I’ve had a few “never quit” moments in my life. Not a lot, but a few. This is a story about my first experience with pushing past limitations and the power of the mind.
It happened on a backpacking trip in my early to mid-twenties. It was me, my younger sister, and her (now ex) husband and we had a 5 day trek planned for the wilds of Canada. This was back in the 90s before all this fancy ultra-lightweight gear really came into existence and my pack weighed 70 pounds. I was also fairly new to backpacking, so I’m sure I was just making it harder on myself.
Anyway, we get to the trail head, load up and head out to our first campsite 10 to 15 miles away thru the wilderness. Piece of cake, an easy first day.
Well, the Canadian wilderness had other plans. It was brutal. We slogged and slogged thru what felt like endless uphill miles and it kept getting later and later into the evening. At some point my sister’s pack was getting to be too much for her to handle, so my brother-in-law and I divided up her gear and stuffed it into our packs. I have no idea what my pack weighed, but it was oppressive. Eventually it started to get so dark we needed to use flashlights to guide our way.
For whatever reason I was ‘point man’ and I scanned the trees with my flashlight looking for the small trail markers so we knew we were heading in the right direction. This went on for hours and we were getting broken down.
Then the flashlight batteries started to die out. We had backups, but when they started to die we stole batteries from our cameras.
I remember at some point we stopped to rest and, to conserve batteries, we turned off the flashlights. And there we sat, in the middle of the Canadian wilderness, exhausted, in the dark, and we started to hear what sounded like wolves howling in the distance. It was ominous. Needless to say we flicked the lights back on and kept going.
By this time, now 10 hours into the hike, my left knee was really starting to hurt. Every step was painful and I was limping. But I continued on, as ‘point man’, trying to find our initial campsite.
Sometime within the next 2 hours my sister broke down. She’d had enough and was crying, wondering if we’d ever get to the site. We were too head-strong to just pitch a damn tent and camp out anywhere, we were, you know, trying to follow the rules. Ha, silly kids.
I had to help talk her through it and get her to the campsite, which we eventually found after 12 hours of hiking with those hellish packs on our backs through some of the toughest terrain I’d experienced.
Needless to say we were elated to find our site but decided that after that horrible start we were going to turn back and head to the trailhead in the morning. Which we did, and it took us two 8 hour days of walking to get back out. On the final day it thunder stormed for the whole hike.
12 hours of hiking with nearly 100 pounds on your back, in the dark, in pain, with flickering flashlights, while trying to keep your sister together can show you what you’re made of.
I’ve had other ‘never quit’ moments since, but that was my first real taste of it.