It’s beautiful yet dangerous, challenging while hopeful, fun but taxing.

It emphasizes self reflection and the meaning of courage.

It demands positive attitudes, reliance on your community, and attention to the water you drink.

You are hyper-aware of the air in your lungs.

Suddenly, you seem so very, very small. It’s both suffocating and liberating.


The mornings where you wake up and can’t see the mountains are grey, long days.

Poop becomes a popular topic of conversation.

The mornings where you wake up and can see the mountains stirs in you an overwhelming sense of peace. This peace alleviates even for the briefest moment the doubts, worries, and discomfort you may be experiencing from place.

The place is of the utmost importance. You will learn from the place, it will shape you, it will widen your perspectives.

The people with you will teach you even more. You will love them. Hate them. Want alone time. Need their company.


I could think of an incredibly long list of how Mexico and backpacking in Colorado are opposites. I could breath in this contaminated air and bitterly wish for my months back as a guide with lively campers and incredible staff. But I won’t do that. It would only be depressing and undermine all that I’ve learned, all that I’m learning, and the amazing leg of my life long journey I’m currently on.

My boss this summer, Ben, cumplió another year yesterday. I’ve been blessed with some incredible role models for bosses, and he certainly is one of them. I learned so much about myself and being with/loving/supporting others from my time with Ben at Rainbow Trail. Reflections by my dear friend and co-director Michael and my own reflections led me to realize how that experience is adding to my understanding of a fuller and richer way to be in this world.

But then, it wasn’t just that summer. Each of period of my life is pushing and prodding, challenging my idea of love and how to live in love. Namely, how to live into love rather than into fear. I’ll admit, this is a larger task here in Mexico than in Colorado. But dare I say it means it’s that much more important?

The Holy Spirit is just as present here as in the mountains. This summer on Monday of every week I led a bible study on the Fruit of the Spirit (Galatians 5:22-23) and how the Spirit is not a kind, easy going thing. The Spirit thrusts us into uncomfortable places (Matthew 4:1) but that’s where we grow as we work to be good disciples despite the discomfort.

Preach, Matthew. Preach.

Guiding people through four days out in the wilderness is amazing but I’d lie if I would say it’s not at times uncomfortable. Being in Mexico… well, a friend before I left said Jesus would rock my world. Let’s just say I’m still being rocked.

I can tell my time here is molding me every day (I’m not talking about the negative effects of pan dulce and limited exercise, Lord help me). It’s not easy being in a place where sometimes you can’t express yourself as you need to, where things are more unfamiliar than familiar, where injustice is uncovered and thrust into my consciousness daily. I’ve been thrust my the Spirit into a new kind of wilderness. I believe I’m a better Ryana for it, in CO or MX.

No more putting experiences in boxes of time. No more focusing on the differences that tug at my heart (this also includes the end of over glorifying the past and under appreciating the present, what a sad way exist). What I learned last summer is just as much a part of me now, like the accents of scars from it I carry on my legs. What I’m learning now will, I hope, forever color how I see and act in the world (I can tell you at least four pairs of rose colored glasses have shattered recently).

As my fellow YAGMs have been expressing, this is not a year I’m giving up. This is not a year I’m getting through. This is my life just as much as my life was living the dream as a backpacking guide or a student at St. Olaf College or… you get it.

If I were to say this was a year completely unlike the rest, I would be doing a dishonor to the YAGM program and to how I perceive my life. Frankly, I’m loving this year with all it’s quirks and challenges. My communities here in Mexico are giving more life to me than I could ever give back.

I climb pyramids and stairs in the metro rather than mountains. Meanwhile, I’m connecting the dots. I’m still working on being a better person alone, in community, and on this fragile and wonderful earth. This should happen where ever in the world I am.

May the Spirit move in me. May the Spirit be moving in you, too. May we all be open to that uncomfortable change and challenge.