Best 2014 essay for Thompson Falls was written by Daniel Kanak

“A most memorable wilderness experience.”

             A few years ago I did not have much passion for the outdoors. I lived in California and preferred the comfort of my house and the availability of food and other commodities just down the street. My parents thought I should come to Montana for a summer to spend time in the outdoors being active and having fun. Needless to say I was not excited; in fact, I was irate. I did not think I could do it, but I had no choice.

The first week we went backpacking in the Kootenai and Lolo National Forest, pushing my limits both physically and mentally. I had never been so far from society’s conveniences. Looking back it was not that bad. Although I was in a beautiful place, I was still in so much shock from my radical change in scenery that I was blind to it.

The backpacking trip could not have ended sooner. The rest of the summer was filled with adventures slightly more familiar to me. Rock climbing on the cliffs overlooking Koocanusa, biking on back country roads, river rafting down the Clark Fork, and even summiting St. Paul’s Peak crammed our time with new excitement every day. Although I had dreaded spending a summer outdoors, by the end I was accustomed to personal challenge, overcoming obstacles, and having fun outside. All while meeting people I still cherish today.

The last adventure of the summer made the biggest impression on me. In exchange for spending time in one of the most primitive areas of the country, the Bob Marshall Wilderness, we worked as volunteers on a trail crew. It was hard work, and something I had not even signed myself up for. Soon enough I began to feel the same struggles and shock that I had experienced weeks earlier. I felt exhausted and had no motivation to keep working, yet I did not want to bring anyone else in the group down with me. I had no choice but to endure.

The fourth day we entered into “the Bob” through a river crossing with all our tools: pulaskis, axes, saws, brush cutters, pruning shears. Our assignment was to hike in ten miles, make camp on a flat next to a creek, and clean up the next ten miles of trail. That hike threw new obstacles at us every hundred yards; I loved it. Still a little kid, I had a blast climbing over and under every other tree that stretched itself across the narrow trail and hopping from rock to rock across tiny creeks. I took every chance given to satisfy my taste buds with fresh huckleberries.  Making it eight miles in before the trail became impassable, we made a small base camp near an equally small creek. Our assignment needed some revision. The next eight days we worked to make our hike out easier. Yard by yard, eight hours a day, we made our way back to the river where we started. Although it was hard work, I could not help but enjoy it. Surrounded by snowcapped peaks in the middle of summer, warmed by the unabating heat of the sun, and cooled under the closely spaced pines while accomplishing something that hundreds of other people would reap the benefits of provided me with a sense of pride and appreciation I had never known before.

The last day of work everyone woke up energized, motivated by the notion of finishing what we had started. After almost six hours of labor, we had cut our way back to the familiar river before taking a well-deserved break, dipping our feet in the glacial melt and constructing a cairn by the trailhead. The next day we packed up camp to leave. What had taken us over eight hours to hike before, we now could stroll through in less than four. Personally experiencing the product of our hard work was inimitable.

My experiences that summer blessed me with a newfound appreciation of what the outdoors have to offer. The pride I earned from working in the Bob motivated me later in my life to work hard in everything I do. This summer I will be working with the U.S. Forest Service. I wanted the job mainly because it will keep me outside, it will keep me active, and allow me to do work that directly benefits others. While applying for positions in every department possible, I was always thinking about how good it felt when I worked in the Bob Marshall Wilderness.

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