A lot of Dragons students haven’t heard the word trekking used in context before. I want to provide some details about our upcoming treks in the Andes so you are prepared.
Trekking is hard. Our treks in South America may be one of the hardest things that you have experienced.
Two summers ago, I chose to take off five months in order to hike the Pacific Crest Trail: the 2,650 mile-long trail that runs from the U.S. border with Mexico all the way to Canada. I had done quite a bit of trekking in my life, but it obviously still kicked my butt. I want you to be more prepared than I was.
One of the challenges that we face at Dragons is trying to explain and illustrate to students what trekking– as well as rugged travel and homestays– is really like, especially to those students who have never really experienced it before. Looking at your profiles, it seems like some of you have trekked before: in New England, in Utah, in the Spanish Pyrenees and the Swiss Alps, and even on the John Muir Trail/Pacific Crest Trail (yay!). But many others, probably the majority of you twelve students, don’t have experience with trekking and, probably don’t really understand what it entails. There’s no shame in that! We are excited that you are excited to experience it.
The first thing to know is that trekking is different from hiking. Hiking often entails a few-hour jaunt on developed trails, with a return to creature comforts afterwards. Trekking, on the other hand, often entails a full day (~8 hours) of walking and scrambling through broken, rugged terrain, exposed to the weather thrown at you, carrying food, water, clothes and everything else for days or weeks— without the availability of showers, a laundry machine, or a plush sleeping situation.
Our current trekking plan, so you can prepare:
A quick discussion about language. Most of us in the developed niceties of the U.S. have never actually experienced real hunger, real cold, real thirst, or real discomfort. That means we don’t have a lot of perspective about those things and what they are like. On our treks (as well as other times on our course) you will— some of you for the first time— experience some level of discomfort. Many of you might be inclined to yell out things like, “I’m starving!”, “I’m freezing!”, “I’m dying!”, etc.
But, don’t do it! Instead, you should practice moderating your language and your internal thoughts to reflect reality. You aren’t freezing, you are cold, perhaps for the first time in your life. You’re not dying, you’re tired and sore, maybe for the first time in your life.
How to prepare yourself for trekking:
A common mistake that folks make is to over-prepare themselves physically and with gear while overlooking the single most important factor of success in trekking: mentality. Make that muscle between your ears strong and fit too!
Discover Your “Why”:
This can’t be understated. Finding your why is the single most important tactic for achieving success on treks. Uncovering your why is what builds an intrinsic drive, and thus, will help you to enjoy the journey, or at worst, find meaning in the struggle. Although grinding through millions of steps is honorable, to master the mental game, the focus should be on maximizing happiness.
To know your why is to know your purpose. It’s a snapshot into the emotional state of what brought you to trek in the Andes in the first place. When battling dehydration, heat exhaustion, a smell coming from yourself that just won’t quit, and an array of huge blisters, it’s hard to remember why you’ve subjected yourself to such a lifestyle. Instead of letting your emotions be at the mercy of volatile environmental factors, it’s important to arm yourself with a rock-solid foundation.
We’ll accomplish this by writing down (not just thinking or saying) the reasons you want to trek. I want each of you to come on course with these written in a notebook. I’ll be checking!
Take at least thirty minutes to reflect on and complete this list. Be vulnerable. Confront your demons. Go deep. Work that you put into this practice now will yield huge motivational dividends during our days and weeks in the backcountry. Your lists not only have the potential to turn a frown upside down, but it can make the difference between quitting on your goal and persevering.
A final note: trekking is a challenge. Trekking with a group of sixteen or more people (which we will be) is even more of a challenge. As instructors, we have a limited ability to influence or steer the group culture that you students bring on trip. So, bring a good one! Bring a ton of positivity for challenge, as well as readiness to practice emotional and social intelligence, kindness, and empathy! At times, our group will struggle, particularly while trekking. But you cannot believe the feeling of accomplishment and joie de vivre which will be ours when we come out, together, on the other side.
P.S. Included are some photos from Jeff’s fall 2017 Andes & Amazon treks to get you psyched!