July 3, 2015 Marion MacDonald

Backpacking with Mirasol Clients

trail-bossThere were those of us — myself included — who doubted it would be possible to incorporate backpacking into a residential eating disorder treatment program. Executive Director Diane Ryan, Admissions Director Carol Magee and I began talking about expanding Mirasol's adventure therapy program to include backpacking in October, 2014. The challenges seemed overwhelming. First of all, since clients obviously don't come to treatment outfitted for backpacking, we needed to purchase all the equipment from tents, sleeping bags and sleeping pads to flashlights, hiking poles and utensils. Over the next six months we patrolled eBay and Craigslist for good used equipment, and picked up additional items at sales. Friends got wind of the project and stepped forward with gear to loan or donate.

We took a leap of faith and purchased 10 wilderness permits in January. The timing was tricky, since we needed to make sure that any clients participating in the program were medically and emotionally stable and that they had arrived at a point in their treatment where a wilderness experience such as this could provide a significant boost to their recovery.

Of course the biggest challenge was the food. In retrospect, it's hardly surprising that food would be an issue for an eating disorder treatment program. But I had not anticipated the difficulty of balancing the need to comply with each client's carefully tailored meal plan with the need to maintain pack weight and bulk appropriate for a beginning backpacker. Our heartfelt thanks go out to Chef Dee O'Leary, who went way above and beyond the call to prepare hearty, backpack-friendly meals and snacks for our brave beginners!

The day before the hike was pandemonium, while we packed and repacked between checking the weather and trying to figure out how to transport staff and gear from three locations to a single departure point. We were nearly two hours behind schedule when we set out Thursday morning, but it was a gorgeous spring day with temperatures in the mid-70s and a cloudless sky.

Over the next three days, we shared the magic of a sparkling stream that threads its way between walls of red conglomerate and yellow volcanic tuff in the Galiuro Mountains. There's no real trail, so we wandered back and forth across the stream in the shade of giant Fremont cottonwoods and Arizona sycamores. We made camp on a sandy beach where there was a nice deep pool warm enough for a refreshing dip and with sun-baked rocks where we could stretch out like the many lizards we saw along the trail.

Evenings we shared our experiences from the day and stories of how we all came to be huddled around a crackling campfire deep in a canyon in the heart of southern Arizona.

I cannot say enough good things about the hard work and dedication of Executive Director Diane Ryan, Primary Therapist Katie Klein and Counseling Assistant PeiDong Zhang, who provided loving and tireless support to all the members of our group.

Only time will tell if this daring experiment produces lasting results. But the obvious delight of the clients who participated was an inspiration to us all.

As one of them remarked, "I always wanted to experience an outdoor adventure like this, but I didn't think I could. Now I have the confidence to continue exploring my own." May that confidence stay with you and sustain you and you move forward in your recovery!

Thanks for a memorable weekend, and a very big "wu gong*" to all of you!

*"Wu gong" became our favorite all-purpose expletive after PeiDong identified a large scary bug using his digital dictionary. For example, you might exclaim, "wu gong!" if a giant centipede was crawling down your back.