by Becca Fitch
Last summer at a backpacking camp in the Trinity Alps I went on a choice hike called Gonzo. Gonzo is defined as a slang term meaning fiercely advocative or partial without regard for balance or objectivity. This definition is not far off. Gonzo was on of the most emotionally and physically intense experiences of my life.
I traveled on foot for sixty miles at an altitude of about 7,000 feet with a thirty-pound backpack, twelve boys, and multiple blisters in a total of four days. In that time I visited two amazingly beautiful lakes, hiked in the same clothing the entire time, hiked for ten miles with only 62 ounces of water, climbed several peaks, hiked from dawn ‘til dusk, and made it back to tell the tale. Never before had I exhausted my being so thoroughly. But I must say, the experience left me yearning for more.
It was morning meeting at Camp Unalayee and it was time for the counselors to announce their choice hikes. My usual preference for a choice hike is one in which you go to a lake and have a layover (an entire day where you just lounge around at the lake swimming and doing whatever you want to do). But for some reason my choice this year was different.
“Come join Gonzo! We are going over sixty miles to two of the most spectacular lakes in the world. We are hiking on the Pacific Crest Trail for most of the trip and heading out of the Trinity Alps into the wild Russian Wilderness area. We are going on a crazy trip to Bingham and Statue two distant and mysterious lakes. We have no idea if we will survive but that is part of the fun! So if you want to go on a challenging, dangerous, hazardous choice hike in which we will be hiking nonstop, gaining tons of blisters and probably passing out, come join Gonzo!!!!!!”
As John, Dylan and Marley sat down after introducing their hike I had no idea that was where I would end up going. Back in the day when my mom and dad were counselors at Camp Unalayee (that is where they first met and fell in love) they led one of the gnarliest Gonzos that has ever been done. They traveled one hundred miles in four days with a group of four twelve to fourteen year old boys and one girl. My Mom said that it was one of the craziest experiences of her life. They traveled about 25 miles each day mostly cross-country. She said there were times when she practically had to drag her campers up the hills. But somehow they all made it. My parents led one of the few Gonzos not to have an evack.
Maybe this was what inspired me to go on Gonzo, maybe it was the fact that the counselors leading it were awesome. Maybe it was because I was ready for a challenge I wasn’t sure I could beat. But whatever the reason, I ended up signing up for this hike- the only girl out of a tribe of thirteen. I will admit that I was slightly terrified. Not only was I journeying into the woods with a rowdy group of testosterone, but I knew most of these boys were good hikers. Would I be able to keep up? Would I have to be evacked and be completely humiliated? Could I stand the stench of thirteen grungy boys who were hiking twenty miles a day without showers? Many thoughts passed through my head as I signed up, but I did it. I wrote my name down and committed to one of the best experiences of my life.
We woke up early the first day to get started. We were going all the way to Bingham on the first day (25 miles). This was the day we had our dehydration, delusional, death day. It was a long ways into our hike and we had crossed into the Russians. I was feeling pretty strong but my feet ached like nothing I had felt before. I already had two huge blisters on each foot but as long as I kept them numb by hiking I was fine. Then we reached the spot that there was supposed to be a spring. We were all pretty low on water because the counselors had told us there would be a spring so we drank readily, but there was none. They told us not to worry because there should be another one only a few miles from there, but they warned us to be conservative with our water intake. It was a smoldering hot day and another ten miles before we reached a spring.
Each time I turned around a bend I would search for the sparkle of a little spring. I would stop occasionally and listen for the sound of water but there was none. My entire tribe began to get delirious; we were all parched to the bone. But I kept going. I stayed at the front the entire stretch thinking “the faster I go, the sooner I will reach water.” I looked behind me and saw Sharky (a guy in my tribe) swaggering as we walked. But I kept going; I charged on and pretty soon he was out of my sight.
As I walked I thought of my mom. How brave and strong she must have been to lead her choice hike. With each step that I took I looked down to see my muscles bulge, imagined they were someone else’s muscles, a strong warrior like my mom. A fearless leader ready to face whatever came my way. With each step I morphed myself: my mother, my sister, Hilary Clinton, Buffy, Susan B. Anthony, Rosa Parks, my grandmother, Ani Difranco….. that day I took on many shapes, many histories, many strengths, many weaknesses.
But through all my forms I found my roots. I found connections between all of those people and myself. I was strong, powerful, capable, and revolutionary. And I kept going. Just one foot in front of the other, nice and steady. Finally, we reached the spring. As I approached it I began to run; I no longer felt the ache in my feet or my back. All I could feel was cold, refreshing, nourishing water slipping down my throat. When I reached the spring I threw down my backpack and filled up my water bottle. Never before had water tasted so grand.
We stayed at that tiny spring for an hour, the longest break we had taken so far. We drank, ate and slept. We felt our bodies heal themselves and our minds focus. I took in the shade first and then the sun, cooling off, and warming up. But we had not reached our destination yet. We still had a ways to go before we could really rest. So, after a while on our backpacks went and forward we marched. But from that moment on I knew I could do it. There was no way I was turning back. I was a fierce woman warrior and I was never going to stop.
I stayed at the front almost the entire trip. I kept pace with the fastest and passed many boys in the process. “ Damn. Becca, you were charging!” they would sometimes say. And I knew inside, we were charging. I and all the influential women of my past were charging on, gaining respect, confidence and power. Showing the world we could do it. I could do it.
We had two evacs on our trip, one a fifteen-year-old boy who went back on the first day. The other, one of our counselors, a twenty year old boy who talked tough but whined like I baby about his blisters before we evacked him. But I made it all the way.
And when we returned home to the basin John told my Mom, “Becca was going faster than all of us!”. A slight exaggeration, but only slightly. When my Mom heard this she smiled proudly at me and proceeded to tell everyone I was leading the pack. But I knew I was only a part of the pack. Joining the influential women of our past who have paved the way for the rest of us. The accomplishment I felt after returning from that hike was indescribable. I was now a Gonzo girl.
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About the Author:
Tango Diva is proud to introduce Becca Fitch, a very eloquent 16 year old junior at Harbor High School in Santa Cruz CA. She loves the environment and her favorite class is Biology. Her mom’s a school teacher and her Dad has been camp director at Camp Unalayee for 20 years. Becca loves drama and just directed her high school spring musical, Guys and Dolls.
About Camp Unalayee:
Camp Unalayee (Camp U), meaning “Place of Friends” in Cherokee, is an accredited summer camp for girls and boys ages 10 through 17. Located in Northern California in the beautiful Trinity Alps wilderness, Camp U provides a unique outdoors experience during 2 week sessions where kids completely disconnect from iPods, video games and the internet and learn to connect with nature and the surrounding wilderness. A one-week family session is also offered at the end of August.
Campers live, play and hike together under the guidance and supervision of an experienced staff. At Unalayee, campers gain a greater understanding of themselves, each other and the natural world. Each year, several camp scholorships (“camperships”) are provided to families who might not otherwise be able to send their children to camp.
For 57 years, the camp has provided kids with self-esteem, social values and a love for the environment. To donate towards a campership or to get more information on Camp Unalayee, visit:
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