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NOV. 7, 2013

The Joys of Difficulty on Trek

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Our final Trek, the culmination of outdoor programming and outdoor education at OA, just came to a close last weekend. Sleeping bags are hung up, long underwear washed and shoved out of sight, hiking boots left out to dry and decontaminate. Our students returned, triumphant and weary, after climbing numerous peaks, walking many miles, hanging dozens of bear-bags, and sleeping restlessly, looking at the stars. The entire experience, while a ton of fun, serves as a challenging test of character and strength, requiring a kind of discipline, adaptability and fortitude not often asked of many American 15-year-olds.

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On the instructor’s side, the stress of Trek comes mostly from the planning side. The logistics of such a trip are of course complicated, and if something goes wrong, plans must be rewritten, routes revisited, schedules overhauled. A few things went wrong this Trek.

Despite the hard work of our very qualified wilderness team, the odds were against us and repeated, unavoidable incidents occurred that forced us to reevaluate and rewrite our goals and plans. At first, it was just some sleet and hail that made us worry, but as it passed, my co-instructor and I were sure things were looking up. Soon after however, my co-instructor’s preexisting injury was exacerbated and forced him to leave the trail. The next 36 hours involved an instructor switch, some off-trail jungle hopping, spending half a day walking in a complete circle, and a lot of friendly neighbors with terrible advice. Once again, after a few days of chaos, I was sure I had made it through the storm and that the trip would smooth itself out. I was, again, very wrong.

I do not mean to worry you, parents of our students. I can assure you, your children are safe, warm and happy in their study hall right now. I can see them giggling actually, trying to stay quiet and pretending to read Cold Mountain.

Anyway, after several more departures of students and staff due to preexisting injuries and weird minor injuries, I was also forced to leave the field as well after I was mercilessly pursued and incapacitated by my nemesis, the North Carolina yellow jacket. My bee allergy, a new discovery to me this semester, proved to me that sometimes the universe is against us. Both Trek trips were equally well planned, staffed and executed, and one happened to be plagued with difficulties while the other sailed smoothly over the Blue Ridge Mountains and back in the Pisgah Forest valleys.

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And I would like to say how grateful I am to have been on this 9 days of challenging trip, how much I laughed, how much I was able to teach my students, how much I will remember of those crazy days and nights searching for trails most likely didn’t exist. Smooth days are nice at the time, but rarely make lasting memories. As one of the students on my trip said when we finally made it home “I will remember that day for the rest of my life.”

Beth Daviess
Resident Wilderness Educator