Written by: North Left Coast
Hey everyone! This is a long one, so I’ll keep my introduction short. As many of you know, I won a contest recently for a weekend-long adventure with a group called Chasing Sunrise. I wanted to share this with you in as much detail as possible so I really didn’t hold back! I also wanted to share a few life lessons I learned along the way. Enjoy 🙂.
May 3rd: A friend of mine tags me in an intriguing post on Facebook.
I am immediately curious and click the link, only to find out that it’s a complete mystery. It’s a contest for a weekend “into the unknown” with 50 strangers who will be given nothing more than a packing list.
Without hesitation, I enter the contest assuming that I won’t win. I write a bit about myself and why I want on board. My entry is honest (I even write “I’m scared shitless about this”) but I figure they won’t want to bring along someone that’s afraid. For a brief moment I think to myself “What should I do if I actually win though? I can always just say no, right?” I’m reassured by this thought and by the knowledge that the odds are most likely not in my favour. After entering, I google Chasing Sunrise. I add them on Snapchat. I check out their Instagram. I watch one of their promo videos. Ohh. Shit. I realize they’re known for hiking mountains in the early (pitch black) hours of the morning to literally chase the sunrise. This probably sounds amazing for some people…but I am not a morning person, nor am I the most athletic person in the world. I enjoy working out – but at my own pace. I do love the outdoors – but during the day. And yes, I do like to hike, sure. But the last time I hiked the Grouse Grind, for example, my friend and I stashed beer in my backpack and drank casually the whole way up. It was really more of a two hour stroll inspired by day drinking. I take a few deep breaths and realize that whatever’s meant to be will be and I’ll just have to wait patiently to get the reassuring email that I haven’t been chosen.
May 8th: I get an email from a guy called Julian titled “Welcome Into The Unknown”. OMG. Julian sounds really outgoing and cool in his email. I’m a little intimidated. I read the email over again, palms sweating, heart racing… WHY did I get chosen for this?! It must have been a random draw. I have to confirm within 24 hours… I hold my breath, click reply and start writing Julian back. In the email I say that I’m excited and that I’ll be there. But honestly, I’m dying a little inside. I’m scared, I’m nervous, I’m slightly regretting all of this. I’m having visions of 50 strangers, all body builders and professional triathletes, running up a mountain with their headlamps on while I struggle to find my footing in the dark several hundred feet behind. I have no cell service so I can’t even text anyone for help. Oh and I’m friendless, too, of course. I ignore my visions and click send. It’s confirmed.
May 13th: I get an email with a packing list and a meeting location. We will be meeting tomorrow at 6am to get on a bus. Still no clue where we’re going, no clue who I’m going with, and no clue if I’m even fit enough. I decide I might die this weekend and I text my friends to tell them goodbye. They laugh and reply “have fun!” Easy for them to say.
May 14th, 6am: Jon and I pull up to the meeting location. It’s a parking lot outside the MEC headquarters. I see a bus and I see people mingling and holding coffee that they already bought this morning. I realize I’m showing up without having had any coffee or breakfast. I might actually die before the hike. How is everyone so prepared?! Jon wishes me luck, gives me a kiss goodbye and I walk towards the group wearing a backpack that I realize will be way too heavy to hike with. I have a brief vision of myself falling backwards down a cliff.
As soon as I join the group, a small weight is lifted off my shoulders. Partly because I’m able to store my heavy backpack under the bus and partly because people are smiling, talking and snap chatting… I realize I might make a friend or two. I find Julian and I was right: he’s really cool and outgoing. I introduce myself and then ask if there will be coffee. As he answers “Yes! We’ll be stopping for coffee” I kick myself for asking such a selfish question right off the bat. Get it together Martha. But he seems really nice about it and I’m honestly pretty relieved that coffee is going to happen. I walk around and introduce myself. Everyone has an excited and positive vibe and some people even seem a little shy like me. All of sudden, seeing everyone gathered around, no one knowing what’s in store, I don’t feel so alone.
Life Lesson #1: We’re all in this together.
If you ever feel like you’re the only one, you’re not. In this case, I thought I was the only one who was nervous about meeting 50 new people and venturing into the unknown. But when I got talking to other people I realized I was not alone. We were all in the same boat. Everyone was going through their own internal thoughts: some were nervous about having no reception, some were feeling shy and some were worried they wouldn’t fit in. One thing we probably all had in common that morning was that we thought we were the only ones. But that was far from the truth. I think this applies to most things in life. At the end of the day, we’re all in this together and you are NEVER alone.
May 14th, 7am: We’re on the bus. There’s music, laughter and conversation. All 50 of us are excited and eager to get to know each other. I meet a few ultra-marathoners who seem really welcoming and I realize that contrary to my visions, the athletic ones are definitely not going to leave me at the bottom of the hike in the dark. I meet a guy called G who tells me he’ll piggy back me any time I want. We laugh but I feel so much relief. I get to know these strangers and I quickly realize that everyone here is amazing. I share things about myself. I chat. I laugh. I feel more at ease. We still don’t know where we’re headed but we’re enjoying the company.
May 14th, mid morning: We pull up to Manning Park. We get off the bus and are welcomed by more staff at a campsite. We learn that we will be camping and all our tents and sleeping bags will be provided by MEC. The tents are already set up in a circle and our site is facing a stunning lake. We have a lodge where all our meals will be cooked for us by Fuel Your Fire. One of the Chasing Sunrise staff members, Ally, gives us a welcome speech, emphasizing that we are here to play. I start to feel a deep sense of gratitude. These people from MEC just set up our tents for us and the ones from Chasing Sunrise spent months planning this weekend for us so that we could play. The people from Fuel Your Fire are going to cook for us! And they’re all going to make us feel at home. Wow. I start to feel pretty damn lucky.
As promised, we spend the day playing. We start with an epic “rock, paper, scissors” tournament followed some free time by the lake. At one point I run into the ice cold water with a new friend, laughing the whole time. I notice someone playing his guitar on a picnic table and someone else joining him and singing. Everyone seems really happy, excited and at peace. After lunch we all head to another area of Manning Park to play games of California Kickball and Ultimate Frisbee. I join a group of campers on the sidelines and we gossip, chat and laugh. I then play Bocce ball while some other friends go canoeing. Our afternoon of games is followed by beer and wine by the lake, lounging in hammocks and slacklining.
May 14th, evening: We’re served an incredibly satisfying Paleo dinner. After the sun goes down, we have smores by the bonfire singing along to everything from Remix to Ignition to Lose Yourself to Hey Jude.
Life Lesson #2: Everyone has something to bring to the table.
I quickly realized that every single person at Chase Camp had a purpose and a reason to be there. From the writers, to the photographers, to the athletes, to the first-time campers, to the singers, to all the amazing diverse personalities. Everyone had depth, everyone contributed something and everyone had a story. I realized that even I brought something to the table. Going into this I felt insecure and not fit enough. But just like everyone else, I had something to offer too. I remember thinking at one point “wow, the winners of this contest must have been really carefully chosen.” I’m sure that there was thought put into it, but really, isn’t this just the case in life? Every individual has a purpose and a story to share, every person has value and everyone has something to contribute.
May 15th, midnight: After an amazing night of bonding with new friends I go to bed and set my alarm for 2:30. As expected, we will be hiking in the middle of the night to chase the sunrise. I go to bed happy. Looking back on it, I’m surprised that I wasn’t nervous anymore. I mean, the hike was what I was worried about, right? But at this point I just feel so good. I have a light sleep but I wake up ready to go.
May 15th, 3am: We set off (and we don’t have to carry our backpacks, phew!). We’re given some snacks but no coffee. This time, it doesn’t even phase me. Somehow, over the course of the last 20 hours I’ve started to feel incredibly free, at ease and grateful for what I have. I don’t even think I need coffee for this. I’m on a high. I’ve completely let loose and I’m positive that I can conquer whatever I’m faced with today. I’ve made friends that want to hike with me. In fact, I’ve made 50+ friends and I feel like whatever this day brings, I will be safe. We climb 8km up a windy road. No one leaves me behind and no one even has to piggy back me! We chat, we walk, we listen to music. We use our headlamps but the moon and the stars are actually pretty bright.
We all make it to the top just as the sun is coming up. We’re surrounded by pink lit mountains and clouds and crisp air. Upon arrival, I smell bacon and coffee. I casually wonder if I’m hallucinating, but it turns out there is real-life coffee and a full breakfast of bacon, eggs and fresh fruit being served by the incredible individuals from Fuel Your Fire who came up ahead of time to surprise us. I am genuinely shocked and completely elated.
At a certain point while holding my coffee and looking out at the expanse of surrounding wilderness I realize that this is what it feels like to be alive. I don’t even have my phone on me to take photos. I just breathe it all in, giving it 100% of my focus. I’m finally living in the moment, completely at peace.
Life Lesson #3: Unplugging slows time.
Do you ever feel like time is passing you by? Like as you get older, it moves so fast you can barely keep up? I’m almost 29 but I still catch myself saying I’m 24… Where have the last five years gone? When I was 24 I was just entering my career. I started working regularly. I also happened to start joining more social media platforms. Now, I check them over and over and over again. I document everything. Ironically, sometimes I feel like I live life disconnected, as if I have one foot in and one foot out. I think that when our lives start to become more repetitive (like working full time) and when we are constantly online, barely focused on the present, time actually goes by faster. We remember less and all our days blend into one. But when we unplug and live in the present, I think time has a habit of slowing down. Memories become more vivid because we’re involved and we’re really there.
May 15th, day time: After breakfast on the mountain, we hike back down to our camp. Some of us bring our sleeping bags out to the lake and nap by the water. Some people go for a swim. We have another delicious meal. In the early afternoon, we get back on the bus and head home. I can safely say that at this point we all feel like new people. We have changed. We have grown more in one weekend than some people do in months. We have just experienced living in the moment for a full 36 hours. We have bonded with dozens of new people and each one of us has spent the entire weekend feeling welcomed and free.
Life Lesson #4: Say yes.
I can’t believe that there was a brief moment where I considered saying no to this experience. When I say that this was life changing, I mean it. I rekindled my relationship with nature, I felt relaxed the entire time, I met inspiring people and I got an epic taste of what Chasing Sunrise is all about. The CS staff (Julian, Ally, Gordon and Taylor) were so incredibly welcoming that I can’t even believe I was ever intimidated. I think that this applies to so many other things in life. Say yes: go on adventures that scare you a little, try new things and get your feet a little wet. It makes life so much richer and so much more memorable.
Over the past few days, several writers and bloggers have covered our adventure in their own unique ways and I want to share their work with you below:
There were also several amazing photographers and videographers present! I’ll update this as more is shared but here are some links to their work so far:
Last but not least, I want to thank all of the Chasing Sunrise team and the AMAZING sponsors for making this happen:
MEC Outdoor Nation
Kyle and Laura from Fuel Your Fire
Salt Spring Coffee
Body Energy Club
Cliff from WESTCOAST Sightseeing
Thanks for reading everyone! 🙂
– Martha Kay