The first time I went backpacking I carried little more than my sleeping bag, but I felt like I was on an expedition to the end of the world.
I had my own walking stick scavenged from the forest. I made a wreath of flowers from wildflowers for my head. In my mind, at 5 years old, I was a true outdoorswoman. I was an adventurer.
My parents, brother, two family friends and I spent four nights in the Absaroka Range packing through fields of strawberries as big as my thumb and stands of trees that reached the sky. Our 100-pound malamute led the charge, occasionally circling back behind the group to keep us in line.
For being only 5, the memories are still seared in my mind. It was the trip of the famed nitro cakes when my dad made Bisquick Shake ‘N Pour pancakes with boiling water and exploded the batter across himself and the tent.
It was the time when our malamute, soaking wet and caked in mud from a day of rain scrambled into the tent and onto our sleeping bags.
It was the adventure that planted in me that desire to go again.
And we would.
We backpacked and snow camped in the Big Horns. We slept in the dirt in every corner of the state.
Those same woods that made me feel big and strong and powerful as a little girl now remind me of just how small I am. Their expanses told me anything was possible, and now they take a weight off of me, reminding me I’m just a piece of this incredible world.
My daughter will likely not remember her first backpacking trip – she was just over a year old and slept much of the time – but I hope on the next one, or the one after that, she will find the same sense of empowerment I had all those years ago.
I hope she finds her own walking sticks and imagines herself as the next Nellie Bly or Beryl Markham. And when she’s all grown up, I hope she hikes through those same forests as they make her feel safe and small.