“Learn to get in touch with the silence within yourself, and know that everything in life has purpose. There are no mistakes , no coincidences, all events are blessings given to us to learn from.” This quote by Elisabeth Kubler -Ross resonates with me and the blessing it was to have the opportunity to intern for the Colorado Fourteeners Initiative this summer.
Last December I lost my mother and it was the hardest blow I’ve experienced in my life. I felt like a child alone without the guidance and wisdom of my mom. I had to learn how to live without the encouraging words from my mentor and make life decisions without her guiding advice.
When the opportunity to intern for the Colorado Fourteeners Initiative fell into my lap, I couldn’t help but hear the words of my mother saying “Niki go for it, you only live once”, so I dropped everything and left my New York City life behind. I made a complete 180 degree turn and started fresh as a trail worker on the majestic 14,000-foot peaks of Colorado.
My great friend and amazing trail crew leader Rob taught me the ins and outs of working and living in the mountains. All the tips a newbie like myself should know. However, putting theses new skills into practice was another story.
On one of my first hitches, I had to learn the art of assembling my home (a tent), in the rain. As I clumsily assembled my tent I managed to bend the pole of the rain fly, thus leaving my tent vulnerable to 4 days of constant rain. On the third day, completely soaked, I remember crying like a baby and wondering how I was ever going to get through this season being so inexperienced in this new environment. With a change of attitude and a trip to REI for a new tent I learned how to set up quickly.
For many campers lighting a portable stove seems like a breeze but for a chicken like me it seems like a sketchy idea. Opening the valve to let the white gas into the little pan, then putting my hand too close for comfort with a lighter was all to scary for me. I was so frightened the little stove would explode. After 10 hours in the field, small fears slowly disappear as your stomach grumbles in hunger for something warm. It was cool seeing changes in myself, a nervous person opening up to new experiences.
Then, of course, came the work itself. At first glance, seeing a 400 pound rock, you think no way! It’s not possible to move that massive thing. I had visions that I would drop the rock on my foot, my finger or even worse, get squashed by a boulder tumbling down the mountain. Fortunately, none of those scenarios I played in my mind happened. My awesome and knowledgeable crew leader Kristine taught me to safely move these large rocks using rock nets. I now feel comfortable teaching volunteers how to safely quarry rocks to the work site and build features such as retaining walls, and check steps.
It has been an intense change from my life in New York City but after adapting to this drastically different experience here, I feel much more confident and knowledgeable about the Colorado Fourteeners Initiative. I’ve learned so much about the tundra, trail work and also a little something about myself. I feel my mom’s presence with me as I wake up to the sunrise in these breathtaking mountains, ready to start a new day of work. I hear her laughing with me when I work through my clumsy mistakes as a newcomer. It’s been a tough learning curve but I remain committed. This wonderful internship helped me realize that you can overcome uncomfortable situations and fears .
I would like to thank everyone at CFI for this, awesome opportunity and a big thank you to the Kimberly Appelson Memorial Endowment Fund and the Appelson Family for making this internship program possible.