by Stephanie Grado
BB Note: The author, Stephanie Grado of Denver, was the winner of our fall Colorful Change contest. We asked our Bold Betties to share a time with us where they were changed by the outdoors. Her entry: "I feel changed, blessed, proud, independent, powerful, BOLD, lifted, and just all around badass! This trip helped to solidify what I knew -- nature is my therapy and it has proven time and again that my life is exponentially better because of our relationship." We were so inspired by her words that we asked for more of the story (and pics). We hope her adventure inspires your next one!
What I’m about to tell you is simple — sometimes the best thing you can do for yourself is just go for it.
And the point of this isn’t to detour your life in some profound “quit your day job, buy a one-way to South America and start l-i-v-i-n” kind of way. It’s to tell you of my incredibly average and very attainable experience. Also, it happened outdoors and it was amazing.
I had decided on conquering a Colorado classic — Maroon Bells Four Pass Loop in Aspen and it’s pack-in, pack-out, 26.1 miles roundtrip.
Researching for under a week, I quickly pieced together two hiking outfits, gear and supplies: both for me, and my hiking partner, Stella, the border collie-heeler rescue. Getting ready the morning of the hike felt like a daze, I was in robot mode packing and loading our gear into the car, ignoring the chaotic mix of anxiety and excitement. Shifting the clutch into first, we were on our way to prove to ourselves that we could do it.
Stella and I were out of Denver well before dawn and on the trailhead by mid-morning; our first day we covered thirteen miles and two passes: first West Maroon and Frigid Air to follow. I set up camp that night feeling exhausted but accomplished. Survivorman would have been proud… Too tired to prep the jet-boil for a proper meal, I popped open the bear canister to feed my exhausted pup and get down on some snacks. Calling it an early night, I nestled in my sleeping bag and with Stella curled up close, I couldn’t help but to feel something. We did it. Day one was in the books.
Like the first day — the second and third days were riddled with learning moments. For instance, I’d severely over-packed, and 35 lbs later you could find me on most days of the trek, leaning up against the side of a mountain, to, you know, just take in the epic view. Another takeaway: I’d bought a lot of dense, chewy energy bars. My jaw was not happy. From now on, I’d opt for light and airy protein wafers. That’s the thing about backpacking - talk to someone who’s done it, but just like anything, everyone has their own preferences, and this was my chance to learn about my own. So despite the minor hiccups and perpetual feelings of inexperience, the conclusion I came to in those more difficult moments, was that nothing really mattered. I didn’t starve, I didn’t get attacked by a bear, and I didn’t run out of water. I was doing exactly what I had set out to do.
On the path from Snowmass Lake to the final haul of Buckskin Pass, I focused the last day of the trip on the moving meditation. One foot in front of the other, letting my body take over and relaxing my mind - disconnecting with anything outside of the present. It was incredible, it was therapy.
As Stella and I trampled our way down the last hour of stones to the edge of the trailhead, I looked on to the others who were just starting out their journey. Three days, 26 miles, four passes… If one of them would have asked me, “was it worth it?” I would have said yes - without question. It was tough and there were times where I felt defeated - by downpours, the weight of my pack, the seemly endless switchbacks - but the empowerment I had earned over those 72 hours trumped it all. The investment in ‘go for it’ had been worth it.
Now to find yourself in the middle of one of these ‘go for its’ I recommend an old fashioned self-start. No need to wait for your best friend or your boyfriend to jump on board. Come up with something that’s personally challenging and something that maybe even scares you a bit. Next, do a little research. Make sure you choose something that lights you up inside. It will make the passing moments of defeat worth it. And finally, commit to your fate; put aside the reasons why not, ignore that little voice in your head and just go for it… You will be better because of it.