Today is my first day of class, which means I’ve been on campus for more than a week now, and I’ve been away from home for more than two weeks. I should feel nervous, alone, and confused right? Wrong.
I feel excited to start school, I have a group of 12 people whom I can call my best friends, and I feel more confident about who I am than I ever have in my life. This is the result of an amazing adventure that I embarked on a week before move-in day; PWild, an 8-day backpacking trip with a group of 10 freshman and 2 counselors.
We took a 12 hour bus ride to the Lake Superior Hiking Trail in Minnesota where we’d have to carry all of our belongings on our backs, cook our own meals, sleep on the hard uneven ground, and live without technology. When we stepped outside of the bus, it was pouring rain. We headed on the wrong trail and our counselors kept quiet until we were about a quarter mile up the trail because as they said, it was “our trip”. I hadn’t even been on the trail for an hour yet but I already hated it and wanted to go home.
That first day we mainly hiked in silence, listening to the sound of the rain falling on the leaves of the trees and went to sleep at around 6pm, before the sun even set, because what else was there to do in the wilderness?
The second day wasn’t much better, there was a lot of uphill that day but we took more breaks which allowed us to get to know each other better and took some weight off our backs (literally, since we took our backpacks off). That night, we stayed up later, built a campfire, and talked under our makeshift tarp. It wasn’t until that day that I finally learned the names of everyone in my group.
After that day, the rest of the trip was a breeze. The hikes seemed easier, we got used to our uncleanly state, and we were a lot more comfortable around each other. We’d developed inside jokes and nicknames for each other and felt like a family.
However, on the 5th day of the trip, I discovered a large, painful bump above my ankle as the result of a bug bite. I showed my counselors and they were forced to medically evacuate me, despite my efforts to convince them I was fine. Fortunately our site was close to a parking lot so I hiked for a mile and then we drove for about an hour to the nearest hospital, where the doctor amputated the bump and gave me a skeptical look when I asked him if I could return to the trail. He responded with “If that’s what you really want to do, sure, I guess.”
I was ecstatic. I couldn’t wait to return to the simplicity of life in the woods, the beauty of my natural surroundings, and of course, my friends. When I returned to the site, I was welcomed by a group of dirty campers screaming my name, smiles, and hugs. I couldn’t help but feel loved. I felt like I belonged, and that was a nice feeling.
We finished the rest of the trip with positive spirits, and did fun activities like telling life stories by the campfire, performing skits, doing solo/partner hikes, and more.
When the bus came on the 7th day, we were filled with mixed emotions as we embarked on our 12 hour journey back to Northwestern. That night, we slept on the campus’s beautiful (but cold) lakefill before we met our parents for move in. We had an early wake up call and ate breakfast shortly after the sun rose, and then went our separate ways to move into our dorms.
As an example of how close we got, we reunited later that night after what seemed like an eternity apart but was actually only 8 hours.
I am so thankful I participated in this program. It thought me to appreciate the simplicities and beauty of life instead of getting caught up in superficial masks. I met a group of people who know me better after a week than some friends who’ve known me for four years. As I start my freshman year of college, I feel more prepared and equipped than I ever would have if I didn’t spend a week in the woods.