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Chapter 5 – Solitude Offers a Chance for Aptitude to Shine

Our community recently started telling us about their outdoor adventures. We’re excited to begin sharing the stories of these brave, growing people and the excitement they’ve experienced in nature. 

We hope you enjoy reading their stories in their own words. Let’s celebrate them and be challenged to push ourselves in our own ways!

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When adventure calls, do you listen?

For some of us, fear keeps us from answering. For others, it’s the naysayers that block our path. And sometimes, life can just get in the way.

But when we’re able to answer, we’re often rewarded with gifts we never could imagine. Gifts like self-assurance, knowledge, and confidence. That’s what Caitlin earned when she chose to wave off concern from friends and challenge her own nerves by venturing into Death Valley… alone.

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Outdoor Adventures – Elira Community member stands on top of Telescope Peak

Caitlin – Into the Desert… Alone

My love of the outdoors is rooted in a childhood of constant family camping trips. On most weekends we would take the camper to local campgrounds where I ended up spending most of my time in the woods and making friends with the other kids. I have such fond memories of sitting around the campfire making the most delicious mountain pies and smores. But it wasn’t until I graduated college that I truly got into hiking and the outdoors. 

Over the past few years, I’ve had the opportunity to hike and backpack in 11 different states, including Alaska and Hawaii. I’ve spent countless weekends solo hiking in my local state of Maryland with my dogs, Oliver and Phoebe. 

But my trip to Death Valley was truly my first solo hike. 

No dogs. 

No friends. 

Just myself and the “hottest place on earth.” 

I knew it was going to stretch me, despite obsessively researching and planning it all out. As it turned out, I found myself in several prime situations for growth during the trip. Telescope Peak and Titus Canyon Road proved to be the most challenging. 

I hoped to make it to the peak by sunrise but didn’t take into account the long desert drive and  strenuous 7 miles uphill. On my way up I met two hikers who were coming down. They said the hike was just too difficult for them… not exactly what anyone wants to hear bright and early in the morning!

There were more than a few times on my hike that I had to stop to catch my breath. A little elevation is a monster on the lungs! I couldn’t help but think about the other hikers who turned back and wonder if I should too. But the promise of breathtaking views and hitting the peak solo was just too tempting to give up.  

After 7 miles I may have been later in the morning than I had hoped, but I made it early enough to have the peak all to myself. The views were incredible and completely worth trudging through switchback after switchback.  The winds were cold and powerful, but I could see the entire park from where I was standing. 

The wave of accomplishment that washed over me was overwhelming!

I met my scariest challenge one evening when leaving the park. I had rented a 4-wheel drive vehicle to manage the challenges of Death Valley’s roads. It was capable and handled like a dream. One of the drives I was super excited to explore was the 26-mile long Titus Canyon Road that winds through Leadfield Ghost town and slot canyons. 

This was BY FAR the most incredible drive I have ever been on. The steep cliffs and sandy desert hills were stunning. The canyon walls jutting up on both sides of my vehicle were an experience I will never forget. 

But I’ll never forget it for a few reasons. 

I hit the trail too late in the day, forgetting that the clocks had just been set back an hour. The sun was falling as I approached Leadfield Ghost town. But I ignored the light and hopped out to explore. After a few minutes, I realized that I needed to continue on my journey if I wanted to see the canyon before dark. 

The setting sun was radiating red and orange off the ancient rock as I entered the Canyon and it wasn’t long until a blanket of black night covered everything in sight. My headlights beamed off of the canyon walls. 

I had no GPS. 

No cell service. 

And I was desperately low on gas. 

I became overwhelmed with fear at the thought of being stuck in this canyon overnight. My vehicle would have kept me safe, but the late evening temperatures of the desert would have been a force to reckon with. 

I did everything I could to ignore the panic brewing in my chest and kept a gentle touch on the gas pedal. Each turn was another canyon wall, and another, and another. I drove for what felt like hours, praying I would have enough gas to get out of the desolate canyon and back to my rickety old camper in Nevada. 

Slowly the starry night sky emerged and I was able to take an enormous sigh of relief. I made my way off of the dirt road and have never been more thankful to be on a paved street! 

Funny enough, after making it back to my trailer later that night, I realized I had only gone about 3 miles through the canyon, but the fear and anxiety of being stuck at night truly changed my perception of time! 

Multiple people told me not to go on this trip alone, but I am so glad I did.

On the one hand, it taught me so much… like to be more aware of my surroundings and know where the closest gas station is!

But on the other hand, I confirmed to myself that I’m capable of whatever I set my mind to. 

Too often we let other people’s opinions make us second guess ourselves, sometimes we need to quiet their voices to let our own be heard.  This trip was all the proof I need that we should always listen to adventure when it calls.

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