Out of Oberlin and Into Nature

November 2, 2015

Kasey Cheydleur

With the help of the Outings Club, a group of students travelled to North Carolina to hike the Great Smokey Mountains.
Photo credit: Sofia Smith Hale

Worries about midterms and essays were left behind as students ventured outside of Oberlin and into nature. During fall break, the Oberlin Outings Club sponsored seven trips—six backpacking and one canoeing—for students to get away from campus for a little while and experience someplace completely different. Some of the destinations included: the Great Smoky Mountains in North Carolina, the Dolly Sods Wilderness Area of the Monongahela National Forest in West Virginia, Isle Royale National Park located on the largest island in Lake Superior, and the Shawnee State Forest in southwestern Ohio. Also offered was a trip that combined backpacking and social justice, during which students attended a mountain justice summit in West Virginia, backpacked in the Red River Gorge Geological Area in Kentucky, and took part in an intensive street medic training in Cleveland.

In order to make excursions such as these possible, the Outings Club helps with every part of the trip planning process. This includes providing gear, help with van rentals, and money for food, gas, and campsites. The cost for students to take part in the trips is deliberately low. There is a one-time $10 membership fee to rent gear from the club, and trip fees—which includes all food, travel, and permit costs—are approximately $100. If, however, a student has trouble paying the fee, the club has a no-questions-asked financial aid policy that will cover all or part of the cost. The goal of the club is to make exploring the outdoors and experiencing nature available to all students, regardless of financial status or previous experience.

“There are many students who haven’t been on a backpacking trip or spent a lot of time in nature. Something great about the Outings Club is that it gives people the opportunity to go backpacking for the first time and experience the outdoors in a way they can’t in Oberlin,” says third-year Ellie Lezak, the lead organizer of the club. “A lot of the time we get people who go on trips and then end up leading them a couple years later. We require first aid training and a lot of experience for the trip leaders, but for the people going on the trips no experience is necessary.”

In addition to the fall break trips, students can rent gear from the club throughout the semester for independently organized trips, or they can ask for club sponsorship. To increase accessibility, all club-sponsored trips must fill half of its spots through a lottery of the club’s members. For example, on a six-person trip with two trip leaders, the leaders can choose one friend but must leave the other three spots open to others. This gives everyone a chance to participate, explains Lezak.

Fourth-year Kaïa Austin, a comparative American studies major, initially went on an Outings Club trip her sophomore year because plane tickets home to Oregon were too expensive and her friend was leading a canoeing trip. Since then, she has twice lead a women and trans canoeing trip down the Current River in Missouri. She says she enjoys the peace that comes from spending time in nature and meeting new people on the trips. “I've made a lot of friends through the trips, and it's cool to get to know someone away from campus and all the stress that comes with being at school. For me, spending a week on a river is the perfect way to unwind and heal.”

Olivia Ashmoore, a fourth-year environmental studies major, who has led trips in the past to the Pisgah National Forest in North Carolina and to the Shenandoah National Park in Virginia, had similar thoughts to Austin when she explained why she enjoyed the trips. “I think these trips are a great opportunity for students to get to know people they wouldn't normally meet while exploring new places. Taking a week in the middle of the semester to be away from school and focus on the community of people you’re with, the beautiful place you’re in, and backcountry skills you’re learning is really rejuvenating.”

Ashmoore says one of her favorite memories of an Outings Club trip was on a rainy day while hiking along a mountain ridge in North Carolina. “It had been really cloudy and rainy all day, and we were hiking uphill for a long time to get to this ridge. Our group stopped to sit on a rock and have tea. As we were sitting up there, the clouds cleared and we saw for the first time where we were. We had a gorgeous view of a valley below us and the mountains continuing on in both directions, and we were all so excited to have a break from the clouds. This was the second day of our trip and about half our group had never been backpacking before. It had been raining and muddy the whole time, so this was the first moment of our trip that was beautiful and made being out there worth it.”

The Outings Club plans to lead more trips this spring, and will have gear available to rent throughout the semester. To contact club leaders directly, email oberlin.outingclub@gmail.com.

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