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Thursday, October 11, 2012

Wilderness Orientation: Embracing the Unknown

The setting of our first campsite

First came the preparation. As someone who had never even officially camped, I knew I was in for an experience. I was determined to do the best I could to prepare myself for the obstacles orientation would present. I spent 3 long hours at REI stuffing backpacks with weights and schlepping them around every corner of the store until I found one that fit me perfectly. I carried that same backpack on daily hikes to break in my hiking boots--tromping through every puddle to see if they really stood up to their waterproof labeling. I spoke to current students and admissions counselors as often as I could to make sure that I was not forgetting any essential items to pack. In short, I was utterly and completely terrified to spend three weeks on wilderness orientation in Arizona’s backcountry.

Setting up tarps

Yet there I was: little old me, cowering under the weight of a 50 pound backpack, leaping from boulder to boulder, floating through majestic slot canyons, skipping across river rocks, drinking out of cow tanks, maneuvering around cacti, laughing beside campfires, and sleeping beneath the vast, star-studded sky. I learned how to set up tarps, ascend rock walls, navigate routes, and find commonality amongst people from completely different backgrounds. I withstood mental breakdowns, bug bites, thunderstorms, sunburns, cuts and bruises, being completely cut off from friends and family, and realizing that nothing could have prepared me for the experience I was having.

My solo site at West Clear Creek

And aside from the great tan and fabulous-smelling wardrobe I came back with, I also returned with a confidence that transcended any tangible obstacle. I knew I would enter the semester with a solid group of friends who stuck with me through all of the tears, laughter, and hardships. My fears surrounding academia were extinguished because I knew that if I could survive three weeks in the wilderness with just a backpack over my shoulders, what couldn’t I accomplish? The door of opportunity was wide open and I had already proved I was capable of achieving things I had never thought possible.

Part of West Clear Creek that we nicknamed "Garden of Eden"

It has been over a year since I laced up my boots and set out for wilderness orientation. Every time I talk to my orientation group members, look at our pictures, or re-read my journal, I am taken back to that first course at Prescott College. I can’t help but smile and reminisce about how lucky I am to have had that experience.  To this day I continue to learn so much about myself and my capabilities based on the growth that occurred during those three weeks in the backcountry.  Although I had no idea what I was getting myself into, everything I have gained from embracing the unknown has made it all worth it.  Don't be afraid to challenge yourself and step outside of your comfort zone.  You just might have the experience of a lifetime.

Starting off the day with a morning swim

Taking a picture break after a long stretch of boulder-hopping

Never Stop Learning,

Renee Daniel   

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