Find Your Own Guiding Light

Notes from Athlete Ambassador Patrice La Vigne
By Patrice La Vigne June 5, 2018

Do you remember where you got started? The first experience that set you on the path for what you now find yourself regularly immersed in? Was it pretty, or maybe a pretty good laugh when you look back? One of our Athlete Ambassadors, a total kick butt outdoors-woman, Patrice remembers her first backpacking experience:

Everyone starts somewhere.

That’s what I like to tell people.

As an environmental educator, gear tester, writer and general outdoor enthusiast with more than 6,000 miles under her (hip)belt, I’ve accumulated quite a wealth of knowledge. And while I am still learning (aren’t we always?), I like to tell people that I have come very far from where I started.

Where I started was getting lost—in more ways than one—on my very first backpacking trip in 2001.

A few friends and I trekked down into Havasu Canyon for 3 nights. It was July, so we spent the days frolicking in the pools from Havasu, Navajo, Mooney and Beaver Falls. It was a stunning setting for a first backpacking trip. With my borrowed external frame backpack and cotton shirt, I knew I was hooked. I quickly decided this would be the first of many trips into the backcountry.

I was very much an amateur, so the 10-mile hike out of the canyon gave me great apprehension. Our trip leader continually warned about the hot afternoon sun we would encounter on the final 3000 feet of switchbacks leading to our car. It was a daunting end to a paradise vacation.

I stuck with my 2 other newbie friends for the first mile of our hike. But my anxiety to beat the heat grew with every break they took.

“I think I’m going to hike on,” I told my buddies.

“When you get to the fork in the canyon, go right,” someone called out as I practically ran down the trail.

Of course when I reached the fork, I couldn’t remember what was said. I sat, eating a snack, willing my friends to catch back up.

My patience ran out as quickly as the sun heated the rainbow of rock walls. I packed up and chose left.

It wasn’t until I crossed the river 3 times and spotted the wild horses that I knew I chose wrong. I don’t know how many miles I traveled into Cataract Canyon, but I finally admitted my defeat and doubled back to the fork, turning the “right” way.

Hours later, as dusk set in, I laughed because I no longer had to worry about the sunny switchbacks. It was 9pm. I was out of food and water and still had no idea how close I might be to the end.

I found a rock to lean against, pulled out my headlamp and snakebite kit to read. I figured I should prep myself for the “what ifs” in the desert.

Shortly thereafter, I heard my name being called: my friends had come back down into the canyon to find me.

The good news is, I’ve learned many lessons over the years and have returned to Havasupai several times without any drama. (Although, in 2007, my husband and adventure partner, Justin, proposed to me in front of Havasu Falls, but that is a good drama.)

The point is, I fondly remember that 22-year-old young hiker. I may be very different from her now, but that’s where I started.

Check out today’s Instagram post about Patrice’s first hike & tell us where you got started! You’ll be entered to win a Vizz headlamp! (Patrice’s favorite Princeton Tec product.)