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Up Mt. Baldy and Along the Continental Divide Trail – One Explore Austin Alumni Mentor’s Journey to Self-Discovery

“I knew deep down inside that I had to do something different in my life; something that would really challenge me. But, the more I would tell people about my trip, the more people would ask me; ‘why are you really doing this?’ It made me really think about it and because of that, it became clearer and clearer.– Danielle Krey Maupin, Explore Austin Alumni Mentor

Last month Alumni Mentor, Danielle, set off to backpack along the Continental Divide Trail. The portion of the trail she plans to complete totals at 2,200 miles and covers multiple states. Danielle has kept clear of any concrete plans to keep room for discovery and freedom. She received her final steady paycheck and plans to later return to school to become a psychiatrist. However, her plans for the near future span much beyond a professional career and deep down she knows this trip will play a major role in every area of the rest of her life.

“I really do love backpacking and I love the outdoors, but the soul searching is why my heart’s in it.”

Danielle was a Girls 2019 Mentor who recently sent off her girls after they completed the six-year Explore Austin curriculum. As the Explore Austin graduation coincides with high school graduation, her Explorers now enter the next chapter of their lives of college, work, and beyond. Danielle stood by her girls every step of the way through their transformation in the program. She spent countless Saturdays rooting for the girls, telling them “just one more step” until they finally reached the top of Mt. Baldy at the end of their final Summer Wilderness Trip. And now, Danielle feels it is time to push herself.

“I would say Explore Austin helped me the most in my self-confidence. Helping someone else feel comfortable while backpacking – always being the one helping, motivating – really gave me the confidence to know that if I can do that for teenage girls then I can do it by myself no problem. A lot of my fears that would have surrounded going on this long trip have diminished and I believe in myself, thanks to Explore Austin.”

Never failing to amuse her, the Explore Austin Trip Leaders provided Danielle with the skills and confidence she needed to take on the role of a true backpacker. Danielle has prepared for her trip in all aspects of her life including downsizing to an RV. But by far, the largest downsize was narrowing down to only the possessions she can carry on her back. The only “luxury” item she chose to take is a journal and pen to document her experiences and track her emotional transition. Danielle admits her fears lie heavier in her mental limitations than her abilities.

“I know my biggest challenge will be my mental capabilities. I know I’m physically capable but we always sell ourselves short; our heads get in the way of our progress. We doubt ourselves and sometimes I do have those moments ‘I’m going to be alone in the wilderness.’ I think that when I have really difficult days, the type of days where you just want to quit, and I don’t have anyone there but myself; those are the moments that are going to teach me a lot and show me I don’t need anyone else like I think I do.”

Danielle wants to separate herself from normal society in order to eliminate distractions of commitments, daily routines and cultural norms in finding her true identity. Danielle feels her journey will uncover her inner morals and passions through her time spent alone and in self-reflection.

“Culturally we’re always living in the past or in the future; learning to live in the present is really difficult. I told myself not to plan anything in my life for after this trip; I have a clean slate. I want to embrace living in the present moment and absorbing everything I’m experiencing for what it is, not for my end goal.”

“Just to exist in the world and not have to do anything besides hike. I feel like it’s going to strip away concepts I’ve made growing up in Western culture about our ideas of success and what it means to be a competent adult. I want to find out what my values are to break misconceptions I have about myself so I can enter my life knowing who I am and be better at it.”

“I’m hoping somehow that will happen while I’m in the wilderness.”

Honesty is one value Danielle holds closest to her heart. Opening herself to her inner identity and leaving behind daily life will encompass her personal truth. Danielle plans to “truly experience her own humanity”. Explore Austin has inspired Danielle, and now with her adventures, she continues to inspire others.

“I’m very excited to see who I meet out there but this is really a self-discovery journey. I’m doing it because I saw so much of what happened to the girls; I saw those moments how we connected when we spent a whole week together and were living minimally. There’s something there -I can’t explain it completely- but I really just want it to a deeper extend for myself. I’m so grateful for Explore Austin that I could do this and that I did do it. It is not an easy thing but just like we aim to teach our Explorers, growth is never easy.”