A group of 10 GW students fled from the city last weekend in rented minivans to venture into Shenandoah National Park in West Virginia to experience surviving in the wilderness first-hand.
The overnight trip, sponsored by the student-run outdoor group GW TRAILS, is part of an effort by the group to double its programming by introducing a new Weekend Adventure Series. TRAILS offers two free or low-cost outdoor trips in the D.C. area every weekend.
This past weekend’s excursion gave students the chance to leave the sights and sounds of the city for the day and reconnect with the great outdoors, learning about the importance of conservation at the same time, TRAILS student guide Adrienne Lagman, a senior, said.
“We try to help people get in touch with their wild side (and) to learn how to do it themselves,” she said.
Students on the trip learned outdoor lifestyle techniques, such as the art of lighting a stove and swilling – the process of adding water to the food remnants in a pot, and then swallowing the resulting mixture. Tucker Burton, a third-year graduate student and TRAILS associate program coordinator, said swilling cleans the dishes used in the wilderness and prevents remnants from being left behind.
“We would really like people to bring back the lessons of (the) leave-no-trace (principle) to properly take care of our environment because it really is the environment that sustains us,” he said.
Burton explained that even though TRAILS is only in its third year of existence, the organization has already expanded to about a 1,000-person e-mail list.
TRAILS also sponsors Project Exploration, a freshman orientation program offered to incoming students every August in West Virginia where they can get to know each other by rappelling, biking and rafting. The weekend trips, open to any GW student, could include activities such as rock climbing, hiking, biking and boating. Burton and nine student guides facilitate the trips.
Lagman, one of the student guides, added that all of the TRAILS activities are suitable both for the seasoned hiker as well as the person with little or no outdoor experience.
“The program is fit to the GW community, so whatever they want to do, we like to accommodate for them,” she said.
Once the students arrived at Shenandoah Friday night they created their own Thai dinner consisting of Ramen noodles, chunky peanut butter and cooked vegetables.
For college students running on limited time and money, TRAILS participants said this quick cooking class served not only as a lesson in making backcountry cuisine, but also as an idea for a simple twist on a dorm room staple.
“I learned how simple it is to cook outdoors. (The cooking stoves) work faster than the burners I have in E Street,” sophomore Jeremy Makover said. “I’m definitely going to go out and get some Ramen noodles.”
After a night of camping out in tents, the group traveled into the heart of the national park Saturday morning in pursuit of its legendary natural waterslides. Deep in the woods on the Cedar Creek Run Trail, the park contains outdoor playgrounds with slides and swimming holes.
The six-mile hike left the group exhausted and ready for their last meal of hummus and salami.
“It’s just nice to get out of the city,” senior Jacky Brysacz said, reflecting on the day’s hike. “It’s nice to get dirty and sweaty. I’ve always wanted to go to Shenandoah, now I want to go back.”
The cost of the trip for students was $40. For those with no outdoor equipment, TRAILS offers low-cost rental gear. Tents and food were included in the cost of the trip.
TRAILS guides undergo a week of training in the summer, where they learn both the leadership and outdoor skills necessary to lead a group into the backcountry.
“I like how they’re part of it, not just guides getting paid,” Makover said. “They’re students like us just going for the thrill.”
Burton added that the purpose of TRAILS is to give students an opportunity to get away from all of the confusion and get back into a setting that is much simpler.
“It allows people to get the opportunity to reflect on their lives. It stimulates individual growth for everybody,” he said. “I think it’s in the wilderness where we’re really at home and where we can find our purpose in life.”