Inspiring words and memories from WV Alumni Student Raizel DeWitt
“Hang, Raizel, just let your hands go and breathe,” our rock-climbing guide called to me, holding my belay ropes tightly in his hand. Taking a deep breath, I did as he instructed, and, 180 feet in the air, gazing out over high cliffs with the river winding through them far below, I released the rope and allowed my harness to take full support of my weight. I simply breathed.
Today, almost a full six months after this magical moment, I came home out of the cold winter rains to find the letter that I wrote to myself at the end of my WV trip awaiting me on the counter. Reading it, I was awash with memories, but I also realized how clear everything still was in my mind. I perfectly recalled the exact feeling of setting out into our backpacking trip into the Three Sisters wilderness at the beginning of our trip, overflowing with excitement at finally setting out into an experience utterly foreign to me. The next three days were unreal, I recall now, sitting listening to the rain outside. The sun beat down on us even while we hiked through the snow making our way to the summit of Oregon’s South Sister. My letter mentions it, but I need no prompting to evoke the incredible feeling of accomplishment that I felt when I reached the peak of the mountain. The past hours had seen me struggling more than I ever had before, but though I was exhausted, sore, and sunburned, nothing felt better than standing atop that peak and knowing that I could accomplish anything as long as I continued to place one foot in front of another.
My letter next carries me back to our second adventure, rock climbing at Smith Rock. It was in these three hot, dry days that I completed the Monkey’s Face, a Tyrolean traverse 180 feet in the air. Despite the overcast sky here in the middle of winter, I vividly remember the feeling of the sun breaking over us after our 4 am hike to the top of the cliff and the cheers from my groupmates as we each pulled ourselves across the traverse. It was there that I let go of the rope that held me, and with my body secured in the harness, watched my worries fall away from me into the abyss below.
My letter carries my mind into our days river rafting in Oregon, reveling in the cool water while the air around us shimmered. It guides me to our time hiking the Olympic beaches, evoking thick green jungles and fog so dense that our headlights cast shadows onto the mists around us. It pulls me through the San Juan islands, where from our kayaks we set out in the early-morning darkness illuminated by the phosphorescence in the water then watched the sun rise over the still bay.
Yet there is so much that the letter, even having been imbibed with the scent of grass from the hill in Seattle on which I wrote it, cannot bring back. These moments live on in my memories of the glorious summer – the moments of laughter and connection with my group, the peaceful air that encircled us, the calm solitude the call of the birds overhead, the jokes we shared, and the firelight tickling our faces during our evening circles.
I guess what I am trying to say through my web of memories is simple – thank you WV for one of the most spellbinding experiences of my life! Your gift instilled me with the knowledge of the majesty of the wilderness, and now half way through my junior year of high school, I have realized the value of taking a breath and hanging, enjoying the stillness. Though I know these years ahead may be intense and stressful, full of exams, papers, standardized tests, and college applications, I know that I will make it successfully out the other side. I have no illusions that I will coast through; on the contrary I recognize the immense task ahead of me. Yet I come equipped for this journey not with pack full of food, long underwear, and bug spray as I did last summer, but with the knowledge that WV has left with me – how to continue forward, one foot in front of the other until I reach the summit of whatever hurdle is next, and even more importantly, how to take a moment to pause, breathe, and enjoy each step along the way.
Sincerely, Raizel DeWitt