What is it like to be a wilderness guide for at risk youths and adults? This was a question I was asked many times as I told my friends, family, and co-workers that I would leave my office job to live and work most of my time outside. I told them the basics because at that time that’s all I knew. I would say Ill be hiking every day for 8 days at a time, I’ll be changing lives of children and adults. I would be teaching skills for independence, I would be their chance to change and their chance to grow as better people, live greater lives like I knew they could. However, what I didn’t know is how they would change my heart, my desire to grow, and teach me humility that I thought I had already learned.
I had avoided the bedroll like the black plague, a bedroll is just what it sounds like, you fold your tarp or canvas hotdog style on the ground and place your sleeping bag on top of that, then you start to place your food bag, hygiene kit, food cup, jacket, underwear, second pair of socks, and whatever else you might think you’ll need when backpacking for six days in the dessert of Delta, Utah. At last, you start to roll this pack like pigs in a blanket. Once it’s all rolled up you tie it off and you better do it tightly. As for straps to carry it, you use your scarf they give you when you first arrive at The Journey. So… you can see why this was absolutely not at the top of my list of things I wanted to do.
So what’s the significance about doing a bedroll? Why then would you put yourself through that kind of misery? There are a couple of answers I could give, like maybe it was because my boss would hint from time to time that he would want me to experience it, or to become a lead guide you have to bedroll, but I think the most important answer would be because my students start their first two weeks with this contraption as part of the program. And If I want to be a better guide then I was going to need to walk in their shoes. By the end of my bedroll hike I knew that I had some big shoes to fill.
Our first hike was to a serene area called Bathtub. It was filled with towering Aspen trees that were painted golden by the sun, filled with luscious grass, color that splashed the ground by flowers, and a trickling stream that flowed life into the meadow. As heavenly as bathtub sounds the hike was the polar opposite.
The morning started like any other, we woke up around eight am, ate breakfast, filled our water bottles, and packed our things. Feeling pretty accomplished at my bedroll, a voice leaned into my ear, “uh, I don’t think that you tied that tight enough.” I whipped around and there looking puzzled was one of my students. She is a very smart, but also a very witty young women. I told her, “I think I know how to tie a knot.” She giggled and went back to packing her things. I stared at my pack that was twice the size of me in width and argued to myself that I would be fine and at first I was. As we started in our hike I thought, “ this isn’t too bad, why do my students complain so much about this?” However, with each step I took I started to regret that statement I had made so confidently in my mind.
The sun seemed to be getting hotter, the air seemed to be thinning, and my bedroll began to sink further and further down my back. I proceed on, my scarf wrapped tightly over my collar bone and then sunk into my rib cage, each step progressively giving me slight bruising. I positioned and re-positioned my bedroll every 100 yards but nothing was satisfying my need for comfort. As we round another steep hill, I finally realized that I wasn’t climbing the stairs to heaven that was filled with evergreen valleys covered with desert sunflowers and perfectly placed boulders, no, I was hiking an everlasting doom. All I wanted was someone to come ride down the hill and pick me up and take me to the next water drop or even to get the heck out of dodge. That is when I realized that I still had five more days of this and I just did not know if I could bare the torture anymore. Maybe I could call back up and they could bring a pack and then everything would be better. That’s when I heard from a top the hill, “ Hey Afton! You’re doing great!” and with that my mind ceased the thoughts of giving up and I continued my calf burning journey onward feeling welcomed by my students and proud that they were being mindful of others.
I collapsed at our water drop, extremely thirsty, sweaty, and tired but keeping the tears back knowing we still had a mile to go. Unlike before, we would bring the six gallon water jugs with us to our next camp site. The boys volunteered to carry one and the guides were going to carry the other, but the girls had a point to prove and decided they would carry the last water jug. With that a light at the end of a long hard tunnel came peaking through. The last mile seemed to go by quickly. As we rounded the corner there sat a rusted, black and white bathtub sitting between the Aspens. It may have been the oddest thing I have ever seen in my ten years of backpacking, but it was like a holy relic you’ve only dreamed to see. We had finally made it to Bathtub.