We Often Remember the First Time

My first “Inspired Travel Adventure” occurred when I was 25. Still to this day it stands out as one of the most significant experiences of my life. I was experiencing an early onset of a mid-life crisis, and desperately needed to find a place of refuge. Where could I go to clear my mind, untangle my emotions, release physical tension and “regroup”?

Recalling a fellow teacher’s experience with the Knoll’s school, an outdoor adventure school based in the Pacific Northwest, I began to research travel adventures. Combing through the Sunday’s paper travel section and numerous travel magazines, I came across Outward Bound, the Knoll’s School competitor. There I found the course that spoke to me: Mountaineering in the Colorado Rocky Mountains, a 24 day expedition. I signed up for the July course and within two months was on a plane headed west.

We were a group of 9 adults ranging in age from 24 to 62, and led by our guide, Chris, a very fit man in his mid-thirties. Base camp was at an altitude of 4200 feet. My large 40 pound backpack was filled with personal gear (sleeping bag, tarp, toiletries, etc.) and my share of the “community” supplies. Over the course of 23 days we hiked over mountain passes, traversed through white bark pine forests and golden fields of flowers and descended down to valleys and crystal blue lakes. I learned to use a compass, read a basic geological map, rock climb, rappel, spelunk (caving), cross raging rivers, “self-arrest” (use an ice pic to slide down a snow covered mountain) and most importantly, work as a team with my fellow hikers.

We survived for 22 days in the wilderness. No modern day creature comforts like a sheltered structure to sleep in, a stove, refrigerator, bed, toilet, shower, fresh towels, fresh food or yes, toilet paper. We were first and foremost self- reliant and dependent upon nature, and secondly interdependent with one another. When our feet were covered with blisters and our muscles ached, we supported and motivated one another to continue on. As we descended from Pike’s Peak, 13,000 feet elevation, our eldest member, Forrest, 62, became ill. We divvied up his gear, stuffed it in our backpacks and carried it down the mountain. And when my small group was given the assignment to travel 35 miles in two days from mountain A to mountain C, we got lost. We briefly panicked, paused, forgo judgments, teamed our leadership skills and reconfigured a route out of the dense mountainous terrain. We joined our fellow comrades at base camp six hours late, and tagged on an extra 7 miles. We were greeted with smiles of relief, open arms of support and warm, cooked food.

The sheer physicality of my 24 day adventure indeed strengthened my body and my mind. I felt strong, clear headed, empowered, and capable of supporting myself through challenges. Emotionally I felt peaceful, enthusiastic and centered. Living in nature filled my senses and awakened me to a deeper sense of spirituality. I felt connected in a way that I had never experienced. The boundary between me and nature had thinned, and my ability to sense into the greater world expanded. The comradary with my fellow hikers, the connections I experienced gave new meaning to friendship and caring support. I was profoundly grateful and awed.

My Outward Bound experience, thirty-five years ago, launched me into the world of adventure travel, yet most importantly introduced me to the experience of mental and emotional renewal and spiritual awakening. 

Sharon KnipmeyerComment