A summer in the backcountry

By Reid Calhoun

As second semester thrusts into high gear, it is high time to think of plans for this summer. With this in mind, I cannot urge others enough to make extended plans for enjoying the great outdoors, whether it be through summer camp, a string of fishing trips, or a National Outdoor Leadership School (NOLS) type trip. While I have enjoyed nine summers at Camp Rockmont and many a fishing trip, I strongly suggest that everyone who can should go on a NOLS, Outward Bound, or something of the like. A typical NOLS trip isn’t simply enjoying the outdoors like one does sitting in a boat for an afternoon or hanging out in a camp cabin in the mountains. A NOLS trip sends students straight out into the wilderness for extended periods of time with knowledgeable leaders and nothing to think about but the adventure ahead. In the backcountry one will find absolute peace and surely reach a state of pure joy unlike anything known before.
I went on a NOLS trip this past summer entitled “Wilderness Fly-fishing.” Eleven other guys, the trip leaders, and I set out for 22 days of hiking around the pulchritudinous Wind River Range of Wyoming, followed by five full days of drift boating the Green River and the New Fork River. Not only did I learn just about everything necessary for camping, hiking, and fly-fishing in the backcountry, I experienced an inner change inexplicable to anyone who has never spent at least a few days in the woods away from society. I walked into the Wind River Range as a boy and hiked out a man. As I have learned, several days in the backcountry provides the perfect medium to develop oneself into a greater steward of both the earth and society.
To those who complain about how “stressful” life is at Westminster, you especially need this trip. Never will anyone be so at peace with his or herself than when they are 20 or more miles from the nearest road, where nothing can be heard from society, at the top of a peak, or at the edge of an alpine lake catching one of the rarest trout subspecies of all. The only concern in the backcountry is sustaining life, just like for any other animal. Not one second should be put toward thinking about school, sports, the opposite sex, or any other commitment for that matter. Just hike a few miles, put some food on the camp stove, sit against a tree, and look around. With the sights and sounds of God and Nature’s majesty, one begins to believe that this feeling of unmatched contentedness is what one felt as a young child, and how animals surely must feel on a day-to-day basis. These feelings allow for the individual to grow as a better person all around.
Life in the wilderness improves greatly one’s morality, health, and work ethic. I came out of the woods feeling a greater responsibility for my daily actions toward the Earth and toward my fellow man. While most people see trash on the ground and ignore it, life after spending time in the backcountry forces one to have a desire to pick up that trash and dispose of it. Feelings of hatred or anything of that nature greatly diminish and one leaves the backcountry with a desire to treat all fellow humans with respect and kindness. Living in the backcountry will greatly improve anyone’s health. Everyone on my NOLS trip lost at least ten pounds over the course of a few weeks due to the amount we hiked and the more natural diet we took in. To add to this healthy lifestyle, we bathed in glacial alpine lakes and breathed crisp mountain air. Lastly, living in the backcountry can allow one to build a stronger work ethic. One learns to truly enjoy hiking many miles through the mountains and comes to learn the benefits of going further and taking more difficult routes. A backcountry lifestyle involves direct cause-and-effect actions. The further you hike, the cooler and more remote places you can reach. The harder you work in the wilderness, the greater quality of living you can achieve. I came to love the longer hikes because I knew that the outcome would be well worth it. The wilderness truly does foment a stronger work ethic. Let’s see… morality, health, work ethic… don’t those seem like three major issues our country must confront and improve? Not only will the backcountry improve you personally, it will surely help mold you into a model American citizen.
There are so many options for this summer. You could hang out in Atlanta, enjoy the social scene, and have a job on the side. Yeah, you’ll make some money and a few memories, but that’s all. You could take summer classes. Great, you’ll further your schooling, but how much will you truly further your education? Get away from the modern technology, stop tweeting, and do something worthwhile for yourself and your education by going into the backcountry and allowing the wilderness to form you into the person you never thought you could be. I advocate for NOLS, but there are plenty of other similar organizations around. Just do some research. If you need further convincing, read the millions of books written about the outdoors and watch BBC documentaries about national parks. Just go to the backcountry this summer. I promise you won’t regret it.