With Tawonga’s 2023 summer season kicking off in less than two months(!), we invite you to get in touch with that Camp spirit with a beautiful reflection from Tawonga wilderness leader Jill Albertson. In this short post, Jill describes her beshert moment last summer of leading the epic Bagel Run hike that she once feared as a camper.
By: Jill Albertson
With aching legs and feet and a full heart, I handed fourteen celebratory gatorades to my Haifa bagel runners and wobbled into the Tawonga passenger vans. As we buckled our seats, my camper Rosa from G-8B turned to me and said, “Jill, this was the best day of my life,” to which I replied, “mine too.”
On August 1st, 2022 I had the privilege of leading twelve motivated campers, alongside two counselors, up to the summit of Cloud’s Rest in a 23-mile trek from the Sunrise Lakes trailhead into the Valley. It was a task my 14-year-old self could have never imagined I would want to do, let alone be able to undertake.
As a camper, I quite literally despised walking. I thought of myself as a lover of seats and rides to places. So in 2014, when my wilderness leader stood in front of my entire unit and explained that there was an optional 23-mile hike up Half Dome that I could partake in, I shocked even myself as I wrote my name down. And when they said I had gotten in, well, I was simply terrified. I had no faith in my body and it’s capabilities at the time, nor did I even have hiking boots. My white high-top Converse were going to have to do.
Waking up in the Moadone that morning, I nervously packed up my things and wondered how I was ever going to get through the day. I told myself, “somehow, my body can, and will, just do this.” When we got to the trailhead, we scarfed down our first round of bagels and my jittery excitement set in. The first three miles were switchback after switchback and as my feet carried me up each one, my words started to sink in and I felt I might actually be able to do this. With ongoing games, riddles and endless bagels, my mind was distracted while my body did the work I didn’t even realize it could.
While we didn’t get the chance to fully summit that day due to a race against a looming thunderstorm, I felt I had made it to the top of Half Dome. Defying all principles of LNT (“Leave no trace”), my friends and I each snagged a small piece of granite from the top to remember our accomplishment. And as we descended the peak, my strong legs turned to jelly, and the rest of the 14 miles became a shocking realization that my body is capable of way more than I ever thought it was. I still keep my stolen Half Dome treasure on my dresser as a reminder of just that; however, my Converse were tossed in the trash as soon as I got home from camp that summer.
That trip was the start of my love for hiking. It showed me that hard things I once thought were out of reach, were in fact entirely in my realm of possibilities. I started going on hikes with my family, which eventually lead to backpacking trips with friends, joining the mountain club at my school, and completely becoming entranced with outdoor adventure. Not only that, but it also showed me a whole new side of my physical body. It taught me that I do in fact LOVE walking, and even more than that, I love my body for allowing me to walk up mountains to see the many beautiful parts of the world.
This past summer, as I stood in front of the entire unit of Haifa as the Bagel Run wilderness leader, I described the hike and the day they would embark upon if chosen. That same evening, my 12 campers gathered to meet and prepare for the following day’s hike. Rosa came up to me to express her nerves and self-doubt regarding the trip, to which I responded and emphasized to the whole group – that everyone sitting here right now can and will finish this trip together, and that their bodies are capable of more than they maybe even they knew.
Tawonga is deeply grateful to Jill for sharing her empowering story with our community – yasher koach! We wish Jill another summer of transformative nature experiences as a returning summer staff member.
There are still spots available this season to join a Tawonga program, to immerse in epic nature and discover newfound abilities in ourselves! Our website now lists which programs have availability, which include summer camp, adventure quests, teen leadership & travel, family camp and adult retreats. Explore here to reserve your spot.