresh and clean and pure.

The world is amazing. I love the world. Absolutely love it. 

“Oh my god oh my god oh my god!” Helene moaned.

The woman has a point. Drunk on the mountain morning, we stumbled through the next five hours of no man’s land to the beginning of the true ridgeline hiking. No more contours -- just straight climbing up and down from here on out. 

e made a short climb off to the side to filter some water out of a puddle. Small little dead bugs floated on the surface in serenity. They seemed to have enjoyed their last sips.

"I'll have what she's having."

We tossed in purification pills, crossed our fingers, and started hiking again.

We were climbing out of the gap, our first major dip in the ridgeline, when a sheet of rain slammed into us sideways with the pricks of 10,000 microscopic soldiers with spears.

Or maybe those squatting little green army men with the bayonets raised over their heads. I hate stepping on those, they're the WORST.

he rain had caught on to our plan to speed past it, and matched our pace.

The bastard.

I huddled on the edge of a one foot crumbling edge and pushed myself against a bush while I hurriedly packed my camera into a drybag. Too late. The buttons were already malfunctioning.

I silently cursed.

We got to flat campable spot with ten minutes of remaining light, one ultra light tarp, one trekking pole, and a few small stakes and strings. The only spot with enough shelter and space for both of us was under a low hanging mossy bush-tree.

After a brief struggle we assembled something that bore a resemblance to an oversized and mis-shapen yellow starfish. The strings pulling the sides of the tarp out at random angles and attaching to various pieces of tree and ground.

But we were finally out of the pouring rain. The shelter of the little starfish felt like a five star hotel. And I was starting to acquire a taste for that cold capt'n crunch potato mix.

Our sleeping bags weren’t warm enough, so we lined them with our emergency blankets. I fell asleep shivering and hugging my camera to my chest.

Pitter-patter. Drip-drip. Scuttle-scuttle. Slimey slimeeee…...

It was 1am. Something was definitely on my face. Yep. It was moving. Centipedes?

Come on Liz, camping in Hawaii under a tree in a wet area with an open tarp, and you didn’t expect that?

I slowly reached one hand and flicked a long creepy crawly off my face. Somehow, after surviving the attack of the great rat the night before, a centipede didn’t seem so bad. If we could survive that, we could survive anything.

“It’s in the box.”

Day 4. 4/14/2015 “Live to try another day.”

I shivered miserably and hugged my muddy pants to my chest. It was time to face the facts. We were enveloped in a cloud of thick grey. The rain was here to stay for the next four days. Trying to hike the saddles in the rain would be like playing Russian Roulette in reverse- five bullets and one empty chamber.

I texted Jessica:

"If we come down, I'm not going to have the strength to do the first part again." "Maybe just Helene can go back once the weather clears. She can hike it really fast from the beginning, and you can just go up farther down and meet up with her with your camera a few days later."

It sounded great to my knees and shoulders. My body was done. It was our original plan. So why was that idea bothering me so much now?

We dejectedly packed up our little starfish and bailed down Manana, a side trail.

It was the point where I’d planned to end my trek.  But my plan had backfired. It might have been some of the mountain magic. It might have been some of Helene’s annoyingly persistent optimism.

As soon as the rain cleared, I knew she was going back and starting the trail all over again from the very beginning so she could do it the entire thing in one shot. And I was going back to the beginning of the trail with her.

I wasn’t sure how, but that didn’t matter. For once, I was starting to believe in my goals. For myself. Where there's a will, there's a way.

I'd figure it out. Right now, the only thing that mattered was that every single step I took was closing the gap between me and a hot steamy mocha.

Note:  Huge thanks to the hiking community in Hawaii for everything they do to make it possible for people to keep on enjoying the mountains. While this is a hiking story, this is not intended to be an informational guide. It is merely a story for entertainment purposes. Do not rely on anything written here for actual hiking information. Many trails are closed to the public and not safe. Consult the Na Ala Website for information on hiking trails and permitting. The writer is not responsible for any accidents, injuries, rescues, inconvenience, or loss of life by anyone attempting hikes mentioned. It is the responsibility of the reader to know their limits and abilities before attempting any outdoor activity, and use common sense and good judgement.

Poli Poli: Maui's Mystical Forest

I’ve found the cure for island fever, and it’s a passage through a mystical land of death and life.

It all started sitting in the parking lot for Haleakala National Park with Andrew, my partner in crime. T minus eight hours until our flight left Maui to fly home to Oahu. We had finished all our photo shoots, and we had time to kill. It began as a simple question, and quickly escalated into a debate of mature complexity.

“What do you want to do?

“I don’t know, what do YOU want to do?”

“I asked you first.”

“I asked you second. I’m down for anything.”

“Me too. What do you feel like?”

I fidgeted, and the folds of the car seat sucked my frame into their sweaty leather grip. After so many years, all of Hawaii's beaches and volcanic rock features can start to look the same. In the absence of a grand jury, I summoned an arbitrator with my fingertips. Google had a few suggestions - one stood out. Polipoli Spring State Recreation Area. The name was fun and jolly. It was downright roly-poly dandy.

Polipoli State Recreational Park is located halfway up the backside of Haleakala crater, 6,200 feet above sea-level. A thick girdle of fog wraps around the midline of the swelling crater. Cool air floats through fresh green foliage and mixes with the fragrance of rich red dirt. It lends an autumn-like ambience to the place, which befits the towering redwoods, cypress, sugi, and ash trees.

The gavel descended on the dashboard with resolve. Polipoli, we find you --- WORTHY OF ADVENTURE. We began the drive with the alacrity of two kids clutching a treasure map.

The trailhead for the redwood forest is about an hour drive from the entrance to Haleakala park. Within the first five minutes, Andrew was passed out, snoring softly from the passenger seat.

Textbook case of a chocolate-chip-cookie overdose.

I woke him up when the pavement melted into puddles of sticky mud. The sign was clear: four wheel drive required.  The trailhead was still miles away. We analyzed our arsenal against the texture of our opponent ahead. Smooth is a subjective term when pitting a two wheel drive rental against a backcountry road.

Fight? Flight? Fight? Flight?

hile we deliberated, an archaic Lexus passed and charged ahead.

Fight.

I was all too happy to let Andrew drive. On a scale of zero to slamming-on-imaginary-passenger-side-brakes-and-swearing, it was a manageable six. We made it to the trailhead with only a few insignificant hairs on my arms standing at attention.

The hairs still at rest quickly joined in a standing ovation as I stepped outside the car.

Cold wisps of fog slithered between the stark spines of lifeless trees. The spindly remains of those that had fallen were strewn across the forest floor in a Paul Bunyan sized game of pick-up-sticks. I had an unsettling feeling that I had pranced into a morgue.

We learned the forest had been massacred in 2007 by a fire of epic proportions. The flames raged through 2,300 acres for days on end. Restoration has been ongoing for the past eight years, but complete restoration on that level takes decades. The remains serve as a poignant memorial to the 100-foot fallen giants.

We later met a man at the airport who claimed his cousin had started the fire in a camping accident. "Drinking too many beers and lit one campfire. Hah!" He chuckled, happy to contribute his piece to the puzzle. However it began, there's no question how things ended.

A couple exiting the trail wagged their heads. “Not much to see there, it’s all dead.”

We were drawn into the murky depths by a combination of wistful hope and macabre allure. Inside the trail, the ashen branches of trees extended like spiny white skeletal rib cages. Rotting carcasses lined the side of the trail. The only signs of life were the trails of hoofprints that crisscrossed with the path; marks of the famed bounty of feral pigs and goats that attracts hunters from across the state.

But there were survivors. Further down the trail, glimmers of hope emerged from the remains. Green branches waved from atop scarred trunks, and little sprigs of life sprouted from their sides. Sunlight filtered through the new life and warmed a fuzzy carpet of viridescent moss.

We stopped to take in the feels. It was something different. Refreshing. You might say even more refreshing than a diet pepsi.

As the wind shifted, a blanket of fog crept in and caressed us with its cool and slippery touch.

The light was fading, so we turned and headed back toward the car.

As we drove back, we pulled off to the side of the road to savor the last moments of sunset and watched the clouds roll in over the city.

We climbed back in the car, and Andrew began winding down the narrow road towards the airport at a moderate speed of three-and-a-half.

“We still two hours before our plane leaves. What do you want to do?”

“I don’t care, what do you want to do?”

"Cookie?"

808 Cleanups

 Meet Michael Loftin, co-founder of 808 Cleanups.

Michael loves trail running, stand up paddleboarding, and a variety of other outdoor activities. Being active in nature has not only helped Michael cultivate a healthy lifestyle, but also stirred up a recognition of the symbiotic relationship humans have with their environment. With this awareness has come a sense of stewardship, which led Michael to co-found 808 Cleanups with Wayde Fishman. It's their way of taking care of their playground.

808 cleanups has three main problem areas they target: cleaning graffiti off natural surfaces, ocean debris, and trash collection.

Volunteers track and report new graffiti as it arises on natural landscape features, and people volunteer to form cleanup groups to tackle the problem areas. This is Michael in front of the newly cleaned "pride rock" along the Lanikai pillbox hike. Using the brushes shown above, along with a kit of cleaners and other supplies, volunteers removed all the graffiti from this area and restored the rock to it's original state.

 808 cleanups literally plays janitor of the ocean, arranging ocean cleanups in coordination with divers, ocean lovers, and other concerned individuals. These cleanups target retrieving trash left in the deep blue, not only to keep the ocean beautiful, but also to remove hazards for the ocean wildlife.

Some of the largest areas of participation in 808 Cleanups come from collecting bags of trash on trails, beaches, and other areas. Many residents have begun to adopt local trails and beaches in their neighborhoods, setting regular times to patrol and maintain these areas. Michael promotes these cleanups by sharing their reports from their cleanups on social media and growing the hype with the hashtag #808cleanups.

In addition to encouraging people to adopt areas, the group hosts many cleanup events that bring together the community in person. During their last cleanup on tantalus, numerous groups and individuals came together to join the cause, including members of Travel 2 Change, Diamondhead Hui, Hawaii Adventure Tours, and numerous other groups. Together, the group cleaned up over 2,000 lbs of trash together. That's some serious stinking business!

If you're interested in adopting one of the areas near you, or pitching in on a cleanup, you can check out the group here: https://www.facebook.com/groups/808cleanups/

 

Lessons Learned in Team Adventure

Adventure:

verb

 “To engage in hazardous and exciting activity, especially the exploration of unknown territory.”

Dust particles cloud the air as ultra runner Helene slides sideways on a vertical slope of shale. A loose rock breaks out from under her feet and ricochets down the hundreds of feet of vertical canyon wall we have been clinging to for the past four hours. We’re on the hunt for a plane wreck, a seemingly large object, but right about now it feels more like a needle in a haystack. This is our first day training in these operations, and we had not anticipated this terrain. Occasionally, a coarse smattering of desert brush provides some aid for our desperately scrabbling feet, but at the cost of slicing what remains of our tender hands. I am not an ultra runner- I am completely out of my league. I hike, climb, and surf, but rigid training has never been a part of my daily routine, and now I am paying the price as I try to keep up with this team of elite athletes in front of me. Slowly, Helene becomes nothing more than a small purple dot far in front of me, and as I pause to wipe my red and sweaty face, I fight the urge to give up. With this team, there is no man left behind, and the fact that my surrender would come at the sacrifice of the team’s mission motivates me to push myself to new heights my body has not previously known.

As the popularity of adventure sports has exponentially grown, there is an increasing focus on the me, myself, and I of adventure. Adventure athletes are constantly trying to out-do each other’s latest feats, pushing themselves to new levels of danger and thrill. With this increasing focus on individual achievement, “others” is sometimes interpreted as “obstacles,” and the benefits of team adventure are often overlooked. While individual quests have their own inspirational aspects, there are some unique lessons I learned from adventuring with a team.

I had the opportunity to tag along as a photographer on the hunt for Lt. Steeve’s jet with Adventure Science, a group of elite athletes who work together on missions such as these to use their skills for greater causes- science, knowledge, and, when necessary, search and rescue.  For this mission, a team of athletes flew into Los Angeles from a vast range of locations stretching across the globe.

In order to understand the intrigue of this mission, let’s take a step back in time to the spring of 1957 in the high Sierra Nevada mountains, where the adventure originally started with a lone man, stranded alone for an astounding 53 days. Lt. David Steeves, a test pilot in the Air Force, left San Francisco on May 9, 1957 was forced to eject over the Sierra Nevadas after a plane failure. Steeves landed in the middle of the wilderness with nothing but his parachute for shelter, and two badly injured ankles from the impact of his landing.  He survived the next few days of agony crawling through snow and treacherous terrain, and eventually stumbled across a ranger’s cabin with food and supplies. What followed was a wilderness survival experience akin to “Into the Wild,” hunting and gathering to survive. Fifty three days later he stumbled upon a group of hunters and was miraculously rescued. Countless searches were conducted to find the remains of the plane, but with no luck.  His stories of survival came under close scrutiny. Accusations began to fly around that he had sold the plane to the Russians and faked the whole thing. He was discharged from the air force, and his marriage dissolved. Steeves survival skills in the rugged Sierra Nevadas had saved his life, only for it to be destroyed by vicious gossip and speculation of society. Countless investigations, psychological studies and profiles, and re-combing facts turned up with nothing. Steeves spent the remainder of his life fighting to clear his name, and later died, ironically, in another plane wreck.

The mystery remained stagnant until 1978, when a troup of boy scouts discovered a jet canopy in Kings Canyon. The serial numbers were checked and found to match the serial number of Steeves jet. Finally- resolution of the black stain that had followed Steeves to his grave. Still, some held firm to the original speculations, stating the canopy was light and easy to drop and plant as evidence.  Until something solid was found, there was still room for speculation.

And thus, 57 years later, a team of qualified individuals gathered to crack the case open once more, in hope of finding the ejection seat, maybe even the plane itself, setting the facts straight, and vindicating the ghosts of Steeves’ tarnished name.

1. A well picked team is the key to success

Picking quality team members is crucial to the success of the team. Simon Donato, head of Adventure Science, spent a good deal of time in the months leading up to the trip reviewing applications and skyping with potential athletes before selecting the best applicants for the team.  “When you’re out in the middle of the wilderness, you don’t want any surprises,” he said, “you need to be confident in the capabilities of each team member.” As we began the long road trip towards Bishop, it made for a great time to swap stories and get to know each other. While everyone was eager to charge off into the mountains, this quiet downtime getting to know each other was valuable as well.  The women from the team all packed into one car for the long trip, and we began to hear each other’s stories of inspiration and hope. Together, each individual brought their own unique strengths and experiences to form a cohesive and indestructible team of wilderness detectives.

Wanda Summers is a personal trainer and ultra runner from Great Britain, and her smile and positive spirit exude strength. Wanda broke her back and the doctors told her she would never walk again, but she stubbornly ignored these admonitions, forcing herself to push through painful exercises for hours every day. “When things start to hurt,” she says, “You just tell your brain to stop listening to the pain- they’re just signals. Your body is capable of much more than you think possible.”

Helene Dumais

is a vivacious French Canadian athlete and health coach from Montreal. Helene bubbles over with energy, enthusiasm, and an overall love for life. Some people say Italians talk with their hands- well Helene talks with her body. She moves with artful precision and control, led by her ridiculously firm and toned mid-section. Helene is a feel good person- her smile, genuine interest, and bright eyes elicit stories and laughs the whole ride up into the mountain.

Jane Davis

brings encouragement and a nurturing spirit to the group. From the minute she first walks in the door, she enthusiastically introduces herself to everyone and begins cracking jokes as her laughter reverberates down the hallway and fills the house with warmth. Jane lost her husband to prostate cancer, but she didn’t let herself sink into depression- like Wanda, she used the pain as motivation to push herself to new levels as she began competing and finding healing in the outdoors. She joined a team of other athletes who have faced losses due to prostate cancer, Team Winter, founded by our other female team member, Winter Vinecki.

Winter Vinecki

was only nine years old when she lost her dad to prostate cancer. Even as a young girl, she knew she wanted to use this experience to help others, and so with the help of her mom, she founded Team Winter, a non-profit to raise money for prostate cancer research and awareness. At the time, she was already well on her way to becoming an elite athlete, as she ran her first triathlon at age 5, and completed her first Olympic triathlon at age 9. This streak continued as she recently became a winter olympics 2018 hopeful in aerial skiing, and the youngest person to complete a marathon on Antartica. At 16 years of age, she is the youngest on the team, but she speaks with resounding determination and spunk.

The whole time we’re getting to know each other,

Simon Donato

is driving, making dry remarks, laughing, and shaking his head at how he found himself on a trip with a car full of woman. Simon Donato is the fearless leader and instigator of this whole adventure- a scientist and athlete, he founded Adventure Science as a way to combine athletic skills and scientific knowledge and apply them to solve mysteries, search and rescue, and conduct outdoor research to benefit the greater good. He now stars in Boundless, an adventure travel show on the Esquire network, and organized this search during his down time before starting the 3rd season. Thankfully, Simon has some male companionship for the long trip, as Jordan Eady is riding shotgun and they are caught up in their own witty banter and recounting old memories.

Jordan and Josh Eady

, also known as the Eady brothers, have known Simon since University.

While Simon was off studying science and competing in athletic events, they were developing their skills as filmmakers, running down the streets of Toronto chasing bands and making music videos, developing innovative and creative media on multiple fronts. They later teamed up with Simon Donato to pitch the idea of the show Boundless to a TV network. The idea stuck, and they were granted the funds to film the first season. They filmed the pilot episode in Hawaii on the Molokai to Oahu stand up paddleboard race, where I met them back in 2012 while tagging along on the escort boat. Jordan and Josh are a dynamic duo you’ll not soon forget. The stories, jokes, and facial expressions as they toss dialogue back and forth like a hot potato make for scenarios that brought us to tears laughing.

Every team adventure needs an eagle scout. The one with the extra supplies, extra batteries, first aid training, and a sharp eye for potential dangers. You wake up at 6am and open the flap of your tent, bleary eyed, only to discover they’re sitting outside next to a fully prepared backpack, 10 liters of filtered water, and a sling and guaze, just in case.

Tim Puetz

is that man. Tim Puetz is a former officer in the US Army, and now works in public health in DC. It’s clear to see there is a special piece of him that comes to life when he’s working with a team in the outdoors. When a couple of boys stumbled on our camp with a deep head injury, Tim was quick to jump to action, sterilizing and sealing the wound, all the while talking to the boys in a calm voice and assuring them they would be alright.

2. Planning and preparation is crucial

A lot of thought and preparation went into this search, long before the athletes even set foot in California. The effective operation and safety of the team depended on well constructed planning and base logistics. This is where the other three members of the team came into play- Keith Szlater, Chris Killian, and Mike Killian. While they were unable to join us beyond the pass, they were crucial elements in leading the first initial search operations for the smaller wrecks, and immeasurably valuable resources on the ground to prepare us for what lay over Bishop pass.

Keith Szlater

has been a vital member of the adventure science team for a long time, and has gone through a lot of work to make sure the logistics of communication and team safety are covered. He gives us a briefing on proper use of the radios to stay in contact with the rest of the team as we prepare to spread out and begin searching. Together with Simon and Tim, he coaches us on proper methods for scanning the canyon walls thoroughly, without dropping rocks on each other. It turns out maintaining a safe and still effective formation in terrain like this is slightly less complicated than choreographing a herd of penguins to walk a tight rope while tracing the letters of the alphabet, but he talks us through it and breaks it down. Never turn your back on Keith- he always has something up his sleeve, whether it’s the Russian anthem to salute our “Putin” leader Simon, or extra treats to perk our spirits up when we are tired and exhausted. That twinkle in his eye was a spark to keep our fire going in the nights to follow.

Chris and Mike Killian compiled extensive knowledge and resources on plane wrecks to back this entire search. An affinity for aviation runs in the family- his son Mike lent his skills as a pilot to navigate a small craft overhead to scout the areas in advance from the air. Chris now devotes a large portion of time to researching the unsolved mysteries of different plane wrecks, and reaches from an impressive repertoire to tell stories about drug money, scandals, and hidden secrets that come to light with the unveiling of the stories behind each plane wreck.  In order to determine a starting point, Chris uses the intel from where the canopy was found, combined with the wind patterns and other information from the day of the crash. Along with the help of a volunteer math whiz named Corin Bowin (who is completing a physics MSc at the University Michigan), they create a trajectory within where they think the metal ejection seat has landed in the Dusy Basin. This map provides our guide to begin our search.

Behind the scenes was Melissa Stewart, who I never had the pleasure of meeting, but she relayed messages, ensured effective communication on behalf of the team while we were deep in the woods, and spent hours putting together and maintaining a blog to track our progress.

With this team of diverse backgrounds and strengths, we were fully prepared to take on the tasks ahead of us.

3. Flexibility allows the team to benefit from the strengths of each member

Originally, the plan was to pack the entire team, including base operations with their radio equipment and solar panels, over the pass with the use of mules, and spend the week based in Grouse Meadows, performing daily searches from the base camp within. Unfortunately, there was still too much snow on the pass for the mules to make the trek, and it was impossible to pack that much gear on foot. We decided to spend a few days in the area waiting out the snow and searching for other plane wrecks that Chris and Mike had spotted from the air, but hadn’t ground truthed yet.  While this delayed our initial plans to search for Steeve’s plane, the day hunts through the canyons and mountains led to the successful ground truthing of two wrecks, and the entire team learned a lot about communication, search patterns, and just how small a plane wing in the middle of the mountains can really be.

These skills prepared us for the coming days, and although the snow forced us to finally go ahead and hike over the pass on foot without base camp, we had the reassurance of knowing two master base camp logistics were waiting on the other side, ready to help, and we were much more prepared to conduct our search within the Dusy Basin.

4. Communicate goals to maintain a clear focus

Each evening ended with a briefing for the goals of the next day, and summarizing of the day’s accomplishments. This not only allowed us to take pride in our accomplishments, but prepare our minds for the task ahead of us. Furthermore, it gave us a chance to rally each other for the next task. I’m not going to lie, I was not used to these kind of missions. After a day of hiking many miles with a heavy pack, chasing people around with my camera, and fighting elevation sickness at 12,000 feet, I found myself thinking to myself “this is it. Tomorrow is the day I’m going to quit.” But somehow when we talked through the goals together as a group, it brought my focus back to our original goals, and this shared group focus helped me keep my eyes on the prize.

5. When one person succeeds, the team succeeds

Shortly after Helene disappeared in the canyon walls on that first day of training, my radio crackled with her voice- “Base camp, I’ve found the plane!” Those words sent shivers down all of our spines, and we quickly oriented ourselves in the direction of the wreck. As we combed over the ruins, each and every team member was smiling and congratulating each other. Helene had been the first to find the plane, but the entire team was sharing in the victory and congratulating each other.

One very important difference in team adventure is this type of mentality- all victory is shared, and likewise, all struggles are shared.  This mindset set the tone for the actions of the entire group for the remainder of the week, and was part of the glue that held the group together so tightly. For that week in time, each team member ceased to be a “me,” and became a part of the greater “we,” and the burdens became lighter and the victories sweeter.

6. Teams go farther because they push each other to persevere

Vince Lombardi Jr. said “The difference between a successful person and others is not a lack of strength, nor a lack of knowledge, but rather a lack in will.”

I thought I was pretty tough. Then I met these athletes, and they blew me out of the water. We were off trail, scouring cliff sides, and they charged up vertical inclines, clinging to nothing but loose rock, testing each foot and hand hold, dodging the falling rocks that broke loose. Not only did they navigate this terrain effortlessly, but at quick speeds, with incredible aerobic stamina and astounding strength. Each day I wanted to quit, and I found myself coming up with excuses internally. I’m not an ultra runner. I don’t train. My cardio is shot. I can’t do what these athletes do.

And then, in these moments of weakness, I found inspiration in the other team member’s stories. Each had faced a variety of challenges that all made my miseries seem small. They provided encouraging words: “Set your mind on the goal and you can make it happen.” “Don’t stop, you will get stronger.” “If you say you can’t, then you can’t. If you say you can, you will.” These phrases rang with truth, and I drew inspiration to keep going.

I took a deep breath, picked up my pack, swung it back over the welts, cinched the waist straps. Stepped onto my blistered toes, and told myself- it’s just pain, nothing more. And where I would have quit and called it a day, this team coached me to complete more physically challenging day missions than I had ever accomplished before in my life. Had I been alone, I would have given up long before. But sometimes that’s the beauty of being a part of a team that doesn’t let you quit- they pull you up right alongside them, and you realize you can achieve more than you ever dreamed possible.

7. Adventure is about the journey

In the end, we didn’t find the Lt. Steeves jet. The snowy conditions had left us with only two days to scour the basin  area, and with the amount of ground we needed to cover, the chances of covering the area that contained the ejection seat within those two days were slim. But we didn’t leave Bishop dejected- far from it. I will tell you that the hike out on the final day seemed like it would never end, and when we reached the parking lot it was one of the most beautiful things I had ever seen. And when I heard Keith telling us that him and Chris were on their way to pick us up, those were some of the most beautiful words I’ve ever heard. But looking back on the trip, those final moments of completion were not the moments that I cherished the most.

The moments that lingered in my mind were the moments on the trail, radioing back and forth to establish locations and secure our search paths. The moments of careful planning and preparation. The moments where we felt like the hiking would never end and all we could think about was our next meal. The moments when we rounded a bend to open up to a breathtaking meadow, a shimmering waterfall, or a towering mountain ridgeline. The moments when one person radioed in to check out a shiny object and our hearts all skipped a beat. The strong communication between the team. The lifelong lessons learned, the feeling that no matter what, everybody had each other’s back.

You can rest assured members of this team will continue to search the area every chance they get, until the ghosts of Lt. Steeves are finally put to rest once and for all. But in the end, the success of the adventure isn’t defined alone by the end result. Like life, the best moments are in the process of the journey itself: what you learn about each other, and what you learn about yourself.  Because when you’re in a team, you don’t give up on each other, and you don’t let each other give up on themselves. Working with the Adventure Science team has given me inspiration to push myself to new limits I never would have previously thought possible.

In the words of the African proverb, “If you want to go fast, go alone. If you want to go far, go together.”

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