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One journey at a time

  • Published
  • By Senior Airman Jette Carr
  • 27th Special Operations Wing Public Affairs
I first realized how much inner strength effects performance when I was 15 years old and my dad and I went on a summer hike. This hike spanned backcountry across the state of Utah - from the Arizona to Idaho border - nearly 700 miles. We completed this in 43 days!

Before this trek, I was a bookworm and a couch potato. I did like the occasional mountain climb, but my body was not conditioned for much else.

I remember before we started someone commented that my legs didn't look like a "hiker's legs". Without solid muscle, no matter how skinny you are, there's going to be a jiggle.

This comment, among others, fueled my fire and because of this I learned what a bit of determination can do. Along with this new found tenacity, I learned these lessons:

Decide the outcome before you start and hold yourself accountable.

From day one of the Utah trek I was sure that I was going to make it or die trying. I had something to prove and clung to that thought. Even though I had decided I was going to finish, before my 100th mile, I had some moments where I entertained the thought of quitting.

Starting with limited hiking experience and a 50 pound backpack, wading through sand, bearing the heat and drinking from questionable water sources - at times the struggle to continue would get me down. However, I had already decided to finish and because of that I was able to keep myself going.

By knowing what you want, it's easier to push through challenges.

A tiger can change its' stripes.

Look at me; before the hike I'd never walked more than 10 miles in a day, but at one point during, we managed over 30 miles in a day.

At first I wasn't that thrilled to be walking this kind of distance, but the more I stuck to my guns and worked at it, the more I conditioned myself to enjoy the activity. If I could, I would do it again.

If at first you fail, try again.

When we reached Skyline Drive, Utah, it turned into one heck of a day.

My dad decided we should take an off-trail shortcut, per GPS, to shorten that day's walk. I was in front looking straight ahead, so I'm still not sure what made me notice the young rattlesnake curled up a few feet in front of me. Freaked out, I called a retreat back to the main trail.

After that, dad generously offered to walk in front to make sure I'd stay safe from the snakes. A few minutes later, a diamondback slithered across the trail in front of me.

At this point I had become increasingly agitated and wanted to turn back, but we carried on - that was, until we saw the bear footprints. They were larger than normal for a black bear, the type of bear most common to the area. They were also so fresh that the lines in the bear's foot were visible.

This is where we were forced to turn back for safety reasons.

I was not keen on trying Skyline Drive again and I think I even encouraged my dad to try to find a new route, but no changes were made.

We tried the hike again and had the opposite experience. That section of the hike ended up being one of my favorite. Once we were on the top of that range, it became incredibly green with lakes and breathtaking views.

Take a moment to count your blessings.

As Mac Davis said, "You're going to find your way to heaven is a rough and rocky road if you don't stop and smell the roses along the way."

I learned this while climbing a mountain north of Bicknell, Utah. It was such a hot day that the mixture of sweat and sunscreen were making my face sting as we climbed a steep ascent. It felt like every step I took I was losing two, sliding back in the sand. I don't recall any trees for shade and during a rest I lay down under a scraggly bush and cried a little. It was so hard! That's what I kept thinking to myself and even said I'd never hike up that hill again, even for a million dollars.

Looking back on that experience now, and seeing the old photos, I missed out on some serious beauty. This area was uniquely shaped with red and orange sand carved mountains. The view was outstanding! I was too busy wallowing to realize what a spectacular place it was and just how lucky I was to see it.

I'm grateful to have learned these lessons early on in my life so that I can apply them now as an Airman in the U.S. Air Force.

Joining the Air Force is giving your life to a cause that is bigger than yourself. In this transition from civilian to an active duty Airman, you have to accept that we no longer control which state or country you live in and can deploy at a moment's notice.

Every assignment is what you make of it.  It all comes down to attitude and determination!