Dear GECKO supporters,

            I would like
to take a moment of your time to thank you for giving me this wonderful
experience.  Your support has given me a
scholarship to a NOLS course. As an avid outdoorswoman and a future wildlife
biologist this was a dream come true. My NOLS course has taught me lessons that
I will undoubtedly refer to in the future. There were many lessons, but I picked “The Golden Three”.

The first lesson I learned is “take time
to appreciate the hard work”, after hours of continuous bushwhacking,
sheets of icy rain or a horribly cooked meal, you have to appreciate the effort
put into each action. Sitting on top of a mountain after a hard, sweaty 14
miles, look up and appreciate the brilliant orange clouds that stained the snow
capped ranges. See the wonderful individuals you share this experience with. If
you wouldn’t have put that much effort into hiking that day, that view couldn’t
be that striking, the friendships not as special.

The
second lesson I learned was to “lead by example and share the wealth”. When
someone was having a tough day, the kind of day that slowly grinds the gears,
the best thing you can do is share your trail mix, crack jokes and help them
set up their tent. Because your positive energy and willingness to understand
is the greatest way to improve group dynamic.

 

The
third lesson, “when the milk spills, just clean it”. Some days when we were
soaked to our skin it was difficult to not complain and keep going. But you
just had to realize the only way to get dry was to make it to camp and crawl in
that beautifully crafted sleeping bag and slide on those sacred dry socks.
Vocalizing the level of difficulty and discomfort doesn’t help the situation. Everyone
already is going through the same exact experience. But it was these situations
that we will remember the most, and what they taught us.

There
were difficult times on our course, like the day we climbed a steep pass in
blizzard conditions. We all developed mild hypothermia but we sang loudly to
Journey, trying to overpower the howling wind as we waited to hear from the
instructors whether we could climb down the other side. Three hours ticked by
but we were unable to get down in this weather, we returned to our previous
campsite and stayed there. Tolerance for Adversity and Uncertainty, right? It
was a very humbling experience.

Another
day we had set up camp along the banks of the Wood River with intentions to
cross the next day. It had rained that entire day and didn’t stop that night
either. We decided for a layover day to have classes on Wilderness Medicine. It
had been raining for over 48 hours without stopping. Before crawling in my tent
I noticed the small creek beside my tent swelling every hour. I said to my tent
mate, “Jackie, we are going to be underwater in the morning” with all
seriousness and crawled in my tent. I assured myself the 100 meters between us
and the Wood was safe enough. Jackie was very upset that night because she was
supposed to be an LOD(Leader of the Day) and she couldn’t figure out how to
read a map. I tried my best to teach her and comforted her with an “Everything
will be better in the morning”.

At 3
am I woke to a damp feeling creeping in my sleeping bag. I put my hand out onto
the tent bottom, it was the consistency of a waterbed, and the ground had
turned to Jello. I yelled to Jackie, who was still sound asleep, “Jackie we
need to get out of here we are going to drown!” I frantically started to throw
my wet belongings in my pack as water poured into the mesh bug netting of our
tent. Jackie and I began to just start laughing, what were we supposed to do in
this situation? Jackie said, “So Jett you said everything was going to get
better in the morning?” I shook my head and crawled out of my tent still in my
base layers. My foot hit the sediment with glacial river water up to my knees.
I threw my bag on high ground and began to wake everyone up. As soon as 2 other
people emerged from their bogged tents, we ran to the kitchen and started
throwing our gear out of the river that was running through our cooking area.
Luckily nothing was lost. I sat in the mud, my feet purple and numb from the
frigid water.

The
Instructors had decided there were to be no LODs that day, and we should cross
the Wood River before it got any more dangerous. It was 4:30 in the morning and
we threw on our wet boots and packs. Watershed off the mountains was 1 ½ feet
deep. Just imagine, everywhere there was a knee deep river that you couldn’t
get out of. We hiked 5 miles before we found a suitable place to cross. The
water was belly-button deep in some places but we all made it across safely. We
hiked another 3 miles to the airstrip where our re-rations would be. We made it
there by 11 am. As soon as our feet touched the strip the rain stopped and the
sun came out. It was surreal. We emptied our soaking belongings and hung them
on every willow we could find. It looked like a used gear sale. Our instructor
called the pilot letting him know we reached the airstrip. Ray, the pilot,
decided to go ahead and bring our re-rations a day early without knowing what
we had been through that morning.

Needless
to say it was a long day, but not one moment during it did I wish I was home.
Every hardship during my course was what made it so interesting. Even when a
bear stole 15 pounds of food from my group and we went on a “low calorie diet”
for ISGE(Independent Student Group Expedition, which is where we are completely
independent of the instructors for 5 days and 4 nights). The stories you tell
people after aren’t the beautiful and serene moments of sitting atop a peak,
but the gritty and challenging ones.  

What
made it all worth it was seeing the natural beauty that surrounded us. The
natural beauty people like NOLS and GECKO help protect. I am so glad I got to
have such a wonderful and amazing experience and be around unique and
incredible people whom I’ve grown to love so much. GECKO and NOLS are for sure
organizations I will always support for their dedication to the outdoors. They
intensified my passion to teach the masses about wildlife and how important it
is we protect and enjoy nature. Thank you so much for time, energy and support
for what GECKO and NOLS stand for. It was because of those things I was blessed
to go on such a wild trip, a trip I will never forget and for that I am
eternally grateful.

Angette
Pastuszek

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