Tuesday, August 15, 2017

30 Days of Gratitude: Prompt 22

How's your Tuesday going? Hopefully it's the very best. I continue to enjoyably soak up this new morning ritual I have of journaling while sitting at the table for breakfast before heading out to work. Starting off a new, fresh day by reflecting, refocusing and writing away is wonderful. Try it, yo! Last night I stepped-up my training regimen for my upcoming backpacking trip in Rocky Mountain National Park come October. After a solid session rock climbing, I was craving some exhausting cardio. When I got home, I threw on my 50lb weight vest and went for an hour walk through the neighborhood at upbeat pace. What made this late evening workout even better? I got to chat on the phone with a great friend the entire time about all things life. Prompt number 22 cues a good response today, so let's do it.

Day 22: What Story Are You Grateful For?

I can't help but think back to my very first time doing a solo backpacking trip. Which was both so memorably fun but also a bit of a disaster filled with mistakes. It was during the winter of 2014 and I had just recently reacquired a strong thirst for the outdoors and nature. I was transitioning between careers and when I wasn't working or hanging out, I was pretty much always hiking or camping somewhere. Literally every weekend, outside as much as possible.

I decided that I wanted to break out of my comfort zone and really test myself by planning a winter backpacking trip to the northern Wisconsin/Michigan Upper Peninsula (da Yoop/UP!) border in the vast Menominee River State Recreation Area. I wasn't able to get an extra day off work and it was quite a drive to reach the trailhead so I drove up very early on a February, Saturday morning. When I got out of the car it was 18 degrees. I had done plenty of summer and a little bit of fall camping but this would be my first time fully-exposed to the elements of winter. I was a ecstatic though, I had all of my outdoor gear (or so I thought) and tons of energy. I strapped on my snowshoes, loaded up my pack and hiked a few hours out into wilderness. Shortly before sunset, I reached a flat ridge above the Menominee River, that was bustling below. Across the river, I could see northern Michigan. It was such a cool sight. I was straight exhausted though, underestimating how difficult it is to snowshoe through knee-deep snow with the a heavy pack (of course I over-packed) on your back. Mistake number one, make sure you're in the best physical shape you can be before taking on such endeavor.

Mistake number two, do not haul two, one-gallon jugs of water in the backcountry when it's below freezing. The water had completely froze by the time I pitched my tent and I was left with two solid-ice plastic milk jugs to haul back with me to my car the next afternoon (idiot, Robby, idiot move). Mistake number three, sure you have the right gear. At this time of my life when I was getting more into the outdoors, my twenty-four year-old self made a foolish assumption that the majority of my cheapo fall and summer camping/hiking gear would suffice in the cold. Wrong, wrong, dead wrong. The only thing that did? My brand-new, three-season, expensive backpacking tent. I didn't have waterproof boots, a down sleeping bag rated to below-zero, down jackets and outer shells, a footprint for my tent or a sleeping pad. I remember waking up in the middle of the night, looking at my watch and it was around 2AM. I grabbed my thermometer, squinted and read the temperature had reached close to -14. Why did I wake up? My feet were numb and I couldn't move them. I stripped my damp socks off and shining a headlamp on them, it seemed like frost bite had started. In a slight panic (which you should never do) I desperately grabbed as much warm clothing as I could and one of those silver, reflective emergency blankets you see on sale at gas stations, and wrapped it around my feet.

I eventually regained feeling in my feet and was able to get back to sleep, but at the same time I felt like a complete moron. Temperatures were in the low single digits the next crisp morning but it was incredibly quiet, beautiful and serene. The sky the most genuine shade of rich blue ever. Up until this overnight, I had never experienced raw wilderness at its unleashed max power. The prior night was filled with billions of stars above, the crashing sounds of the icy river and waterfalls below my tent, and frequent howling of wolves off in the distance. I wasn't scared though, rather just stuck in this constant amazement. Being able to wake up, unzip your tent and see Northern Michigan across the water out my vestibule is a vision I will never forget. I'm grateful that I have a story to tell like this, because it made me realize a lot of the stupid, amateur mistakes I made. You can bet since that fist solo backpacking trip that I've gone out and dropped serious cash on real outdoor gear for all sorts of different activities and conditions. I'd rather not run into those same mishaps in the backcountry again. I revisit this story often, smile and laugh.