It’s Columbus Day weekend, 2016, on the Long Trail in Vermont, where nine Boston College students carry the heavy weight of tents, food, and sleeping bags on their backs. By now the group, made up of two leaders and seven trainees, has hiked three miles through the dense fall. We’ve taken off our fleeces, and we’re covered in sweat. We forget how fast our hearts are beating and how heavily we’re breathing.
There’s a short, steep incline ahead. Hand over foot, I tell myself. With the bulky bags chafing our shoulders, the climb is difficult, awkward, and slow. Each of us goes up the ladder of rocks and roots one by one. When it’s my turn to climb, I search for a way up, testing nature’s stability. I finally push myself to the top and realize how cold I am now that I’ve stopped moving. The wind catches my sweaty shirt. My entire face feels chapped. It will be some time before everyone makes it up. In the moment of rest and silence, I notice that the two who climbed before me are looking up, so I follow their gaze.
We had reached a small plateau, covered in leafy deciduous trees with leaves in a variety of autumn colors, each catching the sunlight like stained glass. As the wind sifts through the branches, the whole plateau seems to sway and dance, as little pieces of red, yellow, and brown float down to our feet. I tell myself that this moment is the reason I struggle hand and foot with 60 pounds on my back. This is worth many days of sweat and dirt.
The opportunity to hike along the Long Trail in Vermont was part of my training to become a leader for Boston College’s Outdoor Adventures program, which aims to introduce students and faculty to the many hidden gems of New England. Outdoor Adventures was started some years ago by Elisha Crispell, with a starting class of six leaders. Eli, as he likes to be called, still dedicates his heart and soul to this program, driving from his home in Maine to Boston College many times a week to assist in the program’s growth. It is Eli’s hard work that allows Boston College to offer safe and affordable school-sanctioned trips, and it is his compassion and enthusiasm that inspires the current OA leaders.
Outdoor Adventures hosts trips, including hiking, snowshoeing, alpine and cross country skiing, and paddle boarding, nearly every weekend of the semester. These day-long trips are both affordable—usually around 10 dollars—and incredibly worthwhile. Each one offers something that cannot be found anywhere else at BC. Every single time I go on an OA day trip, I am surprised by my experience. Whether it is the magnificence of enormous, frozen waterfalls in Franconia, NH or climbing a lookout post atop Mt. Stratton in Vermont, every memory I have of OA day trips encourages me to sign up for another one.
In addition to its weekend trips across New England, Outdoor Adventures offers many other opportunities to BC students. One integral part of OA is Wild Eagles, a first year backpacking experience that takes place the weekend before freshmen move into their dorms. Wild Eagles aims to show freshmen the things that exist outside the confines of the campus, outside of the city, and outside their comfort zone. Many current OA leaders believe it was their Wild Eagles experience that inspired them to take the leader training course, in order to share the mentorship and friendship that they gained on their first BC experience with many freshmen to come.
During spring break, Outdoor Adventures’ programs expand to many places within the United States. This year, students backpacked and paddle boarded in both North Carolina and Oregon.
This summer, OA will offer its first weeklong trip to Alaska, a trip that Eli Crispell is very enthusiastic about. Although Crispell lives and works on the east coast, he says that the wildness and magnificence of Alaska has always had a place in his heart. These aspects are what are bringing him back to the state to spread the same enthusiasm to the students of Boston College. Participants will be able to kayak in the Prince William sound, to backpack Denali, and to visit glaciers and nature’s cathedrals.
It’s now almost nighttime at the Shooting Star shelter on the Long Trail. We have set up our tents around a large rock face that overlooks a small ravine. We gather in the shelter to make and eat dinner: pasta and canned parmesan. Normally this pasta would not be appetizing to me, but I’m starving, so I eat a bowlful. Then another bowlful. Then a handful of trail mix and some peanut butter on a flour tortilla.
We are then joined in the shelter by two men, a Dutch school teacher and an MIT engineer. They had met 20 days before at the start of the Long Trail and had been hiking together ever since, sharing food and stories about their lives. As the light diminishes, the two men set up a fire in the pre-made pit and invite us to join them. In no time, we’re talking about everything from music to politics to our lives in the present moment.
Many people believe that human interaction with nature is about introversion—taking oneself away from the rest of the world in order to reconnect with the earth. But in my experience, so much about nature is about people, whether it’s the people we talk to as we hike, those we meet at shelters, or the ones we share tents with. This is exactly what Outdoor Adventures strives to achieve—to connect people to nature and to each other.