Driving into the canyon lands of southeastern Utah, each person on our expedition was unprepared for what was to come; the ocher biome filled our eyes and souls with a known peace. With packs on our backs, we hobbled into the canyon, thinking the next two weeks would pass slowly—except, like a cottonwood leaf in the wind, they drifted by with uncanny haste. That first night in Lime Creek we sat, cooking dinner, when, from the comfort of his sleeping bag, Matt shouted “I felt a raindrop!” In the coming twenty minutes, there was rain, hail, and snow. Each element came and went, but from their transience came our first bonding experience. 40 MPH winds rattled our bones for the next two days yet as the trip went on, our group’s strength made us unassailable. We drank from rivulets, climbed to the top of Nevill’s Arch, and became truly self-sufficient hikers on Independent Student Travel. One sunny morning we waded in a beautiful, iridescent pool. As the trip wound to a close, we could not help but think: “We enter the canyons at the mouth and leave at the toes. Never once to we question where we stand between the two; we are lost in the beautiful stasis of the canyon lands.”
“Ladies leave your man at home.” You could hear Beyonce’s song echoing off the canyon walls. Intertwined in the trails lay our excitement for Terry Tempest Williams, an author we are reading in English class, and Queen B. Every day, we woke up to the canyons inviting us, waiting to be explored. As we continued our trek we encountered cliff dwelling of native tribes, and they were beautiful. Although we were met with challenges including difficulty finding campsites and water resembling milk in thickness, our love for Road Canyon didn’t falter. With steep inclines, rocky declines, and mounted cairns, we marched into Fish Canyon halfway through our journey. Immediately, we were greeted with an abundant amount of slickrock and pools. We dreamed of jumping into the cool and clear water on hot days. It was empowering to be in the canyons for two weeks with intelligent, hilarious, and beautiful women. We built each other up with constant reminders that we are women of the outdoors—carrying 50 pounds on our backs, treading many miles each day, navigating with nothing but our maps and hearts. We’ll never forget the moment we climbed 800 feet onto Nevill’s Arch or when we climbed out of Fish Canyon. We left our memories and laughter there, knowing that the 14 days we spent together will always be ours. First expedition introduced many of us to hiking and backpacking for the first time. Third expedition reinforced our love for it.
We knew our expedition would be wild even before it began. On our first day, we hiked five miles on the road to a very windy, snowy mesa and played an intense game of “Ichi Meenie Hoy.” Then, following a hiking day of approximately 2 miles, we arrived at our first layover spot: Nevill’s Arch. That night, we camped at its base, overcooked a batch of hot chocolate mix mistaken for brownie scramble, had a wilderness first aid class, and did a photo shoot atop the arch. After hiking in our advisory groups, we gained Independent Student Travel. Every night thereon, travelling through Lime and Road Canyons, we had sleepovers (where we stargazed every night) and group kitchens (we ate all of our collective 174 pounds of food, of course). We spent our second layover day exploring the Citadel, ruins that left each of us in awe, and we camped beneath its land bridge. On our final night, we met up with Avery’s and Jacob’s groups, played a game of Little Sally Walker, reminisced, and talked of how much we will miss our time in the canyons.
I cannot put to words the joy I had on this trip. I had expectations coming in to this (and every) expedition that I would “find myself”, or become a more thoughtful person, or somehow change. That did not happen. Instead, I found joy in the amazing place I got to spend 2 school weeks in, and I didn’t think about who I needed to be, or how I should change. I walked, and I had fun in the moment. We had beach days in Hawaii, with a blow up palm tree on the San Rafael river. We hiked, and got lost, and hiked some more, laughing and singing the whole time. We gained independence on IST (Independent Student Travel), and survived with only minor damages. I made friends. I made a family. I had my low points on expedition, certainly. It is easy to doubt yourself when you know the difficulty of the task in front of you. But the family I made picked me back up every time, and when needed, a Snickers bar can perform miracles. I didn’t find the college I want to go to. I didn’t find the person I want to be. I didn’t find any life changing realization, and that caused a lot of low points in the trip, for a while. But I realized eventually that you do not search for these things, and you do not expect them. Instead you find happiness for yourself as it comes, and discover the future when it comes to you. You do not learn by hoping and asking for knowledge to come to you when you want it; you learn by looking for it, whenever and wherever it comes. And in the meantime, spend a day at the beach, with close friends and a broken camp stove.
We were ecstatic when we found out that we were travelling to the San Rafael Swell region, a place only visited once before by HMI. Preparations were defined by dramatic readings and plenty of pop-culture references, only adding to the excitement of our group. Soon enough, we made the six-and-a-half hour journey down I-70 to our trailhead; upon arrival, we very quickly realized the Swell was going to test us in every way imaginable. On the very first night, we battled it out in a violent sandstorm—no matter though, because the tarp groups persevered, holding a fashion show at the bottom of Cane Wash with some creative outfits from the boys. We earned Independent Student Travel (IST) on day four, where we first encountered the San Rafael River and some delicious water. For the next few days, we made our way up the river, through thick brush and impossibly strong winds. Meeting up with another HMI group was a highlight of the trip, and they gave us insight about the second half of the route during a fun “beach day” in the canyons. The second half of the trip had fantastic weather for our longest days, and for the last few nights, the sky was so clear that we could see the Milky Way clearly among the stars. On the last night, we celebrated the trip with a final Circle and skits to commemorate our thirteen days in the canyons. Realizing we wouldn’t be going back to Utah with an HMI group again was tough, but showers and real toilets back on campus made the transition much easier.