After getting the thumbs-up from Anne Marie on our trip plan, we sat down for one final class: How and When to Use a Personal Locator Beacon (PLB). The PLB is a device that sends out a locator beacon, like an SOS, to emergency services in case something goes quite amiss. It was made very clear to us that it should only be used in a situation where life-threatening injuries exist and the instructors are far away. It works by sending a signal to an emergency center in Florida, who would then contact NOLS, who would then in turn contact local emergency services to start the evacuation process. Needless to say, it was quite imperative NOT to press the button except as a means of last resort. We were to carry these with us on today's independent trip and the independent expeditions that would start on the next day.
And then, POOF, the instructors began their hike to the X, leaving us students to our own mischievous, masquerading ways...in a good way though. My group left first and began the 6 mile trek around 10:30. We started off immediately with a river crossing, and I was quite surprised and happy at how seriously everyone took it in terms of following the proper safety protocols. It set us up for a really great day, with everyone making the appropriate amount of bear calls, encouraging one another, participating in map checks, and just enjoying good conversation.
At one point, after crossing a drainage where the trail momentarily disappeared, we took a sharp left into a group of trees that appeared to contain an off-trail clearing. After a couple minutes, it was clear we were not going the right way, especially because of the fact that we were supposed to stay on trail all day. The group immediately spurred into action, and we split up into small groups to look for the trail. Eventually, we found that we should have gone right instead of left and got back on the trail. That 15 minute mix up, the fact that it was a pretty hot day, and that we had run so low on Aquamira, our water treatment chemical, that we could each only fill up on one extra liter of water on the trail, could have led to some angriness and tension, but it didn't. Everyone enjoyed the day and made the most of the hike. Even with 1,500 feet of elevation gain, everyone had a smile coming into camp, where the instructors were waiting for us with big smiles of their own.
Kitchen required a 1/8 mile, 80 foot climb which didn't feel terribly lovely after a tough hike, but it gave us a great view of the surrounding landscape. Our group debrief went splendidly, with everyone very happy at how the day progressed and how well we gelled together as a group. I couldn't have agreed more. Once the other group arrived and debriefed, it was time to vote for the leaders of the 3 Day Independent Small Group Expedition (ISGE), which would start on the next day, August 13. During the Expedition, 2 groups, 1 of 8 students and 1 of 7, would travel by themselves for 3 days, meeting up with the instructors on the day before we left the field. It was what I and the other people had been waiting for: The ability to prove our worth on our own.
Everyone got to vote for two leaders, and the group collectively chose the two people who had just finished leading the day's trip, myself and Charlie, to lead the expeditions. It was just what I was hoping to hear, and I was extremely thankful to everyone for the opportunity to give this whole trip leadership thing a go for 3 days. As I've said in previous posts, I really wanted these leadership opportunities for personal growth, and I am so thankful I was able to have them.
Our first responsibility as ISGE leaders was to select the participants of each group. While we did this, the rest of the group divvied up the food from 3 groups into 2. We talked about the selection for 30 minutes, making sure each group had the right balance of people and skill sets. Eventually, we came up with groups with which everyone ended up being very happy.
Next, as groups began to make dinner, Charlie and I talked over our route for the rest of the trip with Annemarie. We had between 23-24 miles to go before we made it to our final X on Day 29. Based on the terrain and on the desire for ISGE groups not to cross paths, there needed to be a group that would have 2 long days and 2 short days (the 4th day being the hike to the final X), while the other would have 2 mediums, 1 long, and 1 short. Charlie immediately volunteered for the 2 long days, which excited me because I wanted to hike a decent amount every day for the fun of it, not go crazy for 2 days then do virtually nothing on the last day. I wanted to enjoy these final hikes, not push through them. Everyone in my group specifically voiced that they wouldn't have liked the long option, so it was a good choice for everyone involved.
Right after our route choice meeting, the instructors called Charlie and I up to their kitchen and to our elation, 15 candy bars, including Snickers, Milky Way, and Snickers Almond, were divided up into 2 bags. Jamie gave us each a bag and said to use them as we saw fit. I knew exactly where I wanted to give the bars to the team: On the top of a mountain on Day 2...but more on that later.
The night's duties were not over, however, as we had to have our RAD Plans ready for the next 4 days by 9 AM the next morning. While most of the team was making dinner, the ones that weren't were helping me write the plan. It was great to see that team effort right off the bat. Even better, Eric came over to deliver some food to those of us who were working. Dinner consisted of nature burger with melted cheese on top. I'd never had nature burger before. It tasted alright, though I'm not really sure what to compare except Falafel. It wholeheartedly filled me up though. With 3 out of the 4 of the RAD Plans complete and darkness having hold of the valley below, it was time to wrap up for the night. Before going to bed, I drank almost a full liter of highly concentrated cocoa while sitting and chatting with Lily, Eric, and Noah. This was at their insistence as a token of appreciation for the work put in during the day, and I greatly appreciated their consideration. Oddly enough, the sugar rush didn't affect my ability to sleep one bit. It was a long day full of good, hard work.
Realizing I still had 8 candy bars in my bag with nowhere to hide them (I couldn't keep them in my bag overnight as all the food had to be in the bear fence), I enlisted Eric's help to hide them in a personal food bag he had. Phew, really didn't want to blow that secret :).
My mood going to bed was quite ecstatic. A little more than 4 days to go, 3 of which would be spent exploring with a truly great group of people. My mind was completely out of sorts that this was already the end of Day 25! I'd be talking to the people I cared about in the blink of an eye. As much as what we'd see and experience in the next few days excited me, the ability to get back in contact with those near and dear to me provided just as much elation. That is one major lesson this whole experience provided me: A sense of desire to keep in contact with the important people in my life with regularity as the days and weeks and years go by. Not necessarily ALL the time; I'm not so much a fan of today's ability to get in touch with any person at any time at any place. I think the ability to do so demeans the importance of staying in contact with those special people, and it certainly has the potential to be negative. It's so easy to communicate that sometimes we just don't remember to do it or don't place enough value on it. It's just a matter of simply letting those special people know that you care about them enough to pick up a phone and say hello or to pick up a pen and write them a letter, that you're thinking about them, and that you're genuinely interested in their well-being. It can mean the world, and being away from communication like that puts the fact into an infinitely clearer view.
----Beneath the willow tree you sit
The sun shining upon your cheek
You speak to me with elegant wit
And your countenance is all I seek
This day marked the first day in which we could to hike without instructors. It's something everyone had been looking forward to for quite some time: The ability to hike as a group of students. To put the entire group's mood at a 15 on a scale of 1 to 10 is not an exaggeration. I was very excited to have been chosen as 1 of 2 leaders for the trip, and woke up at 6:30 in the morning with the other leader, Charlie, to plan our route for the day. It took us a solid hour to review the maps and write down the required information. We were lucky enough to have breakfast cooked by our respective groups as we were writing. My group made a ridiculously good mix of Perkys, oatmeal, chocolate chips, and peanut butter. The mix was thick like cookie dough and not something your mother would ever in her life give her child for breakfast. But Mom was 2,000 miles away and being 24, I made the decision after considerable consternation: Sugar is A-OK for to eat for breakfast. Sorry Mom.