There was a moment when I was strolling through the glacial valley leading to Lake Nanita, situated 11,000 feet above sea level, when it all hit me. I’d hiked about five minutes ahead of the others in my group, stealing a few rare minutes of solitude amidst the four-day excursion. The sky was clear and the air was perfect. The landscape was so serene and undisturbed that I felt like its first human visitor. Every few gravelly footsteps, a bird of prey would zip through the pines or a grazing mule deer would twist her neck towards me before bounding up the mountainside. Beneath a sunwashed cliff-face at my right, a thousand boulders peppered the high grasses of the valley slope that fed into Lake Nanita, shining the treetops and peaks in its broad surface. As I scanned the landscape, a powerful sense of euphoria took hold.

That was the moment. The dream realized.

This story could begin nine years ago when I applied for a graphic design position at a tiny publishing company. Or some six years ago when I first stepped onto a trail for a backpacking excursion. But we’ll start two years ago, when the Dream On initiative was rolled out. If you’ve been to Advantage’s offices in Charleston or Austin, you’ve seen them: 3’ x 2’ colorful, mounted Dream Boards at every Team Member’s desk, visualizing his or her goals and dreams. Not only does Advantage require Team Members to display them, but it announced that it would begin granting a deserving Team Member’s dream at random.

Tucked in the middle of my board is “backpack in the Rockies”. Living on the low and flat Carolina coast, I usually only manage a trip a year, and always in the Appalachians. Those mountains are unique and breathtaking, but I’ve longed to experience the high western trails of the Rocky Mountains since I began backpacking some six years ago.

At our yearly kick-off banquet back in January, when Adam took the podium to announce the Dream On award winner, I hadn’t really considered that it might be me. But sure enough, Advantage elected to fly a friend and me out to Colorado for a guided backpacking tour of the Rockies.

I was blindsided, overwhelmed, and especially humbled because my teammates at Advantage work every bit as hard as I do. My successes at Advantage are a direct result of the efforts of those around me. I still feel indebted to my teammates for the award. But I also felt an immense sense of gratitude for the recognition and the fact that I work for a company that invests in its Team Members in this way.

I decided to bring the friend who introduced me to backpacking, as he’d never been out West to hike either. (And fittingly, it was his wife who’d sent me the job listing for Advantage back in 2007.) When I booked the trip back in March for a September departure, I wasn’t quite anticipating the months in between to be as busy a stretch as Advantage publishing team has ever faced. There were plenty of early mornings, late nights, and weekends spent on some major projects. But that just made it all the sweeter when I was finally able to push back, unplug, and enjoy three days and four nights hiking in the Rockies.

One unique part of the experience was the friends I made on the trail. Truthfully, my friend and I weren’t sure what to think of hiking with a group, as we’d always hiked as a duo or with one other friend. But it proved to be a real treat. We were able to lean on our guides for advice, and bond with four other hikers from around the country and world. (Having meals prepared for you wasn’t half bad, either.)

The best moment of the trip for me occurred one morning around 7 AM. Only four of us were awake—the two guides, one other hiker, and myself. We were in our “camp kitchen”—a small clearing about 100 yards from our tents where we stored our bear-proof canisters overnight. While our companions slept, we shivered and nursed hot coffee to fight off the sub-20º temperature. Our guide was telling a story when he stopped mid-sentence and pointed. An enormous bull moose and an adolescent had emerged from the woods, walking in a line about 30 yards from us. Both walked the length of our camp, at one point stopping to grind their antlers on a tree, then disappeared into the woods. It was stunning, surreal, and even a little unsettling. Our guides said they’d never experienced anything like it, and surely I’ll never forget it.

But that was just one vignette from a week’s worth of memories, like the approach to Lake Nanita I detailed earlier, stargazing while satellites and shooting stars criss-cross the night sky, scaling river boulders above a waterfall, and a hundred other little moments that combined into the perfect getaway. The weather was perfect, the travel was painless, and the memories I forged will last a lifetime. I’m proud to work for a company that has a stake in its Team Members’ personal ambitions as well as their professional goals. Thanks, Advantage, for encouraging me to Dream On.

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