Packing for Skidaway with the “Coastal Ecology” JanTerm

Vera Bradley, North Face, and Nike duffel bags lined the walls of Robinson 101 on Friday, Jan. 8 as the “Coastal Ecology” JanTerm prepared for their five-day trip to Skidaway Island, Georgia. At 8:20 a.m. three days before their departure, the students hauled their bags filled with everything from knee-high rain boots to two-inch binders in order to meet their teachers’ early packing deadline. The room was a sea of peculiar shaped luggage, but each item proved necessary for a successful learning experience.

Nike’s. At 6:15 in the morning on Tuesday, Jan. 12, freshmen Ben Forte and Carlos Carranza stood outside in the early morning light and bitter cold. To keep warm, Carranza sported tights underneath his sweatpants, and Forte zipped up his favorite black wool hoodie. They prepared to run the Skidaway trails before their group’s 7:30 a.m. breakfast call. Carranza explained that running made the trip more enjoyable.

“Running was relaxing during the trip,” said Carranza, “and it is always important to get exercise.”

Most of the students and teachers also packed their running sneakers and made sure to fit in at least one run during the trip. Freshman Caroline Clark even coupled her morning run with meditation.

“I just put on shoes and ran. Then I managed to meditate for over an hour,” said Clark. “This was something I had never done before!”

Heavy-duty rain pants and waterproof hiking boots. As they trekked through the muddy marshes of Skidaway Island, the 23 students and three teachers piled on as much protective rain gear as possible. Wading in knee-deep dirt, the students collected data on the marsh’s extensive wildlife to later calculate the biodiversity of the ecosystem. The students’ rain gear allowed them to weather the elements of their new outdoor classroom: the marsh.

“I don’t know what I would have done without [the rain gear],” said freshman Frances Stokes. “I had mud past my knees.”

In the mud, Stokes and her classmates observed incredible plants and animals, including wild pickles, oysters, and periwinkle snails.

“I looked over and a periwinkle snail was crawling on my rain boot,” said freshman Victoria Flowers. “I realized how cool wildlife is on this trip.”

The course teachers, Amy Slack, Miranda Wilson, and John Lambert, also agreed that this type of clothing was essential to the JanTerm activities.

“Rain pants were the one thing we tried to really stress during the packing,” said Wilson. “We knew from past years that they needed them for the marsh.”

The students wore their rain gear over their usual clothing. This kept their regular clothes clean, and after working in the mud, the students and teachers simply hosed down their dirty rain pants.

Hot Hands hand warmers. On Thursday, Jan. 14, the class took a 45-minute boat ride to Wassaw, an uninhabited island. The winds in the open boat brought temperatures into the low teens.

Forte forgot to bring gloves on the boat ride, and after about 10 minutes, his hands turned purple. Wilson immediately noticed Forte’s freezing hands and brought out her set of hand warmers. The hand warmers worked so well that even the students decked out in gloves, hats, ear warmers, and wool socks wanted a pair to keep warm.

“I basically held the hand warmers during the entire boat ride,” said freshman Ellie Werthman. “They made the freezing cold a little more bearable.”

A deck of Bicycle playing cards. After a five o’clock dinner, the class sat on their dormitory porch to play cards. The sun had just begun to set, and bright yellow and orange rays radiated off of the water.

“It was beautiful,” said freshman Eva Pound, “and we went out on the dock to play games like Spades, Fibbler, and King’s corner for a while.”

In between research projects and after dinner, the students received a total of four to five hours of free time each day. They usually spent this time relaxing with card games. After the first day, playing cards became the way to unwind, as the class gathered nightly for laughs and healthy competition. Lambert explained that these study breaks helped balance the trip’s instructional time.

“I think on this trip there [was] a nice blend of academic time and social time,” said Lambert. “In the evenings, we’d have a ping pong tournament going. There was even time for the students to lay out and watch the stars.”

In addition to small breaks, the students spent an entire day on Tybee Island relaxing and playing card games.

“We also went to Tybee,” said Clark. “On Tybee we ate at the Crab Shack, which was a lot of fun, and played [card games].”

Warm blankets and layers. Freshman Betty Abegaz sat near the campfire dressed in Uggs and multiple sweatshirts and wrapped in her favorite fuzzy blanket. Abegaz and her classmates liked to stay outside during the trip, and their many layers proved necessary to brave the chilly night temperatures.

“As soon as that sun set, the temperatures just plummeted,” said freshman Sreya Atmuri.

The students, all bundled up, resembled the marshmallows they sat roasting. They laid down on their sleeping bags and blankets to gaze up at the stars. Around 9 p.m., everyone walked over to their rooms to meet their 9:30 curfew.

At the beginning of the JanTerm, the teachers felt that the students did not appreciate the importance of packing necessary equipment, so the teachers brought in students from past years to emphasize proper preparation.

All the small experiences that depended on items like hand warmers and playing cards made the trip special and enjoyable. Werthman advises future Coastal Ecology students to pack for success.

“I would tell students next year to bring even more layers, and even more blankets,” said Werthman. “Pack until your bag can’t handle it.”