I began to grow up one summer afternoon, alone, in the middle of the woods. I had signed up for a week-long hiking trip on the Northern Superior Hiking Trails in Minnesota; my hiking team consisted of three girls, four boys and two experienced hikers. The trip was designed “to build character” and although I wasn’t sure what that meant, I thought it might be fun and adventuresome. I imagined myself as Indiana Jones from The Temple of Doom, thrashing through the forest, looking heroic. My friends all doubted me and told me that I was crazy to sign up for such an intense week, but I just ignored them and began to pack. I was fifteen years old and ready for a challenge. Little did I realize, that my friends were right: this experience would be one of the toughest adventures of my life. And although I am glad I did it, spending a week hiking in the mountains forced me grow up very quickly. I also learned the importance of optimism and how I can rise to the occasion when handed new responsibilities.
My understanding of the need to be optimistic in demanding situations took me the entire week to fully recognize. The first couple of days I was stunned; having never spent any time in the wilderness, I did not have the faintest idea of what to do or what would be expected of me. For example, when I was leading the group, the trail led us to an extremely steep and rocky mountain. I was scared of losing my footholds and even more worried that my improper choice of path for ascending the mountain might endanger the other people on my team. The leader advised me to take my time in making decisions and to just be confident that my intuition was correct. His optimism about my intuition carried me forward.
In addition to the emotional leaps of faith I took, I also learned a great deal about my own physical endurance. When I finally reached the top of the mountain my body was in such pain that I stopped to take a break. My body was exhausted; I could not adjust to carrying an additional fifty pounds on my back all day long. But since we were battling up the mountain in single-file, I could not stop without halting everyone else’s progress. When everyone started yelling at me to keep going up the cliff, I found out the hard way that I had to keep moving until I was sure everyone had made it up. On the mountain, I also had to learn about sacrificing taste in order to survive. At first, I had a lot of difficulty staying hydrated since I could not bear to drink mossy river water with just an iodine tablet in it to make the water sanitary. But, I put my squeamishness aside and gulped the water down so that I could keep trudging forward. Just when I began to think the trip would never end, the team leader encouraged me about my progress. I started to feel optimistic about my strengths and capabilities. That optimism kept me going for the rest of the week.
Over the course of the remaining days, the leaders put more responsibilities on me so I could learn to survive in the wilderness myself. They taught me how to find the perfect tree to hang our bear bag on. They taught me how to lead the group using a map, using trees and rocks as pointers. I learned how to set up a tent in two minutes flat, make a superb dinner after a full day of hiking, and laugh off painful falls and mistakes. Each time they gave me a new responsibility and I handled it, they would have more trust in my abilities. That trust gave me a lot of pride because I deeply respected their leadership and knowledge.
One of the most exciting moments for me was when I saw two brown port-a-potties sitting side by side. At that moment, I knew we had crossed the finish line; our goal was reached! It was then that I realized just how much I had accomplished both physically and mentally. I learned the importance of optimism and I learned that if I want to succeed I must never quit trying. This experience will definitely help me in college, since I will be taking on new challenges that will need commitment and optimism. I now know that I can do anything I put my heart into
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