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The Hike That Changed My Life

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Through the cool crisp air of early morning in the White Mountains of New Hampshire, a lanky, slightly awkward 14-year-old boy bounded up a steep mountain trail in front of his father.

I was that boy and the year was 2012.

And while I was awkward most everywhere else in my life, on that trail I felt perfectly at home. Unencumbered by the roots, rocks, and the woes of civilization, which became ever so small as I made my way up the mountain, I pressed on.

I had no idea what to expect at the summit. With little to no experience in the mountains, I felt a deep and true sense of adventure. There was so much to take in: the babbling and crashing of the river, the smell of spruce, and navigating the tangled mess of granite and roots the Appalachian Mountain Club marked as the trail.Mt.Willard 2013

Portrait of the boy at the top of a mountain. All images courtesy Jacques TurcotteMt.Willard 20132

As my dad and I moved further and further up the trail, the chirps of the gray Jays let us know that we were not too far from the summit. Then all of the sudden, a little less than 1.6 miles from where we started, the granite dome of New Hampshire’s Mt. Willard loomed above.

I bolted for the summit. I broke out of the trees and was greeted with the most beautiful, expansive vista. It was the closest thing to a spiritual experience I’d ever had. We spent hours on the summit appreciating that we had it all to ourselves.

I was mesmerized. I instantly fell in love with the mountains, where I felt free and at home. I wish I could recall more detail so I could convey how much this little hike impacted my life. In 2012, at age fourteen, I didn’t know a whole lot, but after this trip I did know that I wanted to spend my life exploring wild places. And shortly after I realized the best way to be able to explore was by living in a van.

Having an epiphany of what you want to do with you life at fourteen comes with its own set of challenges. 

I knew what I wanted to end up doing, but I also knew I had no life experience to get me there. All I wanted to do was hike and climb in the mountains but I was stuck in English class in a suburban hell. All through high school instead of studying textbooks I studied maps. Instead of partying I went ice climbing. 

While all my friends got jobs at the local restaurants I got a job at REI 30 minutes away and a state over. While my friends were vacationing at the beach I was volunteering for trail crew. And when the time came to get my first car while all my friends were looking for cool fast convertibles, I bought a brown Honda CRV.

For me a vehicle has always been about what I can do with and where I can go; it got good gas mileage had pretty good ground clearance and all wheel drive. It was my first adventure vehicle and allowed me to go backpacking, rock climbing, mountaineering, and skiing every chance I got.

I did everything in my power to immerse myself in the outdoor community. I really felt welcome and a part of something. Unfortunately I found out pretty quickly that when you’re in high school in a small town and you do something that’s unique or out of the ordinary, most kids and even some adults will harass you.

Most teenagers struggle with finding themselves. They are stumbling, making mistakes, all in an attempt to find what their passion is, what makes them tick. Often they don’t find it until later on in life and unfortunately some people are never able to find it. Because of this I think when they are faced with someone who has real passion and drive, they attach their feelings to that person and unknowingly take out their frustrations on them. So for four years I had to deal with this. It was difficult and caused me to question a lot about myself but it never made me question my dream.

Over the last six years so much has happened. Between all my extended excursions I've spent over four months total in the backcountry, become a wilderness first responder, a leave-no-trace master educator, completed a NOLS expedition, converted a school bus into my dream adventure vehicle and became an outdoor education instructor.

There’s no way I could have planned all this looking forward from 14, but I had a passion, took a couple leaps of faith and it all worked out in the end. If you have a passion or a dream follow it with vigor and purpose and the universe will unfold in exactly the way it should ahead of you.

Follow ambassador Jacques Turcotte at @livewildoutdoors on Instagram.


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