FEB. 20, 2017
Sometimes it’s the fear of missing out that keeps you from trying something new. And other times it’s the fear of the unknown. Stepping out of one’s comfort zone and accepting that which we cannot control is one of the greatest lessons in life. Failure is an innate part of learning and growth; discovering our limits while honing our successes is a key aspect of our development. Too often we hold ourselves back for fear that the road ahead may be difficult, that we may feel embarrassed along the way, or that we may realize that we fall short of our expectations.
It can be hard to imagine yourself on a Hante but these are accessible adventures designed to develop leadership skills for anyone with a serious interest and a deep level of commitment. This year, Hante Trails aims to bridge the gap and make the leap a little smaller. By cutting back on backpacking and instead spending more time immersed in the forest, there will be increased opportunities to connect with the natural world without too many added distractions. Because the first three days will be spent base-camping in Pisgah Forest you won’t feel rushed to learn map and compass skills or fret about cooking dinner in a timely manner. Once you become comfortable with the basics you can help serve the forest by removing invasive plants or building trails, skills that allow you to connect with the earth, while still returning to “base-camp” each afternoon.
But no Hante is complete without its capstone challenge! Your final five days will be spent backpacking a shortened trek either on the Appalachian Trail or Art Loeb. With shorter mileage per day you’ll be able to enjoy the sport of backpacking and feel confident about returning to camp to have dinner ready by a reasonable hour. With six days to practice your camping skills, the addition of backpacking will feel like nothing more than a hike through the woods surrounded by spectacular views.
Thinking about joining a Hante is easy but making the decision to commit can be tough. It’s the moment when you have to let off the clutch and engage the transmission. With a few deep breaths and a positive mental attitude anything is possible. Believe in yourself and trust the program—take that little leap and come see what you can do! Who knows, maybe you’ll even surprise yourself.
Marlin Sill, Hante Director
FEB. 9, 2017
There’s always that moment in class when you stare out the window and daydream, and sometimes you daydream about all the places you want to be that don’t involve that classroom. So what have you been daydreaming about this week? Maybe the sea kayaking you’ll do in Washington State, or is it the climbing you’ll do in Pisgah Forest? You might even space out imagining the rolling hills in Scotland. But don’t get too caught up, there’s a lot to do between now and then. You’ll find that school will have a lot more to offer you for your Hante than you think.
“School,” you ask, “Really?” Let’s take a look at geometry for a second. For those of you thinking of coming to the Outdoor Academy (or if you’ve just left) you’ll know that much of what you learn in the classroom can relate to our “real” outdoor world. Your first look at a map or shooting a bearing with a compass will show you the relation between the gridlines on the chalkboard and the elevation profiles of the ridge you’re hiking. Or the difference of just a few degrees can put you off your mark by miles if you don’t calculate your direction of travel correctly.
Still not sure what I’m tapping at? So maybe math isn’t your favorite, but what about literature or history? At some point in High School you may read the epic poem The Wallace, or your history teacher may show you excerpts of Braveheart. That’s a great time to perk up and learn the history of how, for over 800 years Scotland fought so hard for independence from the English. William Wallace stands as one of Scotland’s Iconic Knights who led many successful campaigns against the English before his defeat.
Don’t forget science and natural history though. Sea Kayaking in the San Juan Islands will expose you to a plethora of ocean flora and fauna. The area is teeming not just with marine life, but a veritable buffet for marine mammals like Orca Whales, Dolphins and Sea Otters. Just south on the Olympic Peninsula you’ll find a rainforest bursting with evergreen trees, mosses, and ferns. The valleys sheltered by the massive Olympic Range towering overhead. Where water meets earth, you find streams and rivers filled with Salmon who recently found their way back upstream after the Elwha Dam removal. Eagles and bears returned to the bank of the rivers to feast, all while you pass quietly and just beyond sight, enjoying the wild as it should be: un-caged and live.
It’s very difficult to appreciate the beauty and understand the complexity of our world without a backbone of knowledge to build from. Yes, many centuries ago we lived simply, walking the earth without much needed beyond our basic needs. Times have changed, and whether for the good or bad, we must adapt. Part of that process should be absorbing all the information you can. Consume every morsel of information, so that as you step out and walk through the landscapes you can connect in new and exciting ways.
Marlin Sill, Hante Director
FEB. 3, 2017
Certain nostalgia hits me this time of year. Throughout the first months of 2015, I was very busy preparing for a northbound thru-hike of the Appalachian Trail. My February days were spent gathering and testing gear, making plans for drop boxes of food along the trail, and preparing to move all of my belongings into a storage unit. Handling the logistics of a thru-hike is stressful, but I look back on it now and find myself missing the excitement I felt knowing that a great adventure was on the horizon.
To combat the bittersweet nostalgia, as well as the cold days of winter and dark events taking place in our world right now, I’ve been re-reading my journals and blog posts from my time spent on the trail. Remembering how it felt to live simply in the woods, to connect with an incredible community of people, and to realize that I was capable of more than I ever imagined brings me intense joy, even after the fact.
I wanted to share a specific post I wrote about magic. It’s a good reminder that wonderful, beautiful things are happening around every corner. It’s there waiting for us on trails, in our neighborhoods, and in chance encounters with strangers, but to experience that magic we must fully open our eyes and hearts.
April 14th, 2015:
Before I began this journey, I was told that the trail would give me exactly what I needed at precisely the right time. I assumed this meant I’d find rides into towns without much hassle, delicious food from strangers at road crossings, and kind-hearted gestures from fellow hikers. Each of these things has happened countless times over the past 2.5 weeks, but the magic I’ve encountered has far surpassed anything I could’ve dreamed.
After my last update, I climbed up and out of the Nantahala Gorge. The ascent was intense – nearly 16 miles of steady (and at times, very steep) uphill. I left the NOC in good spirits, but my mood quickly diminished as the day progressed. I thought maybe I was just hangry, so I ate and ate but my attitude remained sour. There were times during the hike that I had to bargain with myself to simply put one foot in front of the other. I’ve felt similarly on long training runs, but unlike those there was no opportunity to cut this day short. It was the toughest mental and physical day I’ve experienced on the trail thus far.
And then, magic came in the form of a new friend. I met Vulture at a shelter that afternoon, and we commiserated about our rough day and connected over our mutual love of the towns of Asheville and Boone, North Carolina. Vulture and I move at a similar pace and ended up hiking together for the next couple of days, including another tough climb from Fontana Lake into the Smokies. I don’t know if I’ll see Vulture again anytime soon, but her friendship came exactly when I needed it.
As a native North Carolinian, I’m a little embarrassed to admit that I’ve never visited Great Smoky Mountains National Park. That is, until hiking through it last week. My mind was blown! There is magic around every bend in the trail in the Smokies, and I feel fortunate to have been so intimately connected to that landscape for several days. Above 5000 feet, the forest morphs into a land of towering red spruce and Fraser fir. The air is thick with the fragrance of what I can only describe as “Christmas”. Most of the days I spent in the park were very wet and foggy, but there were times that the clouds lifted to reveal a blanket of mountains below me. Though the hiking was strenuous, I remained in high spirits as I moved through the forest and connected with a new community of incredible people.
I’ve also experienced an extreme amount of “traditional” trail magic over the past week. I’m constantly amazed by the number of people who give their time and money to feed, shuttle, and hang out with hikers. I’ve been given doughnuts, soda, veggie chili, brownies, Snickers bars, rides to and from town, and most importantly, the time and stories of many kind people. To each of you – THANK YOU for reminding me that people are so very good and for making me want to be better.
I also found magic as I walked into the town of Hot Springs, NC. I came to Hot Springs for the first time when I was in high school, and I was amazed by the fact that the Appalachian Trail ran directly through the heart of town. I saw people with backpacks and dreamed of being like them someday. Yesterday afternoon, “someday” became “now”. Dreams I’ve held onto for so many years are being realized each and every day, and there’s nothing that’s quite as magical as that.
Interested in spending time on the Appalachian Trail this summer? Hante Trails and AT Trek Virginia will give you the opportunity to experience trail magic firsthand. Very limited space is still available in both adventures – register today!
Liz Snyder, Assistant Camp Director
JAN. 17, 2017
We’ve all been hit with the monotony of life. The constant repetitive motions that we go through, and how, at times, we feel lost in the game and want to break the rhythm. We wake up every morning, just to lie back down to bed each night. We pick up our fork just to bring it back down to the plate for more. We fill up our car with gas, just to watch the needle fall back down again. From the surface this 1 dimensional up-and-down seems to hold no meaning.
At some point in High School Math or Physics we learn the translation of 1 dimensional linear movement to 2 dimensions. As you turn the frame on the point moving up and down you see the greater depth to the movement. Most often it is a circle or ellipse, and that point now moves clock, or counter-clockwise, around and around. What, moments before, seemed so monotonous, has rounded a corner creating rotation and gravity and depth.
Much of our life too has this depth beyond the linear ups and downs. Our feet moving round and round on the pedals, taking us up and over and across the streets, hills and mountains. Our legs pressing down on the earth and up on our bodies to move us up the rocks. Our arms reaching forward and back to catch the stroke and pull through propelling us down the rapids. Every moment of every day we make so many repetitive motions. Some small and some larger, and all seemingly monotonous on the surface, yet filled with meaning and drive, fueled by our needs wishes and desires.
And in those moments when you are down, it can be hard to see where you were when you were up. It can be hard to see the other dimensions to why we keep up the motions day after day. But I like to focus on what drives me and look beyond the linear tracks I have to take up and down, or side to side. I change the frame and decide what I want my day or week or life to rotate around.
Marlin Sill, Hante Director
DEC. 6, 2016
To My Beloved Eagle’s Nest Adventurers,
The fact that you’re beginning to read these words already says a lot about you. By being a student at The Outdoor Academy or a camper at Eagle’s Nest, you’ve already proven that you have a desire to step out of your comfort zone and leave behind day-to-day luxuries such as Snapchat stories, Netflix marathons with your cat, and microwavable ramen for an opportunity to explore the wilderness with a handful of people you’ve never met before. This isn’t an easy thing to do. It takes a lot to sacrifice the comforts of our lives in exchange for an experience we know almost nothing about before we commit to it. However, that’s the very thing that keeps me coming back to Eagle’s Nest every year; the excitement of living in the moment and never knowing what to expect next.
I’ve been fortunate enough to have participated in three Hante’s, all of which were completely different. However, they’re kind of set up that way. Much like every year at camp, or every semester of OA, each Hante has a completely different culture that springs forth as a result of the personality and energy that each member brings to the group. Over the course of three weeks, this culture becomes more defined with each and every day as the members of the Hante become closer, more comfortable expressing themselves, and less afraid to take risks. This culture and closeness also forms from the challenges that a group faces together. Nothing makes you closer to someone than hiking up a mountain in the rain, while you both carry heavy packs, and nothing feels more gratifying than getting to the top of that mountain and seeing the gorgeous view that you worked so hard to get to see with the same people you struggled to the top of the mountain with.
Although in many cases, the obstacle is literally a mountain, there are plenty of other Hante’s with their own challenges that have nothing to do with the vertical ascension of a land mass. Sometimes the challenge is paddling through a super strong rapid, or setting up a campsite in the dark, or even striking up a conversation with that one kid in the group who’s not quite as out-going as everyone else and needs a little extra help opening up to everybody. There are two things that all of these obstacles have in common: One – all of these obstacles are conquerable with the help of Eagle’s Nests spectacular instructors and your peers, and Two – there’s not a feeling in the world as satisfying as completing these challenges. They will make you grow as a person in ways you might not even realize until you go home that summer, and your parents say to you, “Wow, you’re a lot less annoying than you were when we dropped you off at that forest.”
But seriously, I can say from personal experience that I’ve grown a lot on Hantes. They teach you to be held accountable for your actions and the actions of your group members in ways that aren’t able to be taught in a classroom. It’s really difficult to fully encapsulate the experience of a Hante in this one letter, unfortunately. In fact, it’s downright impossible. Which is all the more reason you should sign up for one, and experience it yourself.
Eagle’s Nest camper, Hante participant, Semester 38 Alum
NOV. 9, 2016
I grew up in the country, surrounded by pastures and woods. Instead of spending days playing video games, I spent my afternoons and summer days exploring the natural world around me. I built forts in the woods, splashed around in the creek, and occasionally captured my neighbor’s somewhat wild horses and rode them bareback through the field (sorry Mom). As I got older, whenever I felt stressed or confused I headed outside for comfort and answers. These days, when I want to clear my mind and connect to what’s important in life, I find myself lacing up my running shoes or hopping on my mountain bike for a run or ride through the woods. I don’t think that I’m the only one that does that, and with good reason. As it turns out, spending time exercising in nature is good for your body and your brain.
I recently read an article that sighted a study from psychologists Ruth Ann Atchley and David Strayer who found that “creative problem solving can be drastically improved by both disconnecting from technology and reconnecting with nature.” Participants in this study discounted from technology and headed out on a 4 day backpacking trip. When asked to perform creative thinking and complex problem solving tasks, the participants ability to do so improved by 50%. These findings are not at all shocking, nor or those of many other researchers who study the effects of time in nature on the brain, including Gregory Bratman, a graduate student at the Emmett Interdisciplinary Program in Environment and Resources at Stanford University. Bratman also found that study volunteers who went on brief, “discounted” walks through the lush grounds of Stanford were more attentive and happier after their walks than their counterparts who walked through busy streets.
There’s no doubt that exercise is good for our physical well-being; exercise in nature, removed from distractions and technology is also good for our emotional health and can reduce anxiety and boost wellbeing. We see it in our campers each summer as they head to the mountains for 1 – 3 weeks to connect with nature, friends and to themselves. I see it in the joy on the faces in and the hearts of campers and staff as they return from a day hike at Black Balsam Knob or from 3 days with their X-craft class. I feel it when I talk with teens about their 3-week “Hero’s Journey” on Hante; they are all at once inspired and filled with peace.
So, make time each day, each week or each month to disconnect from technology and go for a walk, run or ride in the woods. Find a pretty park or rose garden in your town, and make time in your routine to explore it. Your body and mind will be better for it.
Paige Lester Niles, Camp Director