Five girls with no backpacking experience. One guy with a map we could sometimes read. Six days in the wilderness. That was the formula for my Pre-Orientation backpacking experience. I had met these people a few hours ago, and now I had to spend six days alone with them in the great, unpredictable outdoors. Other than my nervousness regarding hiking with total strangers, I was also concerned about the physical stress of the backpacking (though I had signed up for a medium-level hike). In fact, my group, the Green Group, ultimately hiked about forty-four miles (counting the two detours taken when we got lost) carrying all camping gear, food, and personal belongings, and we often felt the weight of our packs bearing us down. How much weight? I’ll share that answer soon.
Despite my initial wariness of my fellow backpackers, my Pre-O group packed months of bonding time into six of the most distinct days of our lives. While “making phone calls” in the woods, eating undercooked quinoa, and going numb every cold morning may not sound like everyone’s idea of a good time, I would not have traded those six days of my life for the world. My fellow fearless backpackers became my best friends not just because we were packed shoulder-to-shoulder in our tent every night, but because we talked for hours, sharing childhood memories, bedtime stories, and our love of geography as we (sometimes successfully) kept ourselves on the trail.
Thanks to Pre-O, lunch is now my favorite meal. We had an array of lunchtime activities such as playing charades, taking naps in the cool shade, and swimming in the nearby lakes. At one particular lunchtime by a lake, our sole male backpacker, a senior we called TL (Troop Leader), refused to go into the lake past his waist. Even after our other fearless leader, a sophomore we called Mama Mountain, dove in headfirst, he still refused to get fully wet. After finishing my cheese and peanut butter taco, one of my fellow backpackers and I started pushing TL to make him fall in, so of course, he pulled us in with him. Note to self: Lakes feel much colder when your head is suddenly submerged.
While the blue water and sharp peaks of Yosemite were gorgeous in the daytime, the most beautiful natural feature we encountered was the night sky. With almost no light pollution in the wilderness, we saw countless shooting stars, and one of my fellow backpackers shared with us her knowledge of the constellations as we lay on the bank of a stream one night, gazing at the open sky. Despite the thick darkness that made these stars visible, we would stay up as late as possible underneath them, huddling together for warmth and telling stories.
Other than backpacking, we learned a variety of skills on Pre-O. Some of us had never pitched a tent, pumped water, or even cooked before. While the rocky ground, murky streams, and tofu chicken were not part of the luxurious life we were accustomed to, the daily eight-hour hikes caused us to sleep wherever, drink whatever, and eat whatever we could. So surprisingly, Pre-O taught me how to be grateful for what I have, whether I’m living in the woods or at Mudd. While on the trip, I also learned how to skip stones, ignite a lighter, and start an oil stove. I even built my character as I listened to amazing life stories, recounted memories of my own, and refined my sassing abilities (sorry, TL).
One night, we crammed into the two-person tent for story time and had a good laugh about it, but the next night, our last one together, we decided the four-person tent made more sense for six people to sit in. As we talked and teased each other under the stars one last time, I wondered what would happen when the trip ended. Could I still lie under the night sky with my fellow backpackers, talking for hours on end? Would Mama Mountain still listen to my life stories? Would we still get to sass TL?
As I looked around at my new friends’ smiling faces in the dim light of our headlamps, I couldn’t believe that less than a week ago I had been so nervous about this trip. The bonds we had made over the past six days were real. We may leave Yosemite, but we would pack out our friendships.
So how much does a Pre-O backpack weigh, you ask?
Enough to break the ice.