At first, I didn’t know what to expect. I had a vague idea of what it would be like to be out in the wilderness for an extended period of time, but nothing prepared me for what was to come in the OLT trip.
Right from the start, I knew that it was going to be quite different than anything I had ever experienced. Starting with the 4:00am departure and one of the longest continuous drives I have ever participated in, the journey had started: The group consisted of five students in training and two leaders. Hardly anybody knew each other, which made for a long, quiet drive out to Red River, New Mexico. A few stops for gas, bio-breaks, and food. I was quite entertained with the ever-changing scenery unfolding infront of me as the drive went on. By the time we arrived to our first campsite, we were all a little bit more acquainted with each other. The easy part had ended though, and the real part had yet to begin.
The following morning we were all up and ready to go by 9:00 am, which became a routine for the majority of days infront of us- wake up by 7 am, eat, pack our backpacks and be ready to move out by 9 am, arrive at the next campsite between 12 pm and 1 pm. This was repeated almost daily with a few exceptions. Sleeping was tough, especially being in a tent with 3 other men in what seemed like a 3 1/2 person tent, but it was also probably due to poor choice of terrain. The food was actually a lot better than what I had anticipated. Not only did I learn how to cook great combinations, but also learned to create cinnamon rolls which surprised me with its wholesome, sweet flavor. From quesadillas to lentils with rice, macaroni and cheese to mashed potatoes with refried beans, the menu was as diverse as the flavors.
The scenery was absolutely breath-taking. Two hours into the first hike of the trip and we were already surrounded by green, living mountains and fresh crisp air. The stars were a thing unto themsleves. When I could, I would stare at the night sky for hours, contemplating my reason for being there at that moment, pondering the rest of the universe and feeling so small in the middle of nature, but in awe all the same.
The hikes were tough. Inclines would get steep and we would get treated to some nice descents every so often to catch our breath. All paces were steady and enjoyable. So much flora surrounding us at all times, it would fill me up with energy as well as catching a good gust of refreshing wind during our arduous moments of the hike. There was nothing like finally getting to the next campsite and laying down to rest with your backpack off for a while in our down time before the afternoon classes. The classes given were also quite interesting. Learning a great many things and even now knowing that there is still so much more to learn excites me. The leadership opportunities also helped raise my confidence level in myself and grow as a person. The several mountains we summited were reminders of how great each and every one of us can be if we just pull ourselves together and work towards a goal. On one of the final days, we were given the opportunity to reflect for three hours alone, to which I say, was probably the turning point of my experience on the trip. It helped me put a lot of things together, find strength in what I had acheived over the course of that week. It pretty much summed up to this: If we are able to climb mountains, our problems in the front country look much smaller and more manageable. It is possible to overcome your own personal ‘mountains’ when you muster up your strength and pull it towards a goal.
On the final day of the hike, Albert Mitugo and Kelly Gilliland (our leaders) left us so we could find our way back to the van by ourselves, to prove that we can, in fact, put everything we learned into action and lead our way out of the wilderness. We were greeted with delicious sandwiches for all at the roadhead. We drove back to Red River, where we had a refreshing shower, an amazing dinner and slept in a yurt. That is where I found out that I had lost 13 pounds over the course of the hike! The following morning we left at 3:30am and began our final 13 hour trip home. By this time, everybody had become so close, that even the thought of ‘group death’ after the trip ended put saddness on our faces. We had to change the term to ‘group transformation’ beause ‘death’ was too strong a word for us.
A few stops for gas, bio-breaks, and food and we were back in civilization once more. I felt awkward with so many people around, and when I got to my apartment, it felt so small and dark, compared to having the mountains as your living space. A sense of empowerment and confidence has been flooding my system since then, I can fully say that I came back a changed person. Problems look smaller, I appreciate my loved ones so much more, and the discipline that the OLT trip gave me has served me wonderfully, to the extent that I now wake up a lot earlier to appreciate the day more. It is one thing I tell everybody now, to make a week long trip, unplugged from civilization at LEAST once a year. I plan going on many more trips such as this one, and I hope to make the same quality of friends that I managed to make this time around.
This was probably the best experience of my summer!
Manuel Familiar- SMU OA Leader in training