Communing with the Great Outdoors

Freshman Jill Warsett can't decide what was best about her fall break backpacking trip to New Mexico. "Everything was so fun," she says in surrender. Junior Jeff Glickman has a similar problem when describing his sojourn in the Smoky Mountains of North Carolina and Tennessee. Rattling off a list of possibilities, he pauses to ask, "That's probably too many, right?"

Glickman and Warsett were among the 30 Oberlin students who spent their fall breaks on backpacking trips sponsored by the Oberlin Outing Club. The club, one of the older student organizations on campus, sponsors outings during both semesters' breaks. This past fall, besides the New Mexico and Smoky Mountain trips, the club sponsored outings to the Shenandoah National Park in West Virginia and the Adirondack Mountains in New York.

Outings are usually led by two students who plan and organize the trip with the help of the club's resources. Group leaders and members decide on a route, buy and pack food, plan transportation, and assemble gear for a week of backpacking. "It takes a lot of work," says sophomore Aaron Slodounik, co-chair of the Outing Club.

Slodounik gets help from the club's other co-chair, junior Hannah Pfoutz, who led the Shenandoah outing. "It is challenging," she agrees, "because you have people at very different places, and you don't know what everyone wants." The effort, though, is more than justified by the pleasant camaraderie and opportunity to connect with fellow students.

"Getting outside was great, but it was really neat to have eight people who didn't know each other before get to know each other so well," says Pfoutz. "People were really willing to learn and we are still friends."

"The funnest part about it," says Slodounik, who has led two trips, "is the people you meet. After living, sleeping, and being dirty together for a week you get to know each other quite well."

The New Mexico trip that Warsett took part in was unusual because it was an all-women's trip. While most Outing Club programs are usually coed and focused on hiking and camping, some do incorporate other activities, such as the mountain-biking expedition along North Carolina's Blue Ridge Parkway that Slodounik led last spring. "The club does a good job of providing options if you have a particular interest," says Pfoutz.

Seniors Jessica Niggeman and Chris Boehm came up with the notion of an all-woman outing, which appealed to women who had never camped or hiked, or who didn't think of themselves as particularly rugged.

"I had never done anything like that before," says Warsett of her adventure in the great outdoors. "I felt there was less pressure and that everyone was really comfortable."

In fact, as Warsett and Glickman continued to talk about their experiences, they gradually came to the same conclusion as seasoned backpackers Slodounik and Pfoutz. No matter how diverse the outings-coed hiking in the Smokies or biking through the Blue Ridge Mountains or a women-only trek through New Mexico-the most important and lasting memories were the same: the people.

"You're in this incredibly awesome place. It really brings out the best in people. Everything you do is fun," says Glickman.

And Warsett, a first-year student, appreciated the chance to meet Obies who share her interests. "The trip really helped because I met people I had a real connection with."

-by Susanna Henighan '99