Written by: Anni Hsu
I don't even know where to begin with this post. It happened about three weeks ago, at the end of April. Just days before I was about to hit the road on a road trip down south to California. I received an email in my mailbox from Chasing Sunrise. They were hosting a contest. 50 strangers would be selected and taken on an all expenses paid weekend getaway. The catch? You won't know where you're going or what you'll be doing, only that where it is, there is no cell service. You will only be told what to pack. Would you be willing to throw away the comforts of your daily life and throw yourself into the unknown?
This called out to me in so many ways. I love me a good adventure. I love the mentality that this community stand s for. Why spend your whole entire life working and paying bills? I am always willing to try anything once and if its free, that's like cherry on top. I signed up and persuaded a bunch of my close friends to sign up. I left for my trip shortly thereafter. On the entire trip, where data reception was near non-existent since we were always on the road, all I could think about was whether I did enough to get selected. I still remember the exact moment when I found out the results. We were on the road heading towards Santa Rosa, CA and we had pulled into a gas station. I managed to connect to WiFi and I made a call first to my boyfriend. Just before leaving the station, notification pops up that I received another email from Chasing Sunrise. I was selected! I remember not being able to stop smiling for a good while afterwards. I still can't believe that out of over 2000 applicants, I was one of the 50 selected.
I had no idea what to expect from this trip. Would I be able to make any friends? or would I be my awkward self and end up sitting in a little corner by myself? What could we possibly be doing. All these thoughts ran through my head.
That Saturday morning, with about two hours of sleep, my boyfriend drove me to the rendezvous point. MEC head office in East Vancouver. I was one of the earlier few to arrive and to say I was nervous is an understatement. I think over the years I forgot how to open up to people and initiate a conversation. This weekend was going to be a challenge. As more and more people showed up, chatter grew. It seemed that so many people knew each other already. It also seemed that I was the only Asian. I didn't end up being. Yay to being minorities, Melanie. While we waited and loaded up I managed to chat with a few ladies. Nothing much. Small talk. I really had a hard time finding words to say!
It seems that when you don't know anyone you automatically gravitate towards people of your own type or race, not that that's necessarily a good or bad thing. Melanie and I partnered up for the bus ride out. Boy was it loud on the bus, everyone was talking it up and so were we. We got to know each other more. Her, a mother if a beautiful 4 year old girl, works at BGH as a maturity nurse. After a short break in Chilliwack, we had to switch it up and that was where my nervousness really hit a high. Will I be able to converse with someone else? That answer was yes. I got to know Kristen from that point on and we absolutely hit it off! Before we knew it we made it to our destination, Manning Park!
We were briefed by the team at Chasing Sunrise of our weekend itinerary. Adult Summer Camp, packed with icebreakers, California kickball, canoe rides, campfires, and a good old sunrise hike. Our meals, provided by Whole Foods, would be prepared for us by Kyle and Laura from Fuel Your Fire. Tents were provided by MEC and put up for us by the team at chasing sunrise.
We got to know each other better through the icebreakers and had some time before lunch to bond with the 49 other strangers on the trip. After lunch, I took a nasty fall from the hammocks they had set up. After this happened you really realize the type of people you're spending the entire weekend with. Everyone was very concerned and there was someone constantly asking if I was okay. The Chasing Sunrise team was very adamant that if I needed, they'd help carry my things or even me if it was necessary. My biggest fear was that I would have to be sent home early due to my injuries. However I toughened through it with the support of all the new friends I made.
Afternoon was spent idling by the lakeside bonding over common interests and beer, canoeing the linked lakes of Manning Park, and watching some adults play a more interesting version of California kickball. Also dinner was a excellently done pork chop followed by s'mores, upgraded campfire songs and more beer/wine by the campfire. It just didn't get any more relaxing than that.
I hit the hay shortly after 10 pm. We had a 2:45 am, yes you read that right, wake up call. While I thought that was not very long at all given I had only slept 1.5 hours the previous night, others seemed to be amazed I got that much in. It was a sound sleep. I was fortunate because others have also said they couldn't sleep because it was too cold. But then again, I slept in all my layers and also used the throw I brought along.
Who can believe that me, who is anything but a morning person, managed to wake up at 2:50 am and not fall back to sleep. This camp does that to you. When you're not in your comfort zone, you do things so unexpected of yourself that it amazes yourself. With nothing but some drinks and protein bars provided by Vega to energize us, we set off for our hike towards Cascade Lookout. 8 km. 16 km round trip. Thank goodness it was a paved road all the way up, because under my situation at the time, anything else would have made it 100x more difficult. It wasn't surprising that I was literally at the back at the pack. The pace was incredibly fast. We had only about an hour and twenty minutes to make the 8 km up to the viewpoint if we wanted to make the sunrise. More than once, I told myself I could just wait where I was and head down once they're heading back down. However, I kept going and reaped the rewards. I literally made it to the summit with minutes to spare before the sun broke the horizon of the mountains. What a sight. It made it all worth while. What's more, there was hot drinks at the top and the wonderful chefs were preparing a hot meal of eggs, bacon, roasted potatoes at the top, with fruits galore. Definitely one of the best meals on the trip.
On the hike down, which in my opinion is a lot easier for me to do, Gordon, one of the co-founders of Chasing Sunrise, did a grand gesture. He was riding in the car with the chefs and when they passed us heading us, they stopped! He got out, pointed at me and told me to get in the car. I will always remember this moment. He didn't have to do so, but he did and looked out after me. I will forever be grateful. While everyone else trekked the 8 km down, Gina and I were whisked back to the camp in the comforts of a vehicle. Definitely a privilege.
After such a hike, the nap afterwards is all anyone can think of and it was well deserved. Even though it was only 2 or 3 hours, it felt a lot longer. The rest of the trip was spent mingling, chilling by the lake in awe of what had just transpired in the last 36 hours. What a perfect weekend it was. In the city, with the hustle and bustle of each day we forget how to just sit back and relax. Out in the wilderness, no cell service, you really open up to everything that your surroundings have to offer.
Back into civilization we went. The goodbyes were so bitter sweet. I don't think anyone wanted this weekend to end. Surely not me. This group of people who is so diverse in so many ways came together as strangers and came out of it was a bonded group of friends. I'm looking forward to all the reunions to come. I look back and still think how fortunate I am for being selected. Thank you Chasing Sunrise, MEC Outdoor Nation and all the sponsors that made this weekend so great.