In celebration of our incredible 2018 Alumni, this fall we are featuring student stories on our blog. Today’s reflection comes from Maya Deogun, who has traveled the globe with RLT for the past four summers. This year, Maya joined our New Zealand: Aotearoa program, but she has also traveled with RLT to Ecuador, Norway, and Costa Rica. According to Maya’s trip leaders, her caring, positivity, leadership, and motivation were incredible assets to her group this summer – we are so grateful to have had her as a participant all these years! Continue reading to get Maya’s perspective on one of the New Zealand program’s most challenging days on the Abel Tasman trail and how the experience affected her group.
Rain came bucketing down from the sky. I cinched my lavender raincoat in places I never knew it could, leaving only my eyes exposed. I pulled my rainpants down over my hiking boots, chuckled to myself and thought, “What have I gotten myself into?” It was our first day of trekking the Abel Tasman Coast. A few of us had backpacking experience, myself included from my Norway trip with RLT in 2016, but I still had my fears for the day. I looked around at my eight other friends who were joking around and doing a foot dance to remain warm. Everyone had a smile on their face, but not for long. We began the trek. Bella and I belted Hamilton songs, forgetting a lot of the words somehow even though we both claimed to be superfans. As the hours passed I began to feel the weight of my pack weigh on my body. My rain gear stopped functioning and I felt water creep into my shoes and drench my wool shirt. Everyone’s high hopes for the day began to dwindle and Janna, Sam, Bella and I wearily sang roll call songs.
At every trail sign we would cheer, “Let’s go!” or “We’re almost there!” in order to motivate ourselves to reach the hut which sat kilometers away. We trekked through the forest over dozens of bridges without stopping to look at the waterfalls because of our strong desire to reach our final destination. The rain never let up. Despite the awful conditions, our group spirit remained strong. Nobody sulked or gave up. We all worked together to build each other up. After a couple more hours we had reached the final stretch. As we came to a clearing on a rock face, I struggled to see the view through the mist and fog the rain created. The wind whipped violently and I fought to remain upright, wanting to succumb to my pack and the wind pushing me sideways. Nonetheless, I giggled about my favorite Office episodes and sang Party in the U.S.A. while nodding my head and moving my hips like “yeah.” Finally, I heard Jackson scream, “5 minutes!” I breathed a sigh of relief. I sank into the sand and felt the hotspots on my feet begging me to stop walking. At last, we reached the hut! All of the girls rushed into one room while the guys went into the other. We ripped off our wet clothes. We rung out our clothes and hung them over the fire and all sat gathered together in front of the fire. We started a massage train to ease our pains from our packs. Our leader, Nancy, opened her “foot salon” and treated dozens of our blisters while using her headlamp for light. We were extremely grateful to be out of the cold rain.
Despite the challenging weather, that day brought our group closer than it had ever been. We learned to build each other up. We worked together to reach a common goal. Sometimes the worst of days can bring out the best in people. For the rest of the day, we played cards and remarked that tomorrow could only get better. And guess what? It did. The next day we were graced with the sun glistening on the mountaintops and we even saw a rainbow. And over the course of the next few days, I had some of my most meaningful conversations of the trip about family, politics, and college. I believe everyone was willing to open up more because of the bond we formed from that first treacherous day. From that day on our bond as a group could not be broken.