The outdoors forever changed the course of my life… sounds cheesy and cliché, but in all seriousness, it actually did. And I owe it all to the highest peak in the Wild and Wonderful state of West Virginia: Spruce Knob, which towers high into the Appalachian mountain range at a little over 4,800 feet.
After making a pretty big claim like that, I probably should provide you with some background information on how this all went down. I grew up in Altoona, a small town in Central Pennsylvania, about two hours outside of Pittsburgh. I am an only child, the daughter of a naval officer/railroad welder (my dad) and full-time, die-hard Pittsburgh Steelers fan (my mom). My mom was never into the outdoors and my dad’s idea of spending time outside consisted of sitting in a tree stand at 5 AM, decked out head to toe in camo, looking for the next deer to come down the trail. Well… that had zero appeal, so I genuinely grew up without any real outdoor experiences, minus one car-camping trip where I slept on an air mattress in a tent in 5th grade.
Enter Spruce Knob. I spent my undergraduate years at West Virginia University, earning a marketing degree. WVU offers an awesome outdoor orientation program, Adventure WV, for incoming freshmen students to earn actual college credit by participating in a week-long outdoor trip. The program incorporates different types of outdoor activities from rock climbing, hiking, camping, whitewater rafting and even a three-day backpacking trip to the summit of WV’s highest point: Spruce Knob.
Being completely oblivious to how challenging a trip like this could be for someone with zero outdoor experience, I happily signed up thinking how much fun it would be and how I would make new friends in a new state. And hey, I camped once in my life, right? I could easily handle a week in the woods… although my guy friends made fun of me the night before I left when I asked if I should bring my hair dryer. They definitely took bets on how long I would last, and the over/under was pretty low.
Finally, the time came to embark on this amazing journey into the West Virginia wilderness, and wow, I could not have been further out of my comfort zone! You want me to climb to the top of that cliff? With just a harness and some rope attached to it? You want me hike up switchbacks with over 1,000 feet of elevation gain at Seneca Rocks at night? Whitewater raft down the Lower New River in Class V rapids? Or spend three days hiking with 40 pounds on my back to summit the highest mountain in the state?! Get lost. No way.
Well… I did it. I certainly wasn’t graceful, and definitely was dead last in my backpacking trip to summit Spruce Knob, but it did something to me that I truly can never explain. This experience in the outdoors completely changed who I was in that moment. Yeah, it was hard as hell, and I was terrified half of the trip, but I did it… and more importantly, I really loved it! I had never thrown caution to the wind like that up to that point in my life, but I am so beyond happy I did. Spending time in the outdoors truly inspired me, unlike anything ever had before in my life. That same year, I went on a 12-day trip to Canyonlands and Arches National Park. The next year I studied abroad in New Zealand and discovered my love for the sport of snowboarding. The following year, I actually turned around and became a leader for Adventure WV, and spent the entire summer sharing my passion for the outdoors and branching outside of my comfort zone with new WVU students.
And, if it hadn’t been for any of this, I would never be in the position that I am today with KEEN. Through my love for the outdoors, I discovered the brand and was lucky enough to score an internship and ultimately, a full-time job, right out of college. I didn’t even have to give my decision of moving across the country a second thought. This was my chance to blend two things I love into a job: the outdoors and marketing. I packed up two suitcases, said goodbye to all of my family and friends and bought a one-way plane ticket west. And that was 5 years ago.
Today, a lot of my outdoor time revolves around snowboarding — something that would have sounded crazy to say ten years ago. This season, I have a goal of riding 50 days. The most I have ever gone in a single season previously is 22 days. And, to make this even more challenging, Mt. Hood hasn’t seen much snow so far this winter. I’m currently on Day 7, so needless to say I’ve got my work cut out for me, but I am determined to accomplish this goal. I’m documenting every step of the way through Twitter and Instagram, so you can check in with me and see if I am actually living up to this challenge through #cb50dayseason.
At the end of the day, being in the mountains inspires me and makes me realize how important it is to spend time outside. There is the sense of accomplishment and wonder that comes along with taking a deep breath of cold, fresh air early in the morning from the top of a mountain, no matter the elevation. It’s beautiful, inspirational and can leave life-long impressions.
Spruce Knob certainly did that with me.