Grading life goals on a 7-year scale

The great outdoors is a measuring stick
June 24, 2022 at 5:05 a.m.
Climbers scale a face at Central Oregon's Smith Rock State Park.
Climbers scale a face at Central Oregon's Smith Rock State Park. (Photo courtesy of Kayla Heidenreich)

CDN Contributor

Editor's Note: Bellingham native, active adventurer and former Cascadia Daily News intern Kayla Heidenreich is exploring wild lands of the Pacific Northwest this summer, expanding her outdoor education. We've asked her to send us dispatches on what the experience means to her, each time she gets back to Wi-Fi. Her latest installment:

Where do you see yourself in seven years?

I am not sure if seven is the universal number used in that particular question: but for this instance, let’s say that it is. Today I found some hindsight revolving around the all-too-common inquiry.

Seven years ago, I stood in the Smith Rock State Park lot in central Oregon with my friend during our celebratory high school graduation road trip. I was mesmerized by the steep orange spires rocketing out of the ground in all directions and the Crooked River weaving carefully between them. 

We hiked Misery Trail, which holds true to its name, taking you up steep switchbacks to the top of Smith Rock. We walked by climbers scattered in mid-air amid the rust-colored walls, and I remember thinking my little body would never be strong enough to defy gravity like that. 

More recently, I pulled into that same lot in my Ford E-350 shuttle bus that my partner and I just converted. I hopped out with all my climbing gear, and two new pals, and headed toward Misery Trail. This time, only miserably hiking the first quarter of the trail and stopping at one of the many crags there.

We spent the next seven hours intimate with the wall, carrying ourselves up shooting cracks and overhung crimpy walls. I felt strong, physically and mentally. I felt connected, both to myself and to nature. I also felt empowered, and ready to empower others. 

As I was leaving, I stopped. I looked toward the top of Misery Trail and could almost see my young self sitting at the top and gazing out into the abyss. I wanted to go give her a hug. I felt a wave of gratitude intermixed with pride flow through my exhausted body.

The very reason I was at Smith Rock that day is because I just started a job instructing at the outdoor education school Outward Bound. I get to take people, the same age as my young self sitting atop Misery Trail, on three weeklong backpacking, climbing and rafting expeditions. I get to be the person that I needed at that age — for others.

Nature heals people. We are all more capable than we may give ourselves credit for, and sometimes all one needs is someone to instill that confidence within them. 

I am currently writing this while seated solo at a large table in a Thai restaurant in Redmond, Oregon. I miss Bellingham and the community within the Evergreen State, but I can’t help feeling the excitement bubbling up for the seasonal work and all the adventures it will bring. 

I anticipate struggling young adults, flipped rafts, lots of whitewater rapid swims, blood left behind on the climbing wall, rehydrated lentils and quinoa for dinner every night, rainy hiking days, structured conflict resolutions and a scary fire season. But I feel as prepared as I can be. I look forward to the ability to create a safe space to allow others to play with risks and build confidence through experience. 

I never thought my little arms could climb me up the wall, but over time I learned it’s not your arms that allow you to climb — it’s your legs. Which can be a transferable lesson. Have an open mind. You never know what you will or won’t do — or what you truly can or can’t do. 

Kayla Heidenreich's outdoor lifestyle column appears monthly. 

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