Looking Back by Marge McClintock ’15
I distinctly remember the first day of O-week freshman year. It was lunchtime and I was hungry. Not yet ready to waltz into Dhall on my own, I walked out of my new room, marched down the somewhat dingy dorm hallway, and found Kristina. We grabbed Julia from another floor and trekked over to Commons together. Scott, Rob, Will, Andrew, Emery, and Cory were already sitting at a table. We loaded up our plates and pulled up some chairs. In 36 hours, the 9 of us had gone from crouching around a tiny stove, watching our trip leaders flip pancakes to sitting at a table, laughing about the luxuries of moldy dorm showers and stiff twin extra long mattresses.
My relationships with these 8 people, the freshmen who made up my App Adventure trip, ebbed and flowed over 4 years of college. We drifted apart as the months of freshman year passed and we each made new friends. But then one of them would end up in a class with me or I’d see them on the Hill. Maybe there was just a quick “Hey! How are you?!” in passing, but it was always so sincere. We were each other’s first friends. I couldn’t see them without thinking about our week wandering around the Virginia woods. Ultimately, I joined the Outing Club because I’d had such an incredible 6 days with 8 freshmen like myself. Not alike necessarily in how we looked or in what we were interested in, but alike in that we were all a little bit weird, a lot nervous, and ready to see what our first college experience would hold. I knew that if the Outing Club could orchestrate such a fantastic introduction to W&L, it certainly had a lot more to offer me in the years to come.
That first semester of college flew by, as everyone had said it would. I wanted to get involved in everything, including the Outing Club. I had paid my $40, now how was I going to really make the most of it? App Adventure had been fun, so leading a group as a trip leader was sure to be a blast. And I was right – it was, in fact, a blast. Being a trip leader quickly became the best part of my next three years. Not the trips themselves mind you, though each of them was an awesome experience (shout out JRS 2012, Tinker North 2013, and JRS 2014!). But the week of training, the 5 days of unplugging from the real world and surrounding myself exclusively with all kinds of W&L students who shared a common love of the outdoors – that was the highlight.
I firmly believe that most people are the truest form of themselves in the woods. Being removed from the expectations of social and academic life relieves so much pressure. You’re not “Sarah the Theta” or “Alex the Chem major,” you’re just yourself. I found that going to trip leader training gave me the opportunity to hit the “reset” button; to remind myself of what was important and who exactly I was; to prioritize those friendships that I had maybe neglected because I didn’t see them at sorority lunch or in class; to remember how good it felt to sleep outside and how refreshing sore muscles were, especially from a particularly competitive game of Ultimate. Sure, I can tie knots pretty well, and I know CPR, and, on a really good day, I could maybe fashion a splint out of a Crazy Creek and a fleece or raincoat, but that never seemed to really be the point of trip leader training (n.b. It is possible I only feel comfortable saying that because I am no longer responsible for the lives of 8-10 freshmen in the middle of the woods in Virginia but that’s beside the point). By design, trip leader training seemed to be much more about getting a stacked group of students unplugged and outside so that they could all just be together and have fun.
Stacked though they may be, the trip leaders are a motley crew. It’s a huge mix personality types and backgrounds, but such a spirited and enthusiastic group. I’ve never been around so many people with such high energy – it was the absolute best. I wouldn’t trade my three weeks being zany with other trip leaders at training for the world. It was those weeks that led me to incredible friendships throughout my time at W&L. My best friend was a trip leader with me for all three years. We met running through the jump rope at the Pavilion on Sunday night of App Adventure and were pretty much attached at the hip throughout college. My favorite memories with her are ones we spent being goofy about nothing and competitive about Trip Leader Iron Chef and laughing at each other at Skylark. When I spent the summer in Lexington, it was me and another trip leader that got our ragtag group of friends to do fun things outside. We’d throw a last minute sunset hike together after work or strap a kayak to the top of a car and paddle around at Jordan’s Point. It was the two of us who got everyone else to play outside. And by senior year, I could almost always convince one of my best guy friends and fellow trip leaders to just blow off our English homework (or class) and go on a hike. I don’t remember the assignments I missed but I know we had a great time getting lost at Goshen.
The Outing Club is more than just trip leaders, though. There are tons of trips and PE classes and day to day activities that make it the club with the highest enrollment and participation of any on campus. I took PE 180 to become a trip leader and then the Ropes Course Facilitation class as well. I spent a couple random afternoons paddle boarding and blew off studying to go on a moonlight hike. The spring break trips were far and away my favorite. I went on two of them – Zion Plus and the Gila. It’s hard to place one ahead of the other, and I’m actually surprising myself as I write this, but I think Zion Plus might edge out the Gila trip by a smidge. First, let me be clear – the Gila trip is awesome. I’m so glad I got to go, we had a rocking group, and it was definitely a spiritual experience. Ending my career with the Outing Club by going to the Gila on my senior spring break was absolutely incredible. It was the perfect end to four great years of college. The terrain is unlike anything I’ve seen anywhere else, Jimmy D practically floats the whole time because he’s so giddy to be back on his home turf, and the food is out of this world. If you get the chance to go on that trip, sign up and don’t look back. You get more than your fill of alcohol and sunshine during Spring Term; you’re not going to miss much you won’t have the opportunity to recreate.
But back to Zion Plus. That trip remains my favorite because, unlike the Gila, it wasn’t perfect. Zion Plus was actually about as far from perfect as possible, chiefly because it was so unpredictable. I signed up for the trip my sophomore year entirely on a whim. I didn’t know anyone else going and I’d never been to Utah. I thought I’d signed up for a backpacking trip, with which I was comfortable. But that was simply not the case. Our trip was a car camping trip – long stretches of van time between day hikes, while still sleeping in tents and cooking over WhisperLite stoves. It sounds easier than backpacking I know, and in some ways it was. Less physically strenuous, anyway. But there was so much togetherness, so much down time, all with people I’d never met and, on the surface, didn’t seem to have much in common with. How on earth were we going to spend all that time?
I’d had such a great first go at being a trip leader in the fall, but then the OC had fallen to the back burner. I’d gotten wrapped up in rushing freshmen girls and being in a sorority and taking harder classes and joining other clubs. I forgot how fun it was to be with an extremely mixed bag of folks, to be challenged by their opinions and experiences, to actually listen to what they were saying because I knew it was more than a reiteration of my own thoughts. The course of our Zion trip changed dramatically over our 8 days in Utah. We did go to Zion National Park, but an unexpected snowstorm caused us to reroute for the dessert (aka the Coral Pink Sand Dunes), where warmth and dryness abounded. We pretty much spent the next several days with a very loose itinerary, stopping at seemingly random (we assumed James had a long term plan) spots to go for short day hikes before arriving at Bryce Canyon National Park. After an incredible 2 days there, we hauled it all the way back to Vegas, did a short day scrambling around Red Rocks, then headed home. It was a scattered trip, but it made all of us become friends because, frankly, that’s all we could do. We were stuck with each other. Games and conversation were all we had in the expanse of open Utah roads.
Don’t get me wrong, the Zion trip is beautiful and amazing in its own right. I think I focus on the people because my experience on the Zion trip is actually a good reflection of what I learned from four years of being in the Outing Club – to always take advantage of opportunities to be around people unlike yourself and to always embrace spontaneity. I struggle with both and loved the Outing Club for pushing me out of my comfort zone time and time again.
I tell every high school senior who gets into W&L that if they don’t go on an App Adventure trip they are dumb. So if you’re a high school senior planning on spending your next 4 years in Lexington (or you know someone who is), listen to me and make sure you sign up for a trip as soon as you can. If you’re already one of the Gennies, I’ll add that any trip that gives you some quality time with Jimmy D is one worth taking. A PE class, an international trip, the Gila, Zion Plus, Everglades, Scuba, whatever. Take a class with James Dick and monopolize the front seat of the van or fall to the back of the trail and chat him up. The Outing Club is an awesome organization, but James made my experience with the OC what it was. I don’t think I can adequately put into words just how much he influenced me and my experience at W&L. He’ll challenge you to take advantage of the incredible landscape around you and do so many cool things. Hang out with him and – to use his words – get outside, because college goes way too fast.
Margaret was an English major, Art History minor from Tunica, MS. She was involved in the Outing Club, serving as a summer intern for James Dick (our fearless leader) as well as 3 time App Adventure trip leader, the president of Panhel, dispatcher/driver/monitor for Traveller, and the publicity chair for the Contact Committee.
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