My fellow Catalina Island explorers and I set off on the climb out of Parson’s Landing Campground early in the morning. It was our third day on the island, where we intended to walk from beaches and coves to ridges and mountains, then down to the beaches again. We had spent weeks preparing for this trip, gathering lightweight gear to keep us warm and dry. Food had been purchased and weighed; recipes had been tried and tasted. We planned to spend eight days on the island carrying everything we would need to live for the entire time. That morning, we awoke in our tents on the beach, then made our own breakfasts and crammed all our gear into our packs. Before we left, we divided the last of our water supply. As we hefted our backpacks onto our shoulders, the morning mist was still hovering over the water, and the waves crashed on the coarse sand and rocks. We climbed out of the campground up the first rise and started sweating. Then the real work began.
We were going almost straight up, leaning forward with the weight on our backs so that the ground seemed inches from our noses. We stood in ditches to catch our breath so that the weight of our packs rested against the earth and we didn’t have to take them off. We put on hats, wiped faces with bandanas, sipped cautiously on our water, shared snacks, and told stories. We talked about everything. We talked about nothing. I learned things about my companions that I had never known before. We listened to the wind in the grasses, turned back to look at the beach we had left getting smaller and smaller as we scaled the hill in front of us. We could see only the hill in front of us, not knowing what would follow it. Our walk taught us to take each thing as it comes. We connected with each other by what we endured together. There was a sense of mutual accomplishment when the last of us got to the top of the climb.
We liked living out on the island, with only what we could carry on our backs to make us comfortable and to feed us. It made us feel independent and self-reliant, yet connected to our group in a stronger way than back in civilization. Every night, after cooking our dinners in small groups, we gathered around the campfire for stories and songs. We shared bits of our pasts, and honored loved ones not on our journey. We listened to each other’s stories with new compassion and understanding. These people who had once been only our classmates were now our comrades, our hiking buddies, our family for the journey.