It feels as if it was yesterday when I was a senior in high school; it was the last opportunity for everyone to use “senioritis” as a lame excuse to procrastinate. A year and a half earlier my mother passed away. I could not put aside the thought of losing her. I didn’t know if I was just procrastinating, or if in fact I was still grieving. I felt as if I was in an empty black hole with no hope. I was losing myself.
The end of the semester was coming when I encountered a film called Eat, Pray, Love. I was surprised how Liz Gilbert (protagonist) found herself by eating, praying and loving. That was the moment the “gap year” idea came rushing through my mind. I felt the need to fill in the void; all the despair I was feeling needed to be removed.
I found thousands of ways of taking a gap year. One of those ways was through a program that fitted me perfectly. Without any hesitation I decided to apply to the Winterline Global Skills Program. After graduating high school and waiting for a over a month and a half, I got the exciting news. I was in. I was in for a new life changing experience.
I arrived to the airport in Denver on September 4, 2016. Our meeting point was at the luggage dispatcher center. The smell of coffee filled the airport, and I could see people running to either welcome or farewell a loved one. Seeing this gave me a sense of comfort, for the next time I would be in an airport, it would be with the 19 people I was about to meet. I felt as if I was on a rollercoaster, frightened yet excited. I greeted my new gap year pals, some of them gave hugs, others just introduced themselves nervously. The bond between 20 teenagers with the desire to explore either the world or themselves started developing swiftly.
We bonded for over a week, getting to know each other, talking about why we were there, all of this happened in a sort of cabin at the YMCA in Denver, beautiful scenery. The next thing we know are jumping into a bus taking us towards the official headquarters of N.O.L.S (National Outdoor Leadership School) in Lander, Wyoming. Two stop lights, an old movie theater showing classic films, and about four thrift stores full of hiking clothes people had left behind. Lander seemed along the lines of a ghost town. We settled in at the NOLS hostel; it was as old as the town. It was created by hikers who needed a place to stay before embarking to their hiking journey.
We gathered in a conference room, our advisors started assigning roommates. I was roomed with two Hispanics, Daniela from Colombia and Ana Paulina from Puerto Rico. The next morning we walked towards our two day course on Wilderness First Aid. In those days we learned all we needed to be prepared to hike 32 miles up and down the Wind River Range. Allison and Gabe were the instructors of group B; I was selected to hike with them.
Group B was integrated by the following people: Daniela, a petite Colombian girl with bright blue eyes; Sam, who is 6 feet tall with green eyes and has great skills in photography; Eric, from Beijing, who is the most supporting person I have met; Gaby, with a great physical condition to hike — she is from Atlanta; Lily, from Arizona, knew everything about psychology; Leonora, or “Leo” — that is how she likes to be called — always looking pretty even when we all did not get enough sleep (I am sure it is a thing from Boston since she is from there); Noah, an incredible guy who lives in the capital of the U.S. — he has the funniest laugh; Jack described his hometown Dayton, Ohio as the most boring town in the country; Mackenzie, from Seattle, had this warm look in her eyes, making you feel loved.
The next morning we woke up to the smell of eggs, toasted bread and coffee that awaited us in the cafeteria. Allison and Gabe instructed my group to walk towards the “Packing Center.” The instructions were to pack a pair of shoes, up to five pieces of clothing, and to divide the rations of food and equipment evenly. We were ready for departure at 10:00 AM. We started to board the bus, it took us an hour and a half to arrive to the Wind River Range. My group was dropped off at the beginning of a 32 mile hiking trail. The view reminded me of a postcard. The clouds looked like cotton candy, the sky as blue as the ocean, the wind blowing in my face whispered freedom and smelt of nature.
Our hike began. It felt as if we walked a hundred miles. The elevation difference between where I live and the range was a remarkable 13,271 feet. It actually took us six miles to reach our first camping site. We could see the sun set between the mountains; at this moment, Allison and Gabe started a lecture on how to put up our tent up. I was tent-mates with my Hispanic sister Daniela and the professional hiker Gaby. The night sky was so clear I could see constellations; I had never in my life seen something as astonishing as that.
The sunrises, trails, chit-chats, laughs, sunsets, landscapes, days, and nights were about to be over and my mind kept racing about how something so breathtaking could be real. Not being able to speak out loud had its consequences; I had a mental break down. It was frighting to feel remarkably lonely and insignificant in the center of the immense mountains. Gabe sensed my attitude had shifted. We talked about how the opinions of my friends, teachers, relatives, and people who had told me not to embark this journey did not matter. Every choice we make regarding our life happens for a reason. I was in the middle of nowhere for a reason.
The hiking trails were ending, and I began to realize how proud I was of myself. I did something I could have never imagined: getting out of my comfort zone. I had never camped, hiked, or for that matter been in the wilderness for more than two days. I started to fill in the void. This void was being filled with hope for a different and improved version of myself. Every step I took, the pain I felt, all the tears I cried and the joy I felt had been worth it. I started to transform myself, and this transformation came with me creating my own motto.
People can keep on writing in the same old book, filling it up with chapters full of unanswered questions, with reference to why things happen the way they happen. This is when you get stuck in the moment; or, you can simply create a new book. Write a new chapter for every life changing event, and it does not matter if it is awful or wonderful. From this you can master on how to live life without asking questions. This chapter in my new book was just the beginning of a series of chapters I was about to write on my road to self discovery.