“What you learn today will help you survive when we send you off into the wilderness,” one of my NOLS (National Outdoor Leadership School) instructors told our small group of nine. Myself and the other first day students all looked around at each other in awe. A bus in the middle of nowhere just dropped us off and now our instructors are telling us we are going to be depending on strangers for our survival!
What was I going to do? I had just met a small group of new people and we all needed to establish trust in one another to make it out of the wildness alive. Our group of nine had seven boys and two girls, and I was one of the girls. I was from the city of Chicago, Illinois and I was seen as the city girl who was interested in shopping and painting her nails. I always had my dad to help me with the hard or challenging parts of camping, even though I truly enjoyed nature. There was another girl named Andrea who was from Big Sky, Montana where it is typical for a grizzly bear to wonder across town. She enjoyed roughing life without showering every day. I could never in a million years see myself as a dirty backpacker.
Throughout my month of first hand backwoods training, I had many eye opening experiences. For instance, I had an encounter with a very large male moose doing the same thing as me at the very same time. We were both enjoying a refreshing drink at the same river while the warm summer sun was setting. Luckily, I snuck away without him thinking of me as a threat. I also managed to encounter steep rocky cliffs day after day, which just so happened to be missing the nice railings Yellowstone National Park offers their tourists. I knew right then that I had to change my attitude or I would have a hard time making it through a month of the rough and tough Wild West.
By the end of the trip I was surprisingly very similar to Andrea. I no longer worried about bathing or how I looked anymore. My small group of nine was able to know and trust the girl they had only believed knew how to live life in the city. I became a woman who learned the true importance of life through many late night talks under the vast array of stars. Through my NOLS experience, I learned how to be able to sustain yourself in a new environment with little help from others. Throughout my wilderness journey I noticed how much I had once taken daily life for granite. I became an independent woman with new understandings of nature, which is where my mother gave me the nickname mountain woman.