Lost in the Woods

When I was eighteen, I hiked into the Blue Ridge Mountains of North Carolina for three weeks with a group of nine college students, a trip organized out of Montreat Anderson College in Ashville, North Carolina. We crossed 140 miles on land, 26 of them by bike, and another 42 by canoe on lakes and rivers and rapids. I summited five of the 10 highest mountains east of the Mississippi, rock climbed and rappelled two scary peaks called the Camel, and spent three days fasting alone in the woods.

For much of the trip, we were lost, both physically and emotionally. Sometimes it was only for a few minutes, but at the beginning, it was often for days at a time.

We carried everything on our backs, and slept under tarps. We received basic training on low impact camping and reading topographic maps from our two leaders, one an older college student, the other a teacher in the college’s outdoor recreation department. They were there to guide us emotionally and spiritually. Physically, they did little beyond pointing to a tiny spot on a map of green lines each morning and making their recommendations: “You need to camp there tonight,” or “You need to pick up your canoes here at noon.” Eventually, they left us completely.

Each morning, we picked someone from the group as the day’s leader, responsible for guiding and making decisions. At the beginning, I didn’t pay much attention to studying the maps, learning how to read my compass, or taking a turn scouting. I figured others knew how to do it better and would take charge. It wasn’t until I was wandering the side of a mountain in the dark, long after midnight, nearly 10 hours without water, deliriously searching for signs of our destination that I realized I had to change. Read Full Blog.

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