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How eating a pretzel changed my life

Hana Donnelly, Staff Writer

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I knew I was out of my comfort zone when I dropped a pretzel and had to eat it off the ground.

First of all, I hate pretzels. Second of all, I’m a germaphobe.

Finding myself an apprentice of Leave No Trace principles, a system of rules to follow in order to leave nature in its non-human-influenced state, I had to learn to embrace “trail spice.”

I knew I had to eat that pretzel in the metaphorical “swallow the frog” sense if I were to overcome the challenge awaiting: a week-long climb up a mountain.

A student-based environmental education program called Naturebridge had recruited me as part of its team to go backpacking. I applied and received a scholarship for their trip in Olympic Park, Washington, which allowed me to go with their leaders, borrow their gear, and most importantly, climb up a mountain for almost nothing besides airfare.

I call it the best opportunity of my life so far.

The night before leaving, I packed literally everything I would use for the next five days into ginormous blue backpack and put it on my back. The thing was so huge and heavy that I had to use a buddy just to get it on. Included was a bear canister—something I hadn’t even heard of before coming to Washington—pajamas, a tent, food, two liters of water, extra shoes, tiny toiletries and a camera.

The three-hour bus ride to the trailhead granted me plenty of time to contemplate my imminent situation: being in the woods of an unfamiliar environment surrounded by a bunch of strange students I’ve never met before. I had never even been camping before.

After our second day hiking, Lani Chang — our counselor guide-woman — offered us a bit of wisdom, saying “Backpacking is type B fun. There are boring parts. It’s not all fun.”

And it’s true; some of backpacking is just boring. A lot of the trip was marching in silence as we tried to keep a pace without running out of breath. The boredom got to the point where — if someone burped — we would all shout a different color.

One of my worst memories on the hike was the mosquito swarm. We cooked dinner and mosquitos fell into the boiling water, making mosquito soup. You opened your mouth to talk and mosquitoes flew in. Any exposed skin received the gift of a ginormous swollen mosquito bite the next day.

The next day we scaled the side of a mountain on a poorly maintained trail. I literally thought I was going to fall to my death. I had to crawl on my hands to combat my vertigo because if I looked to the right I knew I would fall into the snowbank and die.

At the top of the mountain, we sat in a meadow full of little succulents to eat lunch and admired the vastness of the world in the basin below us. We collected field data on the alpine plants. We even went rock climbing — something I struggled with as I honestly don’t know the last time I’ve seen a rock in Mount Pleasant.

My trip was almost over and we were preparing to head downhill when from the corner he emerged: a mountain goat. He was gorgeous; wispy beard, bulging muscles and gleaming black eyes.

I will never forget the moment he came to our campground. The memory of the mountain goat my last morning in Olympic Park will always be with me.

Finally down the mountain we went. I was glad, yet sad. I was ready to return to a place where I could take a shower, but not ready to leave Washington.

This trip showed me all the important things we neglect in daily life. I have a new appreciation for garbage cans, a bed, and instant communication. I also have a new appreciation for using the bathroom outside, stargazing and trail camaraderie.

And to think, it all started with eating a pretzel off the ground.

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