How Backpacking is Helping Me Today

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One of our staff members hired for summer 2020, Luke Kempers, has written a thoughtful piece he would like to share about how backpacking has taught him valuable life lessons about preparation and resilience, and how these experiences have helped him navigate the uncertain times we are living in at the moment:

As the year of 2020 continues to challenge me, I have been reflecting on one of the most difficult experiences in my life. This challenge taught me a valuable lesson I’ve used to guide me through this year. My testing experience was during the summer going into my junior year of high school, almost exactly 5 years ago. My friends and I decided to do our yearly backpacking trip this time in the Honeycombs Wilderness, an arid desert shaped by many long, steep-walled canyons. We were so excited to begin this trip that we did not prepare as much as we should have.

The first day there were 15 miles between us and our checkpoint for the night. After accidentally going down the wrong canyon, we slowly realized that we did not know where we were going. Neurotoxic rattlesnakes were hiding in the sagebrush and laying out in the hot sun. We had no shade. Our water was running out. We finally pulled up the map on our phones and saw that our campsite and lake was 5 miles away. Fear and despair consumed my group. When we finally got to the lake and set up camp, we were exhausted.

The next morning we stayed ignorant of our situation. We climbed and swam in the water as if nothing was wrong. Finally we decided to pack up camp and hike to our next campsite. Night arrived, as did the snakes, spiders, and true reality of the wilderness’s dangers. After my friend stepped near a rattlesnake and we all crawled up a steep gravel hill, we finally set up camp.

Morning came. The most difficult day was ahead of us. All but one of our water filters broke when we were making breakfast that morning. In addition to the pack I was carrying, I had to carry 2 gallons of murky lake water through a baking hot canyon. We then shared a single LifeStraw to help us stay hydrated for what came next.

Around midday, we started to climb out of the last canyon. It was steep and had no trail. My friend had a massive allergy attack. We were hungry but decided to push on. Finally, our cars were on the horizon and we guzzled the 2 gallons of water that were in the trunks of our cars, and made it home around 3 in the morning. Five years later, I’ve learned and will continue to learn so much about the importance of planning and preparation from this trip.

We are all living in a time in history that is unexpected, chaotic, and uncertain. Sometimes, backpacking can end up like this, whether you have prepared or not. From this backpacking experience, when each passing minute seems more overwhelming than the last, I’ve learned that I still have my attitude. In times like these, whether it’s backpacking, school, or dramatic world changes, one can still control how they respond and act. With backpacking, when water filters break or I go down the wrong path, I can still respond with a deep breath.

We should have prepared better for that trip. But, even if we did, we still would have seen big rattlesnakes and faced the heat. During chaos, sometimes the most impactful thing you can do for yourself, your friends, and society is taking time to remind yourself that you have a choice in how you act. Whatever happens, we all can choose to pause and then act. Pause and then act meaningfully. Your attitude can and will dramatically alter the future.

-Luke Kempers

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Charles Nunziato
About Charles Nunziato

Charles first came to Sanborn as camper when he was eleven. After working four summers as a wrangler and two seasons as a field instructor at HTOEC, Charles joined the year-round staff as the Riding Program Manager for Big Spring. Charles has a B.A. in Comparative Literature from Reed College and was an English teaching apprentice in Leadville, CO before returning to camp in 2019. Some of his favorite pastimes are playing guitar, reading and writing, crossword puzzles, and horseback riding.