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NOV. 30, 2017

An Outdoor Academy Trek: The Before and After

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Step 1: The Gathering

1 a. Clothes

  • Hiking clothes (most often shorts and an active T, but sometimes hiking pants and a long-sleeve active T)
  • Long underwear top and bottom- wool is my favorite for anything longer than a day or two (synthetic gets a little smellier)
  • Fleece pants and top
  • Another insulating layer (or 2, I get cold really easily so I don’t skimp here)
  • Rain gear (not just for staying dry- also great for sitting on wet ground at camp, keeping bugs off, and that incredible feeling and sound of walking with swishy pants)
  • Hat, gloves, buff, undergarments
  • Camp shoes and hiking boots
  • SOCKS (I maybe go overboard here, but I like socks for hiking, socks for camp, and a pair of socks that lives in my sleeping bag for guaranteed dry feet while I sleep)

1b. Sleeping

  • Sleeping pad
  • Sleeping bag (having more than one, the biggest thing I think about is temperature, but because one is down I also consider sleeping situation and weather)

1c. All the other stuff

  • Toiletries (toothbrush and paste, glasses/contact care, some extra Dr. Bronners)
  • Water bottles
  • Headlamp & whistle
  • Journal and pens
  • Knife
  • Compass & map
  • Book
  • Dice for FARKLE (the best dice game EVER)
  • Mug, bowl, spoon (my personal success rate of remembering this is about 50%)

1d. At this point I usually do a lap around my room and rummage through my outdoor gear and usually find one or two things I forgot or think might be fun.

Step 2: The Separating

The challenge: to bring exactly the right amount of stuff so you are prepared but not carrying everything you own. This is also a good time to separate out into a separate pile the things you will be putting on your body the morning of the Trek.

Step 3: The Waiting

At this point I usually pack the first layer of my pack (sleeping bag and some clothes) and then just throw everything else on top of it. On the morning of the trek I know I will get together with my expedition mates and divide up food and group gear, so it’s not worth packing well before I have all of that.

Step 4: The Shoving

Anyone who has been on a Trek with me has heard me say “if you are not working up a sweat while you’re packing your pack, you’re probably not doing it right.” There are acronyms to help you remember good rules of thumb, but good pack packing is all about filling all of the space your pack has to offer by getting things in EVERY nook and cranny. Keep all of your stuff inside the pack, and it probably shouldn’t be super unevenly weighted.

Remember- the first rule of any outdoor pursuit is “look good feel good,” and there is no better way to feel good than to have a good looking pack.


Some questions I like to ask myself before heading out include:

  • Am I ready for my classes when I return?
  • Is my living space something I will be happy to return to?
  • Have I talked to my family to let them know I’ll be gone for a few days/weeks/months/forever? (I really like being in the woods)
  • How am I feeling about this trek?
    • What is making me nervous?
    • What am I excited about?
  • What’s my plan for the morning? Is there anything else I can’t pack until then?

3/5/7/400 days pass full of laughter, tears, mountains, rivers, stars, rain, and mac & cheese


Clean Up:

Before a trek can really wrap up there are a few things that need to be taken care of.

The Scrubbing:

This is the most exciting part of clean up when you get to pull out the bag of leftover rice and beans from dinner on your first night and the avocado that you found at the bottom of your pack when you were emptying it out. It’s when you get to really get in there and scrape out the peanut butter that got into every nook and cranny of the Nalgene container lid. The best part about kitchen duty is that you get first dibs on a shower because Mark keeps his kitchen too clean for your stanky, grimy, trek bodies to be in there.

The Drying:

A key component of taking care of our gear is hanging all gear made of cloth up to dry all the way before we pack it up again and shove it in the gear room. Luckily we have a very complex system in the New Lodge: a bunch of ropes as drying lines. All the ground cloths get sprayed down and hung up with the tarps and rain flies, while tents get set up so air can flow through them and really dry every bit.

The lugging:

Since we leave our packs and sleeping bags in the New Lodge to save dorm space, every makes the final trek from the New Lodge back to their living spaces with their “happy sack” (aka trash bag) full of personal stuff back to their living spaces so it can be put IMMEDIATELY in laundry bags to be washed ASAP.


The moment everyone has been waiting for: the warm shower, the apple and tea, the unique comfort of clean dry clothes. There’s an excitement of being reunited with your friends from other groups to hear their stories and share your own (knowing that even though it’s not a competition and everyone’s experience is awesome, yours was obviously the best). Returning from a journey that was challenging provides an opportunity to really appreciate the simple pleasures of a front country life.

– Marisa Melnick, Math teacher, Medical Coordinator & Wilderness Instructor

NOV. 28, 2017

“I am grateful for … “

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I wrote this as the students of Semester 45 gathered on the Salt Mines porch waiting to get picked up for Thanksgiving break. They held so many emotions—excitement to see their families, sadness to part (even for a week) from their OA friends, and trepidation to navigate a familiar environment with new ideas, clarified values, and a stronger sense of self.  As their numbers dwindled that day, I was reminded how much they are the heart and soul of our school, and I feel grateful for the opportunity to learn, live, and lead alongside them.

At our community meeting prior to Thanksgiving, I asked the students and faculty to participate in a reflection on their gratitude for the joys and challenges of life at the Outdoor Academy. Their words communicate the richness of the experience we create here:

“I’m grateful for the opportunity to walk in as strangers and leave as family.”

“I am grateful for the way my thighs burn as I climb to the top of a mountain, for the magical forest surrounding the peak, and for the incredible community of people who support me to keep climbing.”

“I’m grateful for Semester 45’s willingness to push me outside of my comfort zone.”

“I’m grateful for that moment when someone has to say something important in community meeting and their voice shakes and their eyes look like they might fill up with tears, but they speak anyway.”

“I am grateful for the environment OA creates that encourages learning but reminds me to not stress.”

“I am grateful for this beautiful campus and the outdoors becoming a daily part of my life.”

“I am grateful for a community that seeks to understand each of its unique members, love them for who they are, and appreciate what insight and perspective they have to share.”

“I am forever grateful for how OA brings together people who are all genuinely curious and open with each other. There’s no sense of being ‘coo cool’ for here.”

“I am very grateful for dinner clean up—everyone at work—focused, energized, moving intentionally—a dance at times—with the community’s needs at the center.”

“I am grateful for having faculty that really care about your well-being and are very understanding when life issues appear.”

“I feel gratitude at OA for the discussion. No matter if it is about the Ottomans, Cold Mountain, or caffeinated tea, we always have meaningful discussion where everybody contributes.”

“I’m grateful for all of the amazing sunsets and sunrises I’ve shared with OA students and co-instructors in Pisgah, Shining Rock, and Middle Prong.”

“I am so grateful for the faculty at OA. They have made so many accommodations for me throughout the semester. In other places, I would feel like I was such a burden, but everyone here is so understanding and kind.”

“I am grateful for the conflicts and challenges we have here at OA and the willingness we have to discuss and work them out as a community.”

“I am grateful for the passion, love and enthusiasm that this community brings to every activity, class and interaction.”

“I am grateful for all the food and the people who make it: Mark, the residents (and backup residents), student helpers, and the rest of the faculty. I am so thankful for the three banquets we have a day and the fact that I am never hungry.”

“I am grateful for the small random acts of joy and silliness that permeate every day. Tossing a Frisbee, dancing, spontaneous handstands, high-fives, and silly faces.”

“I am overwhelmingly grateful for the community the OA has created and all the love and joy is has brought into my life. I am also grateful for the outdoor programming and the opportunity to be with ourselves in nature and push ourselves towards growth.”

Gratitude is one of the seven principles woven throughout the fabric of the Outdoor Academy. We take time before every meal to give thanks and we share specific expressions of gratitude at our faculty and community meetings. We try to remind ourselves regularly how fortunate we are to be with each other in this place for a semester, and to savor every moment. We cultivate gratitude, not only for the good parts, but for all parts of our experience, knowing that our challenges help us grow into the best versions of ourselves.

-Kaela Frank, OA Resident & Wilderness Educator

NOV. 17, 2017

Be the Spark on #GivingTuesday

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Here at Eagle’s Nest, we are dedicated to creating a space that feels like home. Year after year our campers return and our students reunite to find their place in the Nest community once again. Giving Tuesday is a chance to experience even a piece of that feeling once again.

We love the sense of community that #GivingTuesday has created, not only within Eagle’s Nest but around the world as well. With Black Friday, Cyber Monday, and the general frantic feeling of holiday shopping, it’s easy to lose sight of what is truly important during the Holiday Season. Giving Tuesday is the opportunity to join together with your neighbors near and far and give back to the communities and organizations that mean something to you.

But what if you could prolong that feeling? What if every month you could be reminded of your home on Hart Road?

On November 28th you have the opportunity to join another community and become a Fire Keeper. By turning your once-a-year donation into a monthly, recurring gift, you will reunite with your fellow Nesters who are deeply invested in and committed to the mission of Eagle’s Nest to provide experiential education in the natural world.

A fire takes a lot of work to build, from the smallest tinder and kindling to logs, oxygen, and heat, each part is important to keep the fire alive. It also takes regular tending to keep the fire going.  By making a monthly gift to the Annual Fund you can ensure the fire never dies and provide opportunities for future generations to grow in this community we create each day.


“The fire is the main comfort of the camp, whether in summer or winter, and is about as ample at one season as at another. It is as well for cheerfulness as for warmth and dryness.”

– Henry David Thoreau


Be the spark that ignites the flame. Make your recurring gift today and start the movement.

#GivingTuesday #ForeverOurNest #IgniteTheFlame

For more information on the benefits of joining the Fire Keepers contact Michelle Miller in the ENF Development Office ( or follow us on social media (@EaglesNestFoundation) during #GivingTuesday on November 28th for updates and stories from donors like YOU!

NOV. 14, 2017

Our Relationship with Food

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In Environmental Seminar, we have been examining our relationship with food. We started by looking at the facts of where our food comes from, from the industrial food chain of conventional meat, produce and processed food to the organic and /or local farming operations. We’ve asked ourselves some difficult questions, such as “If I am going to eat meat, should I be able to kill an animal?” and “What are the hidden costs such as food miles required to eat organic produce in the winter?” We’ve debated the merits and challenges of chosen diets, from omnivore to vegetarian, vegan to freegan, and found that there are many “right” ways to eat, not just one. We’ve explored different concepts around eating traditions, such as our family’s food culture, eating seasonally, and homesteading, and we’ve expanded our view to explore the global impact of food, such as food shortages, riots, and food economics. We’ve explored the impact of corn and soy in our diet, especially around our physical health.

For as many questions as we answer, there are more that are raised. The privilege of our food choices in this country create many opportunities for experimentation and exploration, and in this class we have tried to look at each new concept from all points of view, even those not as popular or exciting. It’s easy to demonize one type of food culture and glorify another, until you explore all sides of the issue. My hope is that these students emerge from this class with the understanding that in order to really make smart choices about the food that we eat, we all have to be a bit of a detective. Look at the food labels. Ask the farmer at the farmer’s market about her spraying practices.  Do the research to determine if migrant workers rights were abused in the growing of this food. It’s not easy, and sometimes you don’t want to know, but it’s important.

If there’s one thing we’ve learned together, it’s the power of the individual to make a difference. As Michael Pollan said, we get to vote three times a day with what we choose to eat. Students are encouraged to find farmers in their area at home, to go to a farmer’s market, and to investigate what CSA’s are available in their community. In a few weeks, we will learn how to start a small garden at home. Our relationship with food can be global, and it can be in our own backyard. Learning how to balance the two is the challenging opportunity of our time, and these students are well on their way toward embracing that challenge.

Susan Daily, Outdoor Academy Student Dean


NOV. 1, 2017

Cassini – A Memorial by Ted Wesemann

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Earlier this semester at The Outdoor Academy on the morning of September 15, the Cassini mission to Saturn ended as the probe vaporized upon entering the planet’s atmosphere. There was something anthropomorphically “wall.e” -like about this tough little spacecraft that said so much about the human race even though it was a machine, albeit a sophisticated one. Some scientists had been working for 30 years on this mission, even as they raised their kids and celebrated holidays and voted for presidents and endured personal triumphs and tragedies. It was so clear as NASA streamed the final day of Cassini that this was a very emotional event for this team. Footage of them from the 1990s with their antiquated computers and hairstyles and clothing alternated with the live feed, accentuating the passage of time. Whole careers had passed. One group of specialists were still using the original computers and software in order to talk to the spacecraft – 20 years of technology stuck in time.

The mission brought the cliched “treasure trove” of new knowledge about Saturn, certainly, but maybe more importantly about the moons, especially Europa and Enceladus. Finding liquid water jetting into space on Enceladus, a 300 mile-diameter snowball, was beyond unexpected – it shifted our foundations. It was the first thing I’ve ever heard that made me truly think, seriously consider and not just imagine, that we may not be alone in our universe – maybe not even in our own solar system. Just the good news of water. So simple and universal.  Flowing, cycling, shimmering, hydrating, saturating, refreshing, light-scattering, nourishing, life-giving, life-saving water. Not every other body orbiting around our star is a scorched wasteland or frozen gaseous giant. At least two have oceans of good old plain water. I have a glass of it in front of me with a few chunks of the solid form cooling it. It’s streaming luxuriantly out of the hose into the fishpond outside right now. I am mostly water. So is my cat and the goldfinch at the birdbath that she is eyeing. I just poured a little on my orchid. And by the way, there is lots more only about a billion kilometers away. “To be found on Enceladus” said our little robot, our little friend – Cassini.

OCT. 20, 2017

Paddling and Climbing at OA

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In September, the students of Semester 45 enjoyed their first three-day paddling and climbing trips. We are always trying to push our students out of their comfort zones, in a safe and controlled setting. This helps them grow and become more confident. Instead of rambling on about the weekend, I thought it would be nice to have two different students talk about their experiences on these trips.

Thoughts on climbing by Ava C., Semester 45 student

“Why do you climb?” Huddled around the campfire after and exciting day, this was the question my group attempted to answer. We had spent the past few days perfecting our figure-8 nots, learning climbing commands, and finally, making our way up the face of the rock. Most importantly, somewhere along the way, we had learned to trust each other.

It was the second day of our climbing trip that significantly stuck out to me. As I belayed everyone and watched them, I realized that we had all become more confident. It was incredible to watch everyone’s reaction when they first glimpsed the view from the top, and to hear everyone encouraging them from down below. It was also incredible to lower someone off the rock and feel their weight descending in the rope resting in my hands.

I felt strong when I started climbing, knowing that the rope would catch me if I lost my grip. I learned to trust my own self; strategically placing my feet in places that would hold me. When I got to the top, I sat and stared at the rolling mountains. “How’s the view?” someone shouted from below. “It’s beautiful!” I called back.

So I think I climb for a lot of reasons. I think I climb because I feel a connection when I trust people and they can trust me. I think I climb because it teaches me to trust myself, and it shows me beauty. And finally climbing helps me face my fears.

Even if I’m back on campus or paddling on the river, I’ll remember the feeling of my hands against the rock, the mountains below me, and the people I trust the most cheering me on.

Thoughts on paddling by Joe V., Semester 45 student

As I walked down to the lake to get my PFD and paddle, I ran through thoughts in my head about my upcoming trip. I was walking with someone who was not very excited about paddling, though by the end, he still had a good time. This affected me a little, I became a bit more nervous and more thoughts raced through my mind. What if it rains for 72 hours? What if my boat flips and someone’s beloved personal gear floats downstream? Even as those thoughts carried on, I was able to channel them, and was all in all excited. After some loading of personal gear, we hit the road. We had a long drive ahead of us, but it went very quickly. By the time we got there, we were all a little tired, but we unloaded gear quickly and waited for some of the instructors to come back after taking our van to the takeout. As we sat along the river eating humus and cheese tortillas I realized something, I was with thirteen of my closest friends from the past month, and no matter what happened, I would have fun. From there we rigged some boats, learned some things, and then, after the long wait, got on the river!

The first day was filled with laughter, good moments, and good memories. We got to camp after a short day filled with consistent small rapids. We ate food, talked, and ended the night with some beautiful stargazing. We all went to sleep dreaming of the big day ahead of us. We got up the next morning ready to go. We got on the river ready and able for the thirteen mile day ahead of us. Someone in our group flipped their canoe relatively early on in the day. It was a blessing in disguise though, as everybody, included me, realized that flipping wasn’t terrible at all, and actually really fun. We kept going downriver and finally got to camp. We quickly set up tents and ate food so we could have plenty of sleep. The next day was by far the hardest day, while not the longest; it was something we were prepared for. Our fist obstacle came in the form of a class III rapid. It went by the name of Dynamite Ledge, very intimidating. We scouted out the rapid and went one at a time, cheering each other on as went down. Only 3 boats out of 10 flipped and we all made it past the ledge. One of the best moments on the trip was when a boat flipped and everyone jumped in the water to rescue the boat.

It was great to see how far we had come since just 48 hours before. We all got into our boats and headed downriver, but not before peeking on how the Outward Bound group behind was doing on that rapid. Almost all of them flipped, which gave us a huge jolt of confidence. We kept going as we went through wave trains and crazy rapids. Some even decided to go down these backwards.  Could hear shouts of “shred the GNAR!” and “That was AWESOME!” that were completely absent the first two days. In the end, it was a great experience, and one that I will remember for a long time.