I was really starting to question whether I’d taken on more than I was capable of. And every person I talked to in the shuttle to my first solo backpacking trip was adding to my doubt. I had spent the last two years building confidence in the outdoors, but this was a whole new challenge. And I worried that I’d made a mistake.
It all started back in 2017. That year, I chose a word of the year as a part of my goal-setting process. That word was courage.
That year, I forced myself to say yes to all the things I’ve always wanted to do but terrified me. This eventually led me to try my first solo camping trip. Over the next two years, I built up confidence in the great outdoors but now I needed a new challenge. So I was about to set out on my first solo backpacking trip.
I wanted to challenge myself, but also make sure my goal was attainable. I’d been training all season long and felt certain I had the perfect route planned. That confidence began to wane when the day of the hike came.
As though being in my own head wasn’t enough; now all these other people were in there too. I was quickly questioning my confidence in my abilities outdoors.
The first to shake me was the shuttle driver. He asked how far I was hiking. Looking impressed by my response, he then asked, “How long will it take you?” When I responded, “four nights,” his expression changed and he said, “Well, if you can’t do it, you can give us a call and we’ll get you back to your car.”
Next was the woman we picked up at Lutsen Mountain. She called it quits after days of rain, cold weather, and deep mud. She couldn’t stop warning me about how awful it was out there. The ankle-deep mud had her hiking at a snail’s pace and on top of that, everything was drenched. She was miserable and certain that I would be too.
Then we picked up an older man and his adult son. Veterans of the trail, they too questioned if I’d be able to complete all of those miles in less than five days. “And you chose the section with all of the ‘mountains,’” the older man said. That was the point, I thought to myself, trying to stay calm and not let their doubts take me off course.
But “I’m sure you’ll do fine,” they assured me as I got out of the shuttle. If not, I could always call for a ride.
Building Confidence Outdoors
At the time, the only shame worse than failing would have been not trying. So I strapped on my pack, hit the trail, and tried to think happy thoughts to build back my confidence in the outdoors.
Night came more quickly than I’d planned in the great northern forest. The sun had set by the time I made camp and I ate dinner alone in the dark. I thought I’d be scared, sleeping alone in the middle of nowhere. But I’ve never slept better. I’m sure the mental and emotional Olympics I participated in earlier that day had something to do with that epic night of sleep.
The trail was as muddy as I’d been told. And sections of the trail were much more challenging than I expected. Then there were nearly two days of nonstop rain. But I kept trudging along—one foot in front of the other.
When things got tough, I’d think about everything I was grateful for. How many people in this world get to do something like this? To just take off and walk 85 miles, by themselves, through one of the most beautiful landscapes in the world. And with all of this rain, I had nearly every campsite to myself. I went at least a day and a half without seeing another human. It was so peaceful. And this body I had. What a blessing to be able to carry myself up and down all of these Minnesota “mountains.” There was much to be grateful for indeed.
When things got really, really, really hard, I sang The Sound of Music soundtrack to myself in an attempt to shift the focus off of my pain and discomfort. It was probably a waste of what little energy I had. But I made it through and cried tears of joy when I thought about what I’d accomplished that day. Each step I took, I was growing my confidence in the great outdoors.
I completed the hike just as I planned. And didn’t need the help of a shuttle. All I needed was the courage to start and the confidence to just keep going—one muddy step at a time.
All these years later, it’s easy to see how trips like this have helped me to build courage and confidence in the great outdoors. But more importantly, this confidence has carried over into every other area of my life.
I’ve also learned that you never stop being scared. But every time you find the courage to take one more step forward, you build confidence to keep going.
I never could have imagined all the ways the great outdoors would shape my life. To this day, I’m grateful to the mud, the mountains, and even my doubters. The courage and confidence I’ve built, and am building, have filled my life with a richness I never thought possible. And all I did was step outside and put one foot in front of the other.
Interested in building courage and confidence in the great outdoors? Local to Minnesota? I’d love to have you join me for a hike. You can learn more and join the waitlist here.