The Student News Site of Taipei American School




30 days of backpacking: toilet paper not included

Chloe M. (‘20) went on a four week backpacking trip in Alaska. In total, she traveled 170 miles on foot, carrying 20 kilograms worth of supplies as she walked. [PHOTO COURTESY OF CHLOE MANN]

Before this summer, Chloe M. (‘20) would never have considered herself an “outdoorsy” person. But after four weeks long weeks without showering, using toilet paper, or changing her shirt, she has surely become more in touch with nature.
After completing National Outdoor Leadership School (NOLS) summer program in Palmer, Alaska, Chloe had walked 170 miles over the course of 30 days, carrying a backpack that weighed 20 kilograms the entire way. Everyday, her camp group trekked along the mountain ranges of the Alaskan tundra, setting up camp at night, and waking up the next day to start all over again.   
As beautiful as it sounds, with zero contact with the outside world, Chloe felt extremely isolated and helpless during the first week. “I felt lonely, but it was weird because physically, I wasn’t.” Despite the company of 13 other kids and three instructors, her spirits were low. 
The physical challenges she had to overcome made each day even more difficult. The group walked for hours without stopping, carrying all of their supplies and going up and down steep hills.
Halfway through the trip, Chloe began to feel extremely overwhelmed. She requested to call her mom, which took three days to process. “Once I heard her voice, I started crying, because it had been two straight weeks without hearing anything from anyone I knew.” But Chloe did not receive the comforting, sympathetic response that one would respect from her mother. “She was really upset [that I was calling her] because she thought I was giving up on the trip,” Chloe said. 
Suddenly, the call ended due to poor connection. Chloe tried to call her mom back, but no one picked up. “I thought she was really mad at me, but it turns out she was just washing the dye out of her hair.” 
“Naturally, I was worried for her safety because I knew the trip would be strenuous walking 10 miles a day carrying a full pack and I would have no contact with her for the whole month, but I knew she would finish strong.” Chloe’s mom, Christine Mann, said.  “When Chloe called me I was surprised, but soon realized that all she needed was to hear my voice. After hearing about all the interesting stories like running out of food, grizzly bear and caribou encounters, and climbing up 500 feet tall scree fields, I think those unique experiences will help her become more confident to face any kind of challenges that come her way.”
Even though it was cut short, something about that call gave Chloe the surge of energy she needed to keep going. “I think all I needed to do was hear her voice, and feel that sense of comfort.” 
She then saw herself faced with two options: either to continue with the trip just as she had before, or to make the best of her unique yet challenging experience. A few days passed, and it became clear that she had chosen the latter. Not only was she having more fun, but she was elected to be a team leader for one of the smaller groups during the third leg of the trip. 
Soon, she adapted to the peculiarities of backpacking in nature, and even discovered that rocks were a terrific replacement for toilet paper when in the wild. But still, each day just as as the one before.
During the last week, food rations started to run out. “I couldn’t sleep because I was so hungry, so I went outside to find food,” Chloe said. “I found this other guy doing the same thing. So we just kind of sat there, eating apple cider powder and cream cheese, because it was the only food we had left.” 
After an incredible 30 days in Alaska, coming back to Taiwan and returning to civilization fully equipped with internet and functioning cell service, Chloe made an extra effort to reduce the amount of time she spent on her phone. “I definitely stepped away. I told myself that I wouldn’t continue [using my phone as much as I had before],” she said. “[The trip] just made me appreciate the little things, like even showers, and clothes. And toilet paper.” 

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