First-Year Outdoor Leadership Experience: Farther Along the Trail and Closer to One Another

Day 1, 8/14/18:

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lN2IQSITMmuLlJZAjVXS0qt3xUrNmMEG5pbbi-2jZ1HLWGjIzHg6l0am7o_2RLuTbk90AFu-aWu7qovz-sAlpI8nqpj5l9NL84-uXvPk9vupfNgW8TR_ob4m8hgqERyRD0hGRe-gThis was our camp the first night. It was a very empowering experience. It was our first time really diving into what we learned and being able to do it ourselves.  We only set up one tarp and half of us slept under the stars! It was super nice to lay down after a long day of hiking! - Mollie (August 14, 2018)

0HGvbf6UIMM1LP9zSpO-P5QlBi0W8icd05ew397SajGq_ljLguRVvs6rujWrWwgt-Tas9jJnlMJLgvO0ccCcKJ5jbGDhxsiY5CCf31oZp588wV_uHChvgKGkwKxHyJF1-HzdiMhoOn the first night Hannah, and Kara, and I slept under the stars. I had never before seen such beautiful darkness, with only the stars above me to illuminate the sky. - Nataly (August 14, 2018)

Day 2, 8/15/18:

c7WVHb_zErS1YxXfNwQ4747jiDELlHIEv6_y6zrxWc0qWsGDc9VZ7fPhDmVwjaZ7TagLNiO6NBwQV87Xct8h98-gLcfKDX8uDwkttCmSlLNIeEnkrfgRxPn5rqMZMpUJh_ytOKx1We hiked to a waterfall in the morning with anticipation of possibly swimming for a bit. The water was so cold, I didn’t think we were actually going to do it. But Annie led the way and dove in, with the rest of us slowly following behind. I remember how I submerged myself to get used to the water, and then I just went for it and started swimming. That’s probably my favorite moment because I’m not a good swimmer. It was definitely a push outside my comfort zone, but it was so empowering. - Kara (August 15, 2018)

 ZFZAUaC0axwnbKcMG_lKR-PNCDHwLW1bklvN1yuqnI7jmKFUs4auevEXhqiq8rTy9_MWs06qIDcYv5YKfrPCMUx19eQQKTIP7L_1nQrIOp4UVaX3M5X3xUBRv6fERKqk6PSiY3XJThis picture makes me smile because it was taken right after I took a big breath and jumped straight into the coldest water I have ever felt! If you look closely, I’m climbing up the sliding rock in the background. -Annie (August 15, 2018)

bThis image is the location of my solo sit. Before doing the solo sit, I was practically in tears and ready to go home. However, I sat, thought, and admired the amazing view, and after a half an hour or so I felt completely reset and calmed. -Annie (August 15, 2018)

Day 3, 8/16/18:

Koab3zwKTu05Giy8YTrUMT-6p68aJlaEebDE0jMHrvikzOtUiPfjpEoo28TZp0zdCUG4waOHZirQ7hXWOx3CGYioUmZp58cnJfIgUSZx_C6HuFnDTt2ZVkg6uHMQ23DS9-w0LunXThis picture was my moment of peace during the trip. On the last day, we sunbathed atop a waterfall to start the morning. It is easy to say I had never felt so comfortable with the girls sitting next to me. -Rachel (August 16th, 2018)

KM6vvBh-QcojV7EfmBxWyWJ6_2IfqVRMshKSloqhPpF4A9ggFloOuYvI_a0Sf_wEyzIEZ1zRo7tokVCAnv30jVQ4G0zvRFV3Zly2dDqgfz0EfSEKlIQBXPybvdgnt8b3ybuLwAHOThis hill was our last big challenge. We all were sweating, our legs were tired, and we just wanted to get to the top. In this photo, we took a pause to notice all the beauty that surrounded us, even in the face of such a strenuous part of the trail. - Mollie (August 16, 2018)

fl6GYOEG6H9mxPIaJT-crITY3hXp0guBLn8zmMRrCcdehzsLRwlxjY1QLQGqLs9oGIQJf2xLtDsAwMMdtnexQQr_gI_GoHgumW7o9CrGf_9wnsqMcJ8EHPlMQbvjr2MxM7ItuAb_Atop “Suck Wind Hill” we gazed upon Grandfather Mountain, and to my awe, I learned there was such a thing as Grandmother Mountain right beside it! We then participated in a bandana ceremony, where we smothered each other in compliments to express what we admired about one another. These girls are the best! -Rachel (August 16th, 2018)

4p4Y-QDWjd1VsoS6rCskXnA62HIvCBzgrfCX4OLervHo5Nw7A35lydb-zqUzoGo4BISQ3WJ6j1TegDR5N9ApUCW7sbBBa1vBAWtuhwZoASIU7GQqQFAG6htB7UbFQLt3BYt2UnJkI couldn’t have asked for a better closing to our trip. As we sat on top of the rocks, looked at the view, and realized that we were done with the most difficult parts of the trek, we took some time to go around and say what we liked or appreciated about each other. After three days together, we definitely learned a lot about one another just through conversations and observations. I was amazed by the depth of the comments we made and the authenticity of it all. There’s nothing quite as empowering as building and hyping one another up like that. It was then that I realized just how great this trip had been and how great the next four years with these girls will be. - Kara (August 16th, 2018)


gtw3ong0YRuLuZ0lmuVJBrqjpOLh2c55GH-ZFjBr4d567Tvja-qJmzUdjB2ycz-N5CM1xGROGDRGLoNMFVUWwqwNUNnBNbStZ81dmJS7R2X2goWV4D9T9UNGacuAbc6KSJC2NVD3This was at the very end of our expedition! We reflected on the past three days, anticipated the semesters ahead, and took a minute to breathe before college life officially began. Kara and I had been talking about apathy in our culture and finding ways to ignite passion in others regarding social issues. We talked about our families and backgrounds and connected on so many things. Nataly played a song on the ukulele and sung for us in Spanish (we had been looking forward to this for a while, and she still exceeded our expectations!) -Hannah (August 16, 2018)

Post-Trip Reflections:

“This short excursion was surprisingly difficult for me. I was particularly surprised by how much I struggled emotionally, especially since I used to occasionally backpack when I was younger. The transition from moving in to a brand new home and then immediately packing up and heading into the woods for three days was a lot for me to handle, and I responded with a grumpy attitude. However, the ‘Solo Sit’ allowed for me to take a breather and focus on my attitude. I sat beside a waterfall in silence, and focused on the Earth around me; the surrounding scene was extremely overwhelming and powerful when looked at as one piece, but when I focused on each element individually, such as the texture of the rock under me, or the sound of the water, everything seemed manageable and even peaceful. Coming into college, I am applying the same mentality: when overwhelmed and scared, I break down my environment and find peaceful moments within the mess. After the Solo Sit, the rest of the trip was far more enjoyable for me, and I was able to focus on building relationships with the five amazing girls who I was with. We experienced a level of empowerment that I never expected, and I am thrilled to see what the next four years hold.” - Annie Manges


“Who knew that backpacking, cut off from the rest of the world, would begin my worldwind of freshman year here at App State. August 14-16, I lived, I learned, I was challenged, and I made memories that will last a lifetime. Throughout my life I have grown up in the outdoors, exploring local trails in Wisconsin and enjoying day hikes with my family, but it was not until the Wilson Scholars Outdoor Leadership Experience that I discovered what it meant to become one with nature. From an acquired taste of personal hygiene in the woods to purifying creek water with iodine, I was humbled to refocus my emotions on my surroundings and the insights of my fellow scholars. One of my favorite moments of the entire trip occurred the second night as I rolled over in the middle of the night to the sound of a rushing river, felt a boulder, and looked up to see the stars untouched by lights. After a debrief with my fellow scholars earlier, delving into our deepest fears and accepting what it meant to be vulnerable with each other, I was even more at peace to vulnerable and appreciate a new world around me. It was even more beautiful than I was accustomed to in my comfortable atmosphere back home. This is only one example of how the Wilson Scholars Program as a whole will push me out of my comfort zone and challenge me to become enriched in ways I never knew was possible. From this experience, I realized there are infinite experiences, people, beliefs, and places to learn. I was reminded to slow down, to push through the low 7th mile craving comfort from my support system back home, and to feed that energy into making the mountain my home. I began to look at the world around me, the environment and the people, to learn their stories and the serenity and bliss of a truly minimalistic lifestyle. There is something special about the isolation of each other and the woods that creates a truly unique bond. Empowerment. Communication. Vulnerability. Humor. Bold. The 5 words we set to obey throughout our trip and I learned to live by.” - Rachel Ramakrishnan


“During the Outdoor Leadership Experience, I went through a metaphorical rollercoaster of highs and lows. The excursion was my first real hike. I tripped within the first twenty minutes and scraped my knee. I attempted to remain optimistic, yet each fall and ankle twist chipped away at my enthusiasm. I eventually felt like I couldn’t continue to keep up, so I slowed my pace but continued to push through. As I did this I thought of a book my Mami read to me as a child called “Ruby in Her Own Time” by Jonathan Emmett, in which Ruby (a small duckling) doesn’t attempt to do things at the pace of the other ducklings. She instead takes things in her own time and enjoys moments that she would have otherwise overlooked trying to keep up. When I took things and did them “in own time,” I got to really enjoy the captivating beauty of my surroundings, and I realized that I was surpassing all of my previously conceived thoughts on my physical capabilities, which was one of my biggest accomplishments on this trip. With the encouragement of the trip leaders and my newly-found friends, I felt as if I had discovered this new part of me that I didn't know I had. I went from being the last hiker in the group, to leading on the second day. After getting over my fear of heights and learning how to walk in my hiking boots, I thoroughly enjoyed the trip. The views were incredible; in particular, I fell in love with the hidden waterfall where we wrote our solo letters. Up until this trip I was afraid to even go down fire poles at the park, so I was amazed at myself for feeling daring enough to climb on a boulder just to get to see the absolutely incredible view of Grandfather and Grandmother mountain at the end. I overcame all of my preconceived notions about my physique, that I wasn’t fit enough to hike the trail or that my body couldn't take the physical strain anymore. I learned that your barriers are mental.  I realized that even at your lowest moments when you feel like you just can’t push yourself any further, you can.” - Nataly Jimenez


“I like to consider myself an outdoorsy person and someone who can handle hardcore hikes, but I really had no idea what was coming. I definitely found that you can do more than you think you can--I think that’s the biggest thing I took away from the trip. There were times that I wanted to give up, take a break, but somehow I kept going. I knew that this trip was meant to be challenging and that I should push myself beyond what I felt I was originally capable of. Unwinding at the end of each day let me take some time to reflect on all we experienced and really bond with everyone else as we collectively marveled at our progress. After we set up camp, relaxed a bit, and made dinner, it made the difficulty of the whole day feel worth it. Seeing where the trek took us, both farther along the trail and closer to one another, always blew my mind. Being able to look up at the starry sky, have deep conversations with people who care about life and love what it has to offer, all those things are so rewarding. I also was reminded how beautiful living simply can be. Not having access to the things that society convinces us that we need forces you to enjoy the moment and be appreciative of just being alive, looking up and looking out. Everything was just empowering and encouraging: seeing that I am capable of doing more than I know and succeeding even when I’m outside my comfort zone, and being around people who were kind and supportive. I found that you grow the most when you allow yourself to try new things, allow yourself to be vulnerable and see things from a new perspective--lessons that I think will serve us well, now and in the future.” - Kara Haselton


“The bonds that the first-year Wilson Scholars and I made, the challenges that we faced and the lessons we’ve learned, have all shaped my new perspective going into my first semester at college.  Everything that we endured together has truly shaped a lasting support network between us. There is something so valuable about sharing the struggle of the next 6 miles, the relief of lying down at the end of the day, and the feeling of amazement when we reached the top with such an amazing group of people.  The backpacking trip has given me a pot of experiences and lessons to draw from during my time at App. The empowerment that I felt on my solo hike, learning to set up my own tent, and making my own food has given me that touch of resiliency and independence that I needed going into my first semester at college.  The activities that we did on the trip, such as the debrief games, the solo hike, and the letter writing, provided me with time to embrace my surroundings and really reflect on my experiences, past and present. While reflecting, creating lasting bonds, and feeling empowered and independent, I was also challenged in a way I wasn’t expecting, and this was learning to pace myself.  I found out that burning all my energy in the first two miles wasn’t the way to go, especially when we had 6 more to go. This challenge gave me a new perspective going into college: I needed to pace myself while still living with intention and determination in order to make the most of my next four years. Overall, I found the Outdoor Leadership Experience to be such a great learning, bonding, reflective, and empowering experience.  I am grateful to have been given such an amazing toolbox of lessons during my first week of college, and now, I think I can take on anything!” - Mollie Donovan


“Every aspect of the Outdoor Leadership Experience for me can be summed up by the word “rich.” Spending three days with a small group of people allows you to get to know them pretty well, but spending those three days in an environment with no distractions brings you so much closer. Because we weren’t able to seclude ourselves and because we were all facing the same challenges together, our relationships grew exponentially in such a short period of time. We explored each other’s passions and interests, pasts, and dreams for the future, and I think these conversations may have been my favorite component of the entire trip. We helped each other break mental barriers of fear and self-doubt, we were honest and open about pain and insecurities, and we supported and encouraged each other during the entire eighteen-mile trek. The memories we made are rich too, because they are multi-faceted. I don’t simply remember sliding down a moss-covered waterfall; I remember watching Annie’s boldness in being the first one in the freezing water first thing in the morning, and Mollie and Kara following and encouraging me to do the same. I remember feeling comfortable with being uncomfortable, as my bones ached, as I was scared to push myself into the rushing water to slide down, and as I hiked the following several miles in wet clothes. Before this trip, I might have viewed some of those as hindrances to having a good time, but none of it mattered at all. We were all in the same boat, so there was no use in complaining about what made us uncomfortable. We all just embraced it and laughed at each other, shivering and sopping wet, some of us with blistered feet, but all of us with massive grins stretched across our faces.” - Hannah Lancaster

Published: Sep 11, 2018 2:31pm