GAP Year- Expedition
Blog Post, 2
Constellations crept across the sky like minute lanterns on the morning we left. Taurus watched as we sleepily exchanged “good morning” nods and heaved our packs down the stairs. Orion’s steely gaze fixated on the packs and boxes as they became rustled into the trailer like sardines in a can. Orion’s luminous face kissed us farewell as we drifted off into the shapeless darkness of the early morning.
By the time most of us awoke in the van, the sky had replaced the gently beating stars with sharp beads of sunlight. The landscape began to bleed with shades of green and brown, taking the shape of trees and mountains. We journeyed on the road for fourteen hours, spending the time conversing, sleeping, reading, and enjoying the magnificent, ever-evolving, landscapes.
When we reached the end of our days journey, we were amazed at how quickly the hours had passed us by. By then, the stars had returned to dotting the darkening sky with light, waking up the constellations that had wished us luck on our voyage, just hours ago. As we drifted off into the land of sleep, those same figures kept guard of us.
Our backpacking trip commenced on the second day of our trip. We drove to Lake Chelan and took a ferry out to our drop-off point, Prince Creek. I was bewildered at the magnificence of the lake; its waters shimmered in a rich shade of turquoise and it was so translucent that one could see deep down into its massive depths. Sailing the lake had convinced me of the magic behind its beautiful waters: I was sure that at any given moment, sea creatures of old folk tales would emerge, eager to show us their secrets kept below the surface. However, the widespread feeling of peace that came from the ferry ride mitigated as we commenced our hike through the lakes surrounding mountains. From noon until sundown, our team pushed through the ups and downs of the trail – the physical discomfort from the heavy loads, the emotional turmoil from hiking for so long, and, of course, the actual mountains. For many of us, this was the first time that we had encountered such a challenge, especially one so physically rigorous. By the end of the day, several of us had shed sweat and tears in equal measure. When we finally reached our campsite, a mixture of relief and dread fell over us; while we were happy to finish the excruciating first part of our hike, we could not comprehend how we would get through the next day when this one was so exhausting. Regardless of our worries, we all fell into deep, healing, slumber beneath the careful watch of the night sky.
When we awoke the next day, apprehension was waiting just outside our tent doors. Even the beautiful view of the lake could not still our spirits; we all felt emotionally and physically tired, unable to keep our enthusiasm up. However, despite our initial outlook, we carried on. At some points, the hike even became enjoyable; in those moments, the pain seemed to melt away and all that we could feel was the mechanical stomp of our feet upon the gravel and the comfortable weight on our backs. In those moments, we all felt a newfound enthusiasm for the hike, as if our struggles were lessening with each step. When we reached our campsite at the end of day, the ill feelings of the previous day had all but disappeared. By the time we were setting up our next campsite, we were genuinely excited to see what the next day had instore for us.
The last day of backpacking only required three miles of actual hiking, much to our relief. We spent the last of our hiking hours enjoying the last glimpses of the mountainous view, the now – enjoyable strain in our muscles, and the last semblances of “nature-grit” that we had acquired over the trip. Around noon, we finally arrived at our ultimate destination, Stehekin. Everybody felt a sense of accomplishment like no other. Through the course of only three days, we had faced the fangs of pain and frustration and came out triumphant. On the ferry ride back, we all slept like the dead, unwinding fully after the end of our long trip.
After our long backpacking trip, we had a nice relaxing car ride to Olympia, where we did a food buy. While food buys for 10 people can be rather stressful, we found that its stresses paled in comparison to those of our earlier backpacking trip. Additionally, we were able to buy some delicious products from Dairy Queen after the food buy – something that definitely would not have been possible in the backcountry! It certainly was a sweet end to a sweet day.
We woke up on the sixth day with unbridled enthusiasm – we knew that today we would get to enjoy the exploration of the seas through a sea kayaking journey! We excitedly drove up to the kayaking store to suit up and then hit the beach to begin our next adventure. The water and the sky melted together, giving off a resplendent “mirror” image that dazzled the eyes. The uniform color and texture of sky and water made kayaking on it oddly peaceful. It felt as though we were floating through a silver cloud. While kayaking atop the sea, we got to experience other interesting things, such as eating edible sea plants, observing and holding crabs, and viewing different forms of sea life such as otters, harbor seals, sea urchins, barnacles, etc. Our sea adventure ended with a feeling of fascination – we had seen and experienced many facets of the sea that had gone unnoticed by us before that point. However, our exploration of the sea did not end with sea kayaking. At the end of the day, we hiked down to Second Beach, in Olympic National Park, where we set up our camp. Hiking through the dunes of the beach at night was an utterly surreal experience – the pitch black background, howling wind, and flying fusts of sand made it feel like we had perished on the way there and were now scrambling about in the afterlife. It was so disorienting that I let out a sigh of relief when we finally made it to our campsite. Luckily, the strangeness of that hike dissipated as sleep steadied our nerves. We all fell asleep to the beaches’ lullaby of waves and the gusts of wind knocking at our doors.
After several days of living in filthy clothes, we got the chance to take a shower and do some laundry. Additionally, we got the chance to stretch our muscles at a local gym. Overall, the day was to re-organize ourselves before delving back into the deep backcountry for our next backpacking trip.
The morning of our eighth day was one of the most difficult experiences of the entire trip. The night before, winds had decimated the poles and rainfly’s of some of our tents, leaving many in our team with sopping wet beds and stormy attitudes. Everything that they had brought in the tent had become completely saturated with rainwater: clothes, stuffed animals, and even books were no match for the raging storm. It was so bad that a few girls in our group used their broken tarp as a makeshift blanket (which ended up making them even wetter). Despite the days tough start, we had a lovely time exploring The Evergreen State College campus later that afternoon. Its massive, unique campus and students were a breath of fresh air after roughing it in the back country for awhile. Its unorthodox degree program, which states that students don’t earn degrees but, rather, study a core subject, was also enticing for a few in our group. Overall, the day held several surprises (both good and bad) that we somewhat awkwardly handled as a group.
Nothing truly eventful happened during the next few days, other than driving continuously. I suppose one deeply interesting occurrence was when we were held up in traffic for three hours due to a truck which had caught fire on the interstate. This accident could not have had much worse timing: on that day we were planning to begin our second backpacking trip. Unfortunately, this incident caused the plan to go drastically behind schedule, causing us to abandon the plan altogether (strangely, nobody complained too much over this change in plans). We eventually decided to just keep on the highways towards our next destination, the City of Rocks.
Our day eleven was the chillest day we had all expedition; instead of our plan to hike, we decided to head to a local library to finish up our journals, budgets, etc. While it may not sound nearly as exciting as our other adventures, having the chance to slow down in a comfortable environment was a happy change of pace. We spent the day cozily reading and writing while the world outside blurred into a rainy puddle.
On our twelfth day, we finally got back to “wilderness-y” adventuring by going rock climbing in the City of Rocks. The rock climbing we had done on previous outings paled in comparison to the rock climbing we did that day. The boulders that we climbed were massive and complex; it took skill and maneuvering to make it to the top. We ended up spending the entire day enjoying climbing different boulders.
At this point in our expedition, towards day thirteen, we were starting the drive back to Wyoming, but our journey had not completely ended. On our way to Jackson, we took a quick hike in the Grand Tetons. The hike’s brevity allowed us to enjoy the scenery without feeling the pain of aching muscles. Snow had landed on the peaks of the mounts, but everywhere else below still remained pristine with rich colors. The final destination was a beautiful lake with blue-green waters (similar to those of Lake Chelan, but not quite as magical). We took “band pictures” by the lake, which turned out quite well, in my opinion.
After two weeks of sleeping in tents and eating questionable foods (as some *may* have expired), we finally made it back to our base. It felt odd and comforting to be back at our alma mater. We were excited to sleep in beds and have access to showers, but coming back to “civilization” felt a little weird at first (I legitimately had trouble falling asleep the first night back because it was a little “too” comfortable). Nonetheless, we’re happy to be back… for now. Then again, better not get too comfortable here again, either. We’re going on our next expedition in another week and a half!! Stay tuned for more adventures experienced by your Star Gazers.