Prashanthi Koutha was shivering.
Two days into her first backpacking trip she yard-saled into a creek crossing. Her pack was soaked. Her clothes were wet. Her phone—toast.
“I remember thinking, I had enough problems in my life. Why the hell was I doing this again?” But there was a reason.
After moving 8,000 miles from her friends and family in Hyderabad, India, Prashanthi spent the previous three years focused on the life milestones everyone expected of her. She needed to do something on her terms.
She decided on a 4-day backpacking trip with REI Adventures on the Lost Coast of California—a remote stretch of rocky coves and black-sand beaches only accessible by dirt road. Prashanthi had always been drawn to the outdoors, but she’d never hiked more than four miles in a day.
“My family thought it was crazy,” she says, laughing. “They were like, can’t you just walk through some trees in Arkansas? But that was the point. I knew if I could do this, I could get the rest of my life together.”
Things got off to a rocky start. Her water reservoir sprung a leak on day one, and her low-cut shoes took on sand with every step. Then—she hit the creek.
“I was starting to think I made a mistake” she says. “Then one of the other girls walked up to encourage me. We started talking about life and I realized, we’re all here for a purpose. I’m here because I wanted to push myself. I knew this wouldn’t be easy.”
That night she borrowed some dry gear and dozed off listening to the soft breaths of the Pacific. When she woke, the energy of the group buzzed through camp like thick shots of espresso. She smiled, scarfed down a hot breakfast served up by one of the guides, and set off for another 14 miles.
With tired lungs and legs she drew strength from the dramatic scenes unfolding around her. She recalls miles of sun-dappled beaches and towering bluffs streaked with coastal hues of twilight.
But her favorite memories are the conversations with other hikers. By the end of the fourth day, there was even a pact—if Prashanthi gets married in the next couple years, the rest of the group promised to join her in India.
That camaraderie left a lasting impression. In the year since, she’s organized group hiking trips, embarked on her first technical rock climb, and spent two days rafting rivers in Colorado.
“That trip changed my life,” she says. “At one point I remember looking out at nothing but blue ocean and sky, wondering what I could possibly learn by walking on sand. I guess I got my answer.”