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For the past ten years I have been a leader and teacher of wilderness expeditions. I have taught backpacking, mountaineering, rock climbing, and sailing to young and old. I have met all different kinds of people from all over the world, but, before coming to Gray Wolf Ranch, I had never worked with people recovering from chemical dependency. Some say they can be a rough crowd. Some say they can be the best population to work with. I did not know what to expect.

As I drove through the gate for my interview with Peter and David, I was struck by the beauty and peace of the lodge. This is a nice place, I thought. Within the first few minutes of the interview, it became clear that these directors cared very much about the experience and recovery of their residents. As I listened to them speak about their vision for the trekking program, it immediately made sense to me and I knew that the outdoors could provide an important piece in the puzzle of recovery.

We headed out on our first Trek in March, with everyone pitching in to help with planning and preparation. We were hiking up the Elwha River Valley in Olympic National Park. The mountains looming above us were covered in white. The nights were cold and the days were clear. We saw many deer and were sung to constantly by the birds. Everywhere around us were signs of elk, but their presence eluded us.

Our first day on the trail was difficult for many of us. Packs were laden with food and fuel, and our lungs and legs were not used to this kind of exertion. We stopped often to rest and to adjust packs and attitudes. Four miles later, when we reached camp and had a good meal in our bellies, we felt a sense of satisfaction in reaching our first goal of the trip.

The next four days were spent hiking, eating, and having group meetings and skipping stones on the river. At one point, I asked two residents how they liked the Twelve Step program. They both enthusiastically stated that they would not be where they were now without it. One of them felt he was years ahead of where he would be if he had never had a problem to begin with. I believe him. The level of communication and feedback I witnessed in the group meetings was impressive for any age group, and to hear teenagers speak of their higher power and desire to remain sober was inspiring.

The high point of the trip for me was the fifth day as we were hiking out of the mountains. By 1:30 p.m., we had hiked eight miles, our hardest day yet. Part of the group wanted to hike on another five miles to the next campsite, while others wanted to stop and spend a relaxing last day in the wilderness. The decision to stay or go on was put to the group, with the caveat that everyone must be satisfied with the outcome. After a half hour discussion, the more flexible personalities acquiesced to the more determined and we pushed ourselves to complete a thirteen-mile day. Only five short days ago it was hard to finish four miles!

Our first Trek had been a success. Even the weather had smiled on us. But perhaps the greatest measure of success was the satisfaction of the participants. Several residents lamented that the trip was too short and that they wanted to stay in the mountains longer.

Preparations are underway for our next trek: eight days in the Olympic Peninsula Interior hopefully not too short for anyone!

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