NOLS Wind River Range Expedition: “This Too Shall Pass”
I once saw a woman with the words, “This Too Shall Pass” tattooed in huge cursive letters across her chest and collarbone. At the time, I was struck with utter disbelief that someone would mark their body with this quote. It was ironic to me that she had permanently marked her body with a statement claiming that all things are temporary. I hadn’t thought of this phrase until my experience last week in the Wind River Range of Wyoming in which I was forced to remind myself constantly that “this too shall pass” more so than I hoped. Looking back on my time in the mountains, there is one day in particular that stands out to me as most significant with this quote in mind.
The infamous “Monday” of my NOLS trip has been quite the conversation piece in my Winterline cohort. Whenever someone mentions this day, there is an audible groan followed by sighs of relief that we are forever done with the misery and pain that ensued that day. For me, the morning and the afternoon of that day completely juxtapose each other. In hindsight, the stark contrast between various events that day is beautiful, but at the time I failed to appreciate the value of this experience.
We woke up that Monday morning to copious amounts of snow dumping from the sky in addition to below-freezing conditions. Despite the extreme discomfort that came with dragging my body out of my warm sleeping bag, layering up with every article of clothing I packed, and forcing myself to brush my teeth with snowballs outside, I managed to make it to the “kitchen.” Patrick, Leela, and I huddled underneath our kitchen fly, which was caving from the snow. We boiled some water in hopes of warming ourselves up with “cowboy coffee” and hot cocoa. I decided that to raise the morale of my cooking group, I would make Mickey Mouse pancakes with cranberries and chocolate chips, which were a big success and had us all feeling optimistic about the day to come.
By the time we were packed up and ready to go, thick snowflakes covered our bags and paved the trail for our hike. We divided ourselves up into small hiking groups and set out through the freshly made winter wonderland, making the hike markedly more tedious than it had been in prior days. While many people have told me since NOLS that this was their least favorite hiking day, I had the complete opposite reaction. Walking alongside the thick trees and frozen rivers that were each buried in light, sparkling snow was a euphoric experience. My hiking group was completely silent during the majority of our walking, which gave me an opportunity to just focus on myself and my thoughts. I found myself being completely present in the moment, something I often struggle to emulate in my day-to-day life. I felt at peace. We all continued to trek through the dense powder until we reached the apex of the hike: the river.
The river. The merciless river. The monster of a river that we reached when we were almost completely finished with our four-mile hike. As opposed to previous water hazards we had encountered in prior days, this river did not have an obvious trail of rocks to use as a bridge. We spent about twenty minutes scouting up and down the riverbank, trying to find the path of least resistance, but we were unable to do so. We hesitantly accepted our fate, but trusted that our NOLS instructors knew what they were doing. While everyone decided to roll up their pants, I decided that my high-quality boots and gaiters were adequate to protect me from the frigid water. Not a good idea. As I waded through the river, the water reached to just above my knees and I was drenched and felt slightly hypothermic upon reaching the other side. By this point, group morale was at an all-time low. As I heard people complaining and groaning and even crying, I stripped off my soaking wet boots, socks, and one of my layers of pants. I changed into my “camp shoes,” which were running shoes that did not provide any protection from the frigid cold. I decided to break a rule of fashion in order to warm up and, as much as I hate to admit this, I put plastic bags on my feet as a layer between my socks and my camp shoes. Yes, plastic bags. It was quite the look. After getting somewhat more comfortable, my cooking group and I set up our kitchen flies and hunkered down to drink tea and soup.
Although the rest of the evening was freezing cold, ridiculously uncomfortable, and provided us with frozen boots and socks for the next morning, I somewhat tentatively will admit that this day was my favorite day- only in hindsight. When I look back on the morning hike I can only be content with the way in which I lived so effortlessly in the moment. When I look back on the river and the events that followed, I am proud of myself for how I tolerated the adversity. I think that because those two drastically different experiences ensued in the same day, let alone just a few hours, I can appreciate the day for what it is: a day of personal growth. And when I look back on the entire day as a whole I find myself going back to the phrase, “this too shall pass.” Everything is temporary, but what we take from each experience is permanent. I went through various trials and tribulations throughout my 8-day NOLS course, but I will forever have the appreciation and gratitude for that cold Monday ingrained in my mind, whether I like it or not. -AN
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