Gonzo Girl

It was morning meeting at Camp Unalayee, high in the Trinity Alps wilderness in northern California, and it was time to make a decision. Actually, it was time to choose a hike from all those presented by this year’s counselors–one that would round out the experiences and lessons learned during that session, and one that would provide experiences and memories to last through the long winter.

My usual preference for a “choice” hike was one that led to a lake for a layover–an entire day just packed with lounging, swimming and daydreaming. But, for some reason, this year I took a different route. This year, I went Gonzo.

“Gonzo” is a slang term meaning fiercely partial, without regard for balance or objectivity. This definition is not far off. My “choice” hike was the most emotionally and physically intense experience of my life so far.

Never before had I exhausted my being so thoroughly.

But, I must say, the experience left me yearning for more.

Taking the Plunge

Their voices rang with power and enthusiasm.

“Come join Gonzo!” they yelled. “We are going to hike with 30-pound backpacks over 60 miles at an altitude of about 7,000 feet to two of the most spectacular (and remote) lakes in the world,Bingham and Statue. We have no idea if we will survive, but that’s part of the fun. If you want to go on a challenging, dangerous, hazardous ‘choice’ hike in which we will be hiking nonstop, rubbing our feet raw and probably passing out, come join Gonzo!”

As John, Dylan and Marley sat down after introducing their hike, I had no idea it was where I would end up.

Back in the day, when my mom and dad were counselors at Camp Unalayee (where they met and fell in love), they led one of the gnarliest Gonzos ever. They traveled 100 miles in four days with four twelve- to fourteen-year-old boys and one girl. According to my mom, it was one of the craziest experiences of her life.

She said they traveled about 25 miles each day, mostly cross-country, and there were times when she practically had to drag her campers up the hills. Yet, somehow, they all made it–one of only a few Gonzos to avoid having anybody evacuated.

Maybe this was what inspired me to go Gonzo, or maybe it was that the counselors leading it were awesome.

Whatever the reason, I signed on the dotted line–the only girl out of a tribe of 13 hikers.

Starting Strong

Needless to say, when we awoke early that first day, I was terrified. Not only was I journeying into the woods with a rowdy group of testosterone-laden boys, but I also knew most of the boys were good hikers. Would I be able to keep up? Would I have to be evacuated (and humiliated)? Could I stand the stench of 12 grungy boys who were hiking 20 miles a day without showers?

The plan was for us to cover 25 miles the first day, ending up in Bingham.

We started strong, regularly rehydrating and looking forward to our first stopping point, a sparkling spring where we would rest and refill our water bottles.

I was feelingfairly good despite the smoldering heat, but my feet ached like nothing I had ever felt before, and I already had two huge blisters on each foot. I found that, as long as I kept my feet numb by hiking, I was fine. Eventually, we left the Pacific Coast Trail and our own Trinity Alps wilderness area and entered the treacherous Russian Wilderness Area, home to our first stopping point and our final destination.

We were all really low on water, but unfortunately, when we arrived, the spring was empty. Our counselors seemed unconcerned. They told us not to worry, there was another spring only a few miles away. They warned us to curb our water intake as a precaution.

It was here the day turned for the worse–dehydration and delusion making it seem like a death day.

Death Day

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