If a Bear Shits in the Woods…

Since Europe is still more than a month away, I figured it would be helpful (and fun! ) to tell some stories about other trips I’ve been on. This one is from the summer after my sophomore year of college. For anybody interested, the program is called Wildland Studies – I highly recommend it!

A drop of rain, cold as ice, manages to find a way inside my tightly zipped jacket, trickling a triumphant path down my spine. As the skies above continue to dump torrents of water on us, more beads of water follow. Water, sweat – at this point I don’t know what it all is; everyone in our group, myself included, is hustling as fast as they can. I’m trekking across the top of a mountain with fifteen other people I’d just met a week and a half before. We’ve all got backpacks of at least 30 pounds, making running clumsy. Oh, and did I mention – we’re in the middle of a lightning storm that seems intent on killing all of us? In the middle of bear country?


I’ve always been a nature girl, which seems at odds with the fact that I like dressing fashionably and enjoy trips to any big city. Those who know me may say I’m more cosmopolitan, but my roots – and my heart – belong to the woods. So when I heard about a program through CSU Monterey Bay that set up trips all around the world for college students looking to get into nature, I was stoked. I didn’t have anything else to do that summer, so why not?

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It All Started with Food and a Phrase

There’s a saying on the Italian side of my family: “Mangia veni grassa!” I grew up hearing this phrase at mealtimes, so often that when it wasn’t said I felt something was missing. People asked what it meant, and my mom always shrugged and said, “Eat and get fat.” There was also something about a sumo wrestler in there, but I’m pretty sure my mom was just being funny. Nice one, mom.

When I was younger, I was fascinated by this phrase. It made up the few Italian words that my mom knew. My grandmother (who’d spoken Italian) had passed when I was 9. The three words heartily yelled during mealtimes with my family were all I had. Still, I couldn’t shake the feeling of wanting to know more – or, better yet, to go abroad and hear it firsthand. I wanted to learn it, I just didn’t know how.

Fast forward to college. When I switched out of my first major of Animal Science and into English, I was told I needed to take a language. When I found out Cal Poly (my alma mater) offered Italian, I didn’t stop to think. Studying the language ended up motivating me to want to go see the country even more, leading me to the first big decision I’ve made (on my own) in my life: I would backpack Europe. I would see everything I’ve ever read or heard about, and finally visit the beautiful country my ancestors come from.

This is all the lead-up to today. There are only 60 days left until I leave for Europe, and I figured it’s about damn time this blog got started. Keep up with my posts to learn about me, my travel companion, our lives, and why we’re going to be living out of backpacks for 3 months through 10+ countries. It’s about to get really wild.

Until next time,
-Kayla