Out and Back

Recount an incident or time when you experienced failure. How did it affect you, and what lessons did you learn?

It hit me. Not while I was scaling cliffs that were sculpted with the help of a straightedge, not even while I dreamed that I was suffocating, only to wake up and realize I really did have a snow-covered tarp pressed against my face. Not the first day, or the second, or the 10th day of the trip could even hit me hard enough. Not the snow as it fell off the trees and down the back of my neck, not the branches that the people hiking in front of me released at a full swing, not even the coldest gusts of air that are now tattooed upon my skin hit me as hard as the unfamiliarity with this world that I felt myself lost in.

Not only did the Out Back outdoors challenge hit me, it forced upon me a realization that I never wanted to think much about: failure. I somehow began this trip feeling optimistic. I was excited to leave my everyday routine and try something new for eleven days — because how bad could eleven days be out in the White Mountains, right? Wrong. My optimism changed almost as quickly as my last few moments in the warmth of the bus evaporated. Of course as a student who has spent her entire life growing up in New Hampshire, I have experienced the frantic weather patterns and unpredictable storms, yet never have I realized how truly isolated my thoughts would make me. As I progressed on foot up the gradual and, apparently, never-ending snowmobile trail, I begin to feel uncomfortable thinking about my prior days on this journey. Last hiker in the line, check. Gathering the least amount of firewood, check. As the members in my group sufficiently and regularly one-upped me, my head ached with the thought of not doing the best I could. How could I contribute to my group when I couldn’t even do half of what they could?

It was the third day. After hiking up the gruesome Mount Carrigain the day before, my legs were as heavy as some of the trees that surrounded me. I was stuck. Stuck in the forest, stuck in the cold and worst of all, stuck in my thoughts. I was anything but positive, which I had promised myself to be. “Mom even did it, Lilly.” My 8 year-old brother’s words dashed through my mind more times than I could count. I tried to picture my mom facing the same challenges that I was, which only made me sad. Yet before I could even realize, I was stepping off the bus again, only this time I was stepping out of the cold, out of no routine, and into my mom’s arms, “you did it!” It hit me. Out Back hit me. Harder than I had been anticipating.​

I finished Out Back with the satisfaction of not always being the last in line, but one of the first to offer help. I finished this 11 day journey with new thoughts and outlooks on old routines. Although I wasn’t always the person I’d hoped to be throughout the excruciatingly long 11 day-trek, nor did I always enjoy it, it was satisfying to break out and explore a path that may never rise before me again. Out Back hit me, but I got back up stronger each time.

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