Joe Laliberte: Walk on the wild side

In a campus set amid the bustling city streets of Foggy Bottom, it is hard to find time as a student to escape the city and find that pristine mountaintop or the quiet walk in the woods. For most GW students, the term “wilderness” refers to a hike in the rain across that newly laid landscape of University Yard.

Students probably do not come to D.C. for the outdoor adventure opportunities that the city provides. However, D.C. was recently named one of the best “outdoor towns” to live in by Outside magazine. With rock climbing, class five whitewater rapids, and endless biking and hiking trails all within a few miles of campus, students should take advantage of the outdoor opportunities this city has to offer.

Outdoor adventure is not just some expensive hobby for wealthy college students. Recent studies have shown that students return from outdoor adventure trips with lower stress levels and the disposition to become more productive and happier students. According to the Association of College Unions International, “Opportunities for college students to get off campus are too few … this is not just a bunch of students going out to play, but an educational and growth opportunity.”

It is so easy to settle into our comfortable college lives, with posh dorms and pumpkin-spiced lattes. But it is only when we truly test ourselves against something incomprehensibly larger, such as a vast wilderness, that we can get an accurate measure of ourselves.

Wilderness has not been set aside for just a few people with the right equipment. It has been protected so that everyone can have that wilderness experience. As many outdoor enthusiasts would tell you, the passion for adventure and new experiences is at the very core of happiness in life.

This summer, I had the privilege of leading several backpacking trips, one of which was through GW TRAiLS and the Project Exploration Program. One week before these GW freshmen started their first class, they were hiking the mountains within the Pemigewasset Wilderness in the White Mountains of New Hampshire.

For some, they were carrying a 40-pound backpacks and sleeping in a tent for the first time. Two of my participants exerted themselves so much on the first day that they vomited. Throughout the trip they encountered 40 degree pitches of rock, a night below freezing and questionable backpacking food.

But after a week of climbing mountains, far from the ring of a cell phone or the honk of a horn, they left those mountains as changed people. They were not only closer with each other through their experience, but also more aware and appreciative of their surroundings.

So, it is my plea to the students of GW to get outside and challenge yourselves. It is easier than you think.

GW TRAiLS and their crew of experienced guides run two to three trips a weekend, which range from simple day hikes, to surfing, to backpacking. If you would rather go by yourself or with a few friends, the program actually rents most of their gear to students.

Either way, just get out.

When you are looking back on your experiences at GW, you will be much more disappointed by the things you didn’t do than the ones you did. So, step outside your normal boxes and comfort zones.

There’s only so much more time left to do it.

The writer, a senior majoring in political communication, is a Hatchet columnist. He is also the lead guide for GW’s outdoor program, GW TRAiLS.

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