After being in the back country for eight days, Gustavo was able to sit back and reflect on his experience in base camp. Here’s what he had to say:
“First experiences are often jarring and make us feel like we are not able to do something that is in front of us, however that is not the case with the ARC program. When I first started the ARC program and was picked up for the first orientation, my first thought was “Can I actually do this?” My first taste of the ARC program was getting to hike up to Fresno Dome in full backpacking gear all the while being a complete novice to the intricacies of backpacking. My legs were on fire, muscles I didn’t even know I had were sore the day after orientation was over. That was only three days. As I lay on my bed I started to wonder if I could actually survive forty days and thirty-nine nights. I’m on my ninth night now and I can say with complete confidence that I think I can do this. The physical part of this program is something that I am not used to, I went from couch potato to hiking sixteen hundred feet in steep mountains and being swarmed by an endless amount of mosquitoes that seemed to almost regenerate after each swat.
That may seem like it would shoo a lot of people away and it should, it is not for the faint of heart or people with faint calves. What this program does offer is something that I don’t think many other programs can offer, a sense of community and a feeling that you belong here because you have a place to call home, even if it does change with the daily hikes that are not in base camp. I can honestly say that I don’t feel homesick in the slightest because I feel like this is my home and I belong here. Even now I am being lulled into a deep unconsciousness by a friend of mine that is currently playing a piano that we found at base camp. What I left back in my home was quickly replaced by these twelve strangers that I feel are now an extended part of my family. We’ve been through so much these past couple of days and we’re only 1/5th of the way done. We laughed, we suffered, we cried, but overall we experienced something that brings everyone together; happiness. It is the fact that we are strangers that makes us all want to be as close as possible, we rely on each other for many things and one of the biggest is emotional support.
One of the biggest breakthroughs that happened during our trip was when we picked up two rocks, one heavy, and one light, we were then told to hold the heavy rock over our head and read something that we feel is a big burden in our lives. It was an experience that I will treasure forever because it made me realize how insignificant my problems were in the grand scheme of things, but I still couldn’t let go of my rock because I felt that I had an obligation to do so. I held on like my life depended on it and my arm was shaking to the point where I thought that I was going to give out before I give up. Then I heard Michael say “It’s okay to let go, it doesn’t mean that you quit, it means that you are strong enough to move on from what is troubling you.” Hearing that made me have an epiphany, six thousand feet in elevation and here I am having a full-blown crisis about a rock that signified my problems and emotional weight. It took a lot in me but I was finally able to let go while we all said what troubled us in sync. That was when I realized that through the help of ARC, the personal questions, and my new family that I was able to find the courage in myself to let go. It was a weird feeling, mostly because my arm fell asleep but at the same time I felt so alive. It was as if, quite literally, a huge weight was taken off of me.
Overall the ARC program is a place for learning about English, environmental science, leadership, but most importantly, yourself. It is in the very nature of this program to explore yourself and find what makes you, well you, in the wilderness we all take off the mask that we put on for others and replace it with dirt from a hard day’s climb. It is both liberating and exhausting to see who you truly are in nature. Seeing your reflection in a dirty puddle or shiny spoon is like seeing a completely different person, because we finally took down the facade and can now see ourselves the way our inside truly is. To some that may be disturbing, but to me it is beautiful. I can’t wait to see what else this program has to offer.”