My Introduction to Wilderness Trek

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I was introduced to Wilderness Trek nearly 25 years ago by my youth minister, Eric Tooley. The years and memories came full circle last November 2014 when I was elected onto the board of Wilderness Trek — at least 15 years since I last set foot on a mountain trail. And as Wilderness Trek prepares for a return to the trails this summer, I am reminded that many great lessons are learned on the way up and down a mountain.

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Trek introduced me to the fact that successfully climbing any mountain—literal or figurative—requires training and preparation. In my case, that included an annual 5K run with our youth group to gauge how ready we were for several hours of backpacking across multiple days. Preparation taught me that discipline and perseverance are required to achieve many of the goals we set for ourselves.

Trek introduced me to the idea of crews and crew leaders — organizing smaller teams within our group that would share the responsibilities of carrying supplies, cooking and caring for one another on the trip to and from the summit. Crews and crew leading taught me the value of teamwork, planning and thinking of others before myself.

Trek introduced me to 10–15 hour road trips from Texas to Colorado often driving straight through the night. Road trips taught me the value of building new friendships, rotating drivers and stumbling upon old Neil Diamond cassettes at 2 am in the morning somewhere on the road in Colorado. “They’re coming to America” will be forever etched into my memory but it kept us awake and alert!

Trek introduced me to the concept of packing only what I truly need. When you have to carry all of your possessions up a mountain on your back, you quickly learn to differentiate between what is a necessity and what is not. Packing for a multi-day mountain climb taught me that 2–3 shirts are much lighter than a brand new outfit each day. (Just don’t forget to seal them all in Ziploc bags — dry shirts are far more comfortable than wet, cold ones!)

Trek introduced me to the idea that a few good ropes, carabiners and experienced guides can help me overcome some of my deepest fears as I lean out over the edge of a vertical rock face. Rappelling for the first time in my life taught me that I can’t control everything — I often need to put my trust in something outside of myself.

Trek introduced me to the concept of base camp, mid camp and high camp on our climb to the summit. Setting up camp each day taught me that some things don’t happen overnight. Achieving certain goals takes patience and plenty of smaller steps.

Trek introduced me to tuna mac(aroni and cheese), sauteed onions over a campfire and refrigerating cheesecake in a snow bank. Cooking in the great outdoors taught me that microwaves and specialized utensils are nice but you won’t starve if you don’t have them at your disposal.

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Trek introduced me to my first experience with chlorinated water outside of a swimming pool. The sound of running water is always welcomed on a hike — as long as you’ve boiled or chlorinated the water to make sure it’s safe for drinking. Treating my water taught me how to avoid an encounter with giardia, thus preventing “the bottom falling out of your world and the world falling out of your bottom.”

Speaking of water, Trek also reinforced the contrast between a hot and cold shower. It takes some additional work but filling a solar shower and setting it in the sun all day sure feels a lot nicer than taking a bucket shower straight out of a mountain stream. Bathing on a mountain taught me that sometimes feeling clean can result in feeling numb. Brrr!!!

Trek introduced me to starting summit climbs well before sunrise to make sure we reached the top while the weather was good. Spending time above treeline while storms rolled in taught me that it’s best not to be the tallest tree in the forest when lightning is about to strike.

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Most importantly, Trek introduced me to the concept that it’s more rewarding to reach the finish as a group rather than an individual. Each year I was on Trek, we would stop short of the summit and elect specific individuals to lead us to the top. These individuals may not have been the strongest climbers on that day but they showed the heart and determination to overcome every obstacle in their path. Finishing together taught me the importance of being there for others and leaning on one other when the going seems tough — lessons that would stick with me many years later on multiple 170 mile MS bike rides from Houston to Austin.

Wilderness Trek was introduced to me long before “solo time” meant scanning social media from your personal electronic device. Yet, the experiences formed as a teenager have stuck with this now-husband-and-father-of-three for nearly 25 years — even as I near 40!

It’s true that you can learn a lot by traveling around the world. But as any Wilderness Trek guide would tell you, sometimes the most important life lessons can be learned by going “just this far [holding up a thumb and index finger] on a map.”

– Jason Dyniewski, former Trekker

If you’d like to get introduced to Wilderness Trek, you can find out more at www.wildernesstrek.org

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