Well, things have taken an interesting turn at The Outdoor Academy. Semester 48 students have decided that they have learned all they can learn here in Pisgah Forest and are ready to take this show on the road. Amidst planning for this week’s Student Led Trek, during which faculty take a back seat and let the students do all the work, a group of ambitious teens decided that five days in Pisgah National Forest was not enough. After hearing about Eagle Nest Employee Marlin Sill’s plans to through-hike the 2,653-mile Pacific Crest Trail from Mexico to Canada, Semester 48 decided to drop out and hit the trail with him. Students made faculty aware of their decision during post-lunch announcements on Friday.

With an early-April start at the Mexican border just south of Campo, California, it takes about five months to hike the PCT. Students would like their parents to inform sending school that they may or may not be back in time for the start of the fall semester (depending on snowpack in the high Sierra Nevada when they hit that section of trail in June). They’ll get there when they can, but it might be a few weeks late.

Eagle’s Nest Development Director and PCT through-hike alum Cara Varney is pitching in to help students with their pre-hike gear shakedowns and logistics. Varney said, “I spent nearly six months planning my PCT through-hike. There are a lot of details to take care of with resupplies, but OA values simple living, so I’m sure the students will be fine.”

When asked about whether or not he played any role in encouraging the students’ decision to leave OA, Marlin said that he had mentioned his plans in the dorm during shifts as back-up resident on Wednesday nights: “I mean, I told them about the PCT and what it was like to through-hike a long distance trail. They were excited about my hike, but this was all them.” Sill noted that OA does a great job of teaching leadership skills, so the students quickly took ownership of the scheme. “Some of the Spontaneous Motivators in the group initially got people excited, but it was the Analyst-Architects who really started putting plans together.”

OA Director Glenn DeLaney was caught off-guard by the students’ announcement on Friday: “I was just sitting there during post-lunch announcements having enjoyed some falafel and baba ghanoush, and I was about to raise my hand to remind students to stop leaving apple cores around campus. Then this came out of nowhere.” DeLaney noted that OA does, indeed, turn more and more responsibility for the leadership of the experience over to students as the semester progresses. He added, “So, I guess my hands are tied? Sorry parents!”

Longtime faculty member Ted Wesemann said that this type of thing happens from time to time at OA. “Yes, this whole PCT thing brings to mind Semester 18. They jumped ship and made their way to Springer Mountain, GA to start the Appalachian Trail. Then, there was Semester 33. They got it in their heads that they were going to start an organic beet farm and hand-carved spoon co-op. I think they’ve still got that going over toward Maggie Valley.”

Students are still working out some of the details, but their current plan is to hitchhike to Southern California.