Rock Climbing Trip 11/2/13 – Lake Mineral Wells State Park, Mineral Wells, TX

This past Saturday, two of our trip leaders, Kelly Gilliland and Manuel Familiar, accompanied by three SMU students went to Mineral Wells for a day of climbing. We traveled with six of SMU OA’s Outdoor Leaders in Training (OLTs), who spent the day learning the fundamentals of leading an outdoor rock climbing trip, as well as anchor building, rappelling, and rock site management. Upon arrival, the weather was pretty cold, but also quite sunny. We spent the morning climbing hard and warming up while the OLTs practiced anchors and rappelling. Lunch time hit us around 11:30 a.m., so we opened up the hummus and pita, set up the slack line, made some sandwiches, and relaxed in the warm sun. The afternoon proved to have much more comfortable climbing weather- there was plenty of climbing to go around. We departed for SMU at about 4:45 p.m., and kept with tradition by stopping at The Malt Shop along Hwy. 180, and the malts and shakes we bought were delicious! We got back a little after 6, and parted ways. I’d have to say, personally, this was a great way to spend a Saturday with some pretty awesome people.

Kelly Gilliland, OA Climbing Wall student MaOLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAnager

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2013 Fall Break – Matagorda Island Sea Kayaking Trip

SMU Outdoor Adventures hit the road at around 8 am on Saturday morning. With 6 hours in the trip van ahead of them, many of the participants grabbed some shut eye while the two trip leaders navigated their way down to southern Texas’ city of Port Lavaca. Base camp was set up at the Lighthouse RV Park, mid afternoon, followed by a group outing to Walmart. Following the Walmart outing, participants were shown the ropes on basic cooking skills and outdoor etiquette. Fry-baked quesadillas served as the evenings meal then it was movie time  (Forrest Gump) and off to bed—a good nights rest was certainly needed for the trek ahead.

Departing base camp Sunday morning was exciting because it was now time for the real deal—the paddle out to Matagorda Island. The group arrived at the Port O’Connor put-in point just before 11 am and were on the water before noon. The weather held for most of the paddle out to Matagorda up until around the half-way mark when the skies opened up. The group made the call to take refuge in the abandoned Coast Guard tower for about 2 hours until the storm had passed. The skies cleared up and the journey continued—pulling up to Matagorda Island in the mid to late afternoon. The group pulled their boats ashore and rushed to the Gulf side of Sunday Beach to take a look at their accomplishment—we’d finally made it to the island. Following the view, camp was set and dinner was had—tomorrow was leisure day!

The next day the group surfed the gulf in kayaks, had a beach volleyball tournament, soaked up some rays, and enjoyed the natural beauty of Matagorda Island. The last evening on the island was spent building and exploring group dynamics and ended with a night walk along the beach.

Tuesday Morning was a slow start, but the group made it on the water with the tides going out and the wind at its back. Making the paddle back to Port O’Connor in under two hours was extremely impressive—the fastest this feat has ever been completed in the program.After getting the boats back on the trailer and the participants into clean clothes—it was back on the road to SMU. Great trip

Matagorda tripHunter D. Higgins, SMU OA Trip Leader

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Fall 2013 Zip Lining Trip

On September 14th, 8:30 AM, a group of adventurous SMU students set out for New York Texas Zipline Adventure—a two hour drive from Dallas—with only some water bottles, food for lunch, and a box of donuts for breakfast. After the trip leaders, Kelly Gilliland and Manuel Familiar, and I packed up the van and picked up the participants, we were off. Within minutes, most of our participants had fallen asleep (hey, at least that means smooth driving on Manuel’s part!) and a selfie was taken of the van, unbeknownst to the passengers, and sent to our beloved program director, Albert Mitugo (don’t worry guys, this one’s not going on Facebook).

Upon arrival, the group sat down at some tables and soaked in the refreshing 79-degree weather, the smell of the woods, and the peaceful view from the top of the ziplines. One by one, the participants all went, without a single complaint, to use the outhouses before getting set up to go ziplining. We then were given our harnesses, helmets, and gloves. After a quick group photo, we then watched a demonstration given by one of the New York Texas Zipline Adventure employees. We each practiced stopping on a mini zipline to get ready for the real thing.  The staff then gave us clip-on water bottles and directed us to the first zip.

Though the participants may have been quiet on the ride there, everyone started talking and making connections while excitedly waiting on the stairs for each zipline. Soon enough, we had all passed our first line—some more nervous than others, but all made it—and began to snap photos and videos of people as they zipped onto the platforms. At the beginning we all laughed as the employees casually zipped along with no hands; they made it look so easy to just nonchalantly jump off the box and do some spins with no worries at all. But by the third or fourth zipline, everyone was feeling brave enough to give it a running start and jump off the box as they began the zip. By the last zipline—a line about 800 feet long—we were even hanging upside down (after being given careful instructions by the employees on how to do it properly) and spinning as we zipped through the trees. The last line was definitely everyone’s favorite.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

After removing our gear and rehydrating, we proceeded to bring the lunch supplies from the van to the picnic tables outside the shop. With some sandwiches, chips, fruit, granola bars, and, most importantly, hummus and pita bread, we sat and ate while getting to know each other a little more and exchanging phone numbers to send pictures we had taken of each other on the ziplines. When we were all full, we packed up and headed back to the van. After another bathroom break, we all headed back to Dallas. Once again, within minutes, all the passengers were asleep, not even woken up by the occasional bump in the road. We arrived back in Dallas around 3:30 PM and all the participants were given t-shirts (or bro tanks, if desired) after our debrief meeting in which we discussed the pros, cons, and potential improvements of the trip. None had any bad things to say; the trip was a complete success and everyone is excited to see what trip is next on the schedule!

-Christina McConville, OA Leader in Training

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2013 Spring Break Backpacking Trip to Canyonlands National Park, UT

4:45 am Saturday March 9, 12 SMU Spring Breakers piled into the white Outdoor Adventure van, closely situated after only just learning each other’s names and majors. 14 hours later, 7:00 pm Mountain Time, the van pulled into the Rio Rancho Comfort Inn, completing day one of the road trip to Canyonlands National Park, UT.

For spring break 2013, SMU’s Outdoor Adventure Program took eight students backpacking March 9 – 17 through the Needles District of Utah’s Canyonlands National Park. The trip was planned and led by student Leaders Jeremy Rechtien, Grant Ryden and Karly Hanson. Program director Albert Mitugo also tagged along.

Students of different ages and languages came together for a unique experience. Graduate students Sanket Ghormade and Leo Yu, transfer student Chanesia Johnson, Jing Jing Yang, sophomores Arvin Tsai, Lizzie Wilson, and freshmen Alex Stephens and Becca Rothstein all signed up for a spring break away in the back country. Only two had backpacking experience, and only four had been camping before.

The trip itinerary consisted of two driving days, the first night spent in the Comfort Inn and the second camping out at the privately owned Needles Outpost – the last running water and traditional restrooms the group would see for five days. From there, they left the van behind at the trail head and hiked to their first two camp sites in Big Spring. Day two they spent at Squaw Flat, Day three and four they were at Lost Canyon, and on day five they camped along the Horse Canyon trail. In order to reduce the group’s impact as much as possible, the leaders split into pairs and each lead a half of the group to a different camp site. The two groups would meet up in the morning and complete the majority of the day hikes together, and then go their separate ways late in the afternoon to camp sites about one mile apart.

The first night sleeping outside at Needles Outpost was by far the coldest, with temperatures plummeting as low as 20 degrees F. Hot drinks were cradled under layers in attempt to create warmth, participants huddled like penguins jumping up and down as the feeling in their toes surrendered to the cold. However, this did not stop the participants from staying up and admiring the luminous starry night. They huddled up by Grant’s telescope as he described and pointed out the different winter time constellations such as Orion and The Pleiades, and the brightest star in the night sky, Sirius.

Leaders Albert, Jeremy, Grant, and Karly decided not to put up a tent and enjoy the serenity of sleeping under the stars, only to wake up with frozen sleeping bags. Even Albert said it was the coldest night he has experienced in the canyon lands despite his years of experience.

A typical day for the group began with a morning stretch once the two groups had joined together again, hiking to next camp site, stopping for water and lunch, setting up camp at the new site then cooking dinner, discussions, and the nightly de-brief before going to sleep.

Though this was a spring break trip, education was not completely left behind. The participants learned basic back country skills such as cooking, water purification, and tent set-up.

Because Canyonlands National Park is a desert, a few of the campsites were dry, meaning that the backpackers often had to haul water in dromedaries whenever a water source was found.

Cooking for the participants quickly became a game of concocting original, filling dishes. What started as rice and beans wrapped in a tortilla with cheese, quickly became Craisin pancake breakfasts and pepperoni calzone dinners. While several of them had never really cooked in the front country, they were able to pick up basic cooking skills and get creative with the menu. The participant cook group at Albert’s camp often made two dinners in order to keep Arvin happily fed. He ate all of the left-over’s and then some, balancing out the smaller appetite of Alex, who became known as Steelex, a combination of his last and first name.

With these freezing night-time temperatures, needless to say that hot drinks were the highlight to everyone’s morning and night. Any left over water was boiled and used to make tea, cocoa, and cider.

On the lay-over day in Lost Canyon, the group went on a small hike to an elevated slab of smooth rock area to have lunch, participate in some facilitation activities, and to take  two hours to themselves, in their own space, to do whatever they wanted. This time period was called “solos” because it was essentially the only time that the participants and leaders had genuine alone time since the early morning departure March 9. Participants used this time to decompress, nap in the sun, and reflect on their experience and on their life as a whole.

Eventually, by the last long day-hike, the intensity of maneuvering in and out of the canyons became less strenuous and participants began to pass the time in song. Lizzie, Jing Jing and Chanesia especially found this amusing, and serenaded the rest of the group with songs from One Direction, Britney Spears, and even the Back Street Boys.

Also on the last long day-hike, the leaders found themselves geographically challenged and the maps were brought out to reconfigure the exact location of the group. As it turned out, they had hiked south for 3 miles in the opposite direction from where they wanted to go, and therefore needed to correct this. Though the participants were a little discouraged, as the beginning signs of blisters began to form on their feet, they were able to push a little further and make it to a decent camping site where the groups shared a final dinner together.

In the morning, it was time to hike out of the park and Grant, Jeremy, Karly, and Alex hiked ahead in order to scout out the trail and go grab the van from the starting trail head. When the rest of the group reached the barrier, marking the end of the trail and the park, Canyoland_4participants screamed in relief and took pictures sitting on the fence, proud of themselves for trying something new and surviving it.

The group then repacked the van and headed off to Needles Outpost for their first showers in five days, and then the drive back to Rio Rancho commenced. March 17 8:00 pm the van pulled up next to Doak Walker, signifying the end of another SMU spring break.

Karly Hanson- SMU Outdoor Adventures Trip Leader in training.

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Weekend Backpacking in the Ouachita National Forest- Feb 8-10, 2013


We were well on our way to Millwood Lake at 3:30 on Friday with some new faces as well as some old ones accompanying us on this new adventure through the Ouachita National Forest. The 3-hour van ride was a chatty one, with everyone getting to know each other, riding the sunset to grab a bite to eat in Texarkana. It wasn’t too long before we reached our destination at Millwood Lake, where we quickly taught everyone how to set up camp. The rest of the evening was spent creating a particularly difficult bonfire as well as looking at Jupiter and it’s moons through Grant’s telescope, before heading off to bed to rest up for our early morning wake-up!

Waking up on that particularly chilly morning was not an easy thing to do, but by 9:30am we had warm food in our bellies and were heading off to explore the White Cliffs of Millwood Lake! After a couple of hours of picture taking with a machine-gun-camera, we were ready to head on out to the Ouachita National Forest. The day was overcast and cold by the time we arrived at the trail-head and it had begun to slightly drizzle, but after a few hours hiking through the mountains, we were quickly shedding layers to accommodate the increase in body temperature. We finally arrived at the campsite after crossing Caney Creek, where we set up camp and learned how to cook in the back country! We all went to sleep pretty early because we were all exhausted from the day hike… but little did we know we were going to wake up in a few hours because of an awe-inspiring lightning storm!

The following morning was beautiful. The clouds parted and warmth settled in the valley where we were camped at. After a nice breakfast we were off, following the windy creek back to the van. We stopped by a lovely waterfall on our way back, where we enjoyed a nice break from hiking through the forest. It’s incredible how much the forest changes to vibrant colors when the sun shines proudly upon the trees. After a few hours, we saw the sight we had all been waiting for… The SMU van! After packing up the van we were on our way back to civilization. A quick stop at Sonic’s for a bite to eat and a 3 hour drive later, we were back at SMU. Hugs were exchanged, final laughs and nostalgic moments shared, and the participants wandered off, back to society, back to their routine… but with a little bit of nature lingering in their imagination. 

Manuel Familiar- SMU OA Trip Leader.

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Rock Climbing day Trip

Getting up bright and early  on Saturday, Nov 10, for the trip would have to have been the only downside to the whole experience, but those feelings quickly evaporated in the first morning rays of sunshine on the highway towards Mineral Wells State Park. With the van full to the brim, everyone quickly became acquainted even before we stopped for some morning donuts! 

By the time we arrived, we noticed that Mineral Wells climbing site (penitentiary hollow) was already saturated  by boy scouts on their very own climbing day trip, so we quickly set up our own anchors to make sure we had guaranteed walls to climb!

We climbed for a good few hours, shifting between different anchor points at the park, climbing on the rock wall faces, overhangs and even some real crack-climbing.

We had our lunch on a picnic bench not too far from the climbing area, with deli meat sandwiches, fruit, and some chips accompanied by nice, cold, refreshing beverages. We took out the slack-line and played around for a bit until we were ready for round two of climbing!

After a couple more hours of climbing different rock wall faces, we headed back to SMU.. But not before taking a pit-stop for some amazing malt shakes to finish our journey on a sweet note!

We arrived back at SMU with some good laughs, and sad goodbyes, but all happy to have gone through this experience together… and just in time for the football game!

Manuel Familiar, David Graham, Josh Munguia and Grant Ryden-  SMU Outdoor Adventure Leaders in Training.


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Matagorda Island Sea Kayaking Fall Break Trip 2012

On October 13th, 2012 eight people set out to conquer and explore Matagorda Islands over SMU’s fall break.  They came back on October 16th, four days later, stronger, wiser, and with an incredible once in a lifetime experience of survival against the elements.  And if you don’t believe me, we have the pictures to prove it. 

            The first task, was waking up before the sun to meet outside Dedman Rec. Center where a memorable six and a half hour drive down to Port O’Connor awaited.  A mixture of sleeping, introductions, and learning about one another defined the ride down as the group began to bond quickly.  Talk of different majors from Advertising and Marketing to Engineering led to advice for the future from all different age aspects including both undergraduate and graduate students.  Finally arriving in Port O’Connor, we stopped to pick up our Island permits in Walmart and even some ingredients for S’mores!  The first night was spent learning how to light and cook using small backpacking stoves, putting up tents and most importantly good “tentequitte”.  After a beautiful night in the campgrounds, the group couldn’t wait to actually get out to Matagorda.

            Getting up early the next morning, we set out to conquer the waters next to the Gulf of Mexico.  After getting down to the water, we loaded up our kayaks and launched from a lovely fishing center to brave our five mile paddle.  We laughed and talked at the beginning of the paddle, and enjoyed the company of five bottle nosed dolphins!!  After playing a few rousing rounds of musical kayaks, we reached our half way point of an old abandoned coast guard tower we got to explore!  What a thrill, but finally the group buckled down and set out to reach our final destination, Sunday Beach.  Finally pulling onto shore, everyone setup camp and began cooking their scrumptious pasta meals, yum!  After, everyone turned in for a good nights rest in preparation for our day hike down the beach to explore more of Matagorda Islands.

            Waking up somewhat leisurely we had a lovely oatmeal breakfast, packed up our bags and set off down the beach.  After a nice two-mile march down the beach looking out across the Gulf of Mexico, we stopped and sat down to have a nice Pizza Bagel lunch.  We continued constantly reapplying our sunscreen and drinking loads of water on the journey back to camp.  Once back at camp, the rest of the day was everyone’s to do with as they wished.  Whether it be another small hike around the beach, while taking a nap in the sunshine, playing in the waves of the Gulf of Mexico, or even a quick paddle around the bay.  After our few hours flew by we sat down, made our last nights dinner and prepared for the paddle back.

            Up and rearing to get on the water early the next morning, we completely broke down camp and finished tying down the kayaks with the remaining gear.  Shoving off just in time to catch the last bit of sunrise, and even enjoying the company of our dolphin friends.  We hit the halfway point in no time, everyone beaming from ear to ear including myself as our group had made amazing progress!  We chatted, laughed, and even sang on the remaining paddle back to Port O’Connor.  Waving one last goodbye to our dolphin friends, we pushed up at the docks, changed into more confortable clothes, and loaded everything back into the van, tying down the kayaks nice and tight for the drive home.  Then we popped in a few movies and drove home in what seemed like no time.  After arriving back at wonderful SMU, everyone was sad to say goodbye and agreed to a reunion soon!

Amanda Trexel

SMU Outdoor Adventures Trip Leader

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Fall Caving Day Trip- Sept 22, 2012

For the past couple years, SMU Outdoor Adventures and Inner Space Caverns have worked together to produce an experience that few have the ability to partake in.  Called the Wild Cave Tour, Inner Space leads groups off the beaten path in order to explore some of the more hard to reach areas of the cave.  Inner Space is the largest cavern system in the state, meaning there are many different areas to explore and discover.  This is truly one trip that produces different sights and memories with every trip, as I was lucky to see along with my Assistant leader, Manuel Familiar and six amazing participants.

Our trip began at 5:30 in the morning on Saturday, October 22 in front of the Dedman center at SMU.  The sun was still working its way up into the morning sky when Manuel and I were joined by our excited six participants.  We all loaded up into the van and began our way towards Georgetown, TX, a city about 20 minutes north of Austin.  After exploring a bit of Georgetown’s Main Street and stopping for a quick breakfast, we arrived at Inner Space Caverns, and by 10:30 AM, we had all our safety equipment on and were ready to descend deep into the earth with our guides Don and Brandy.

The beginning of our tour began with a quick picture to show just how clean we were before our scramble through the deep.  Once we moved off the normal tour path, we first arrived at the Press Room, where the discovery of the cave was announced to the media.  From there, we headed towards the back of the Dragon’s Mouth and onto the Squid Room.  Most of the rooms in the cave have names based on the geological formations found within, and the Squid Room provided many, many interesting formations for us to see.  While in the Squid Room, we noticed all the moisture in the air and our tour guide, Don, told us about how the cave’s humidity level is a constant 98%!  The moisture in the air was actually steam coming off from our clothes! 

From the Squid Room we moved onto the first real crawl that led us to Bob’s Bone Pit, a pile of rocks that contained ancient fossils from when the cave was actually a deep-sea canyon.  Down there you saw fossils of ancient fish and other pre-historic animals forever entombed in the rock.  It was crazy to think of just how old this cave was.  When we asked our other tour guide, Brandy, about how long  it took for this cave to form, she could only guess millions of years! 

            From there, we progressed to the Maze Room, but not before we went down a “slide.”  While some of the participants decided to go down  feet-first, many of us decided to go down head-first and really enjoy the slide, squeezing and slipping our way down.  Once everyone was down, we moved into the Maze Area, where the guides allowed us to pick a tunnel and venture off for some time on our own.  Don’t worry!  All three tunnels led directly back to the main room, so getting lost was impossible! 

While some of us took a quick break, one adventurous participant tried to go through a tunnel not yet entirely ventured.  We all watched as she slowly climbed up into the roof area above us and listened as she tried to make her way to the end of the tunnel.  Eventually, we heard her say she was heading back as she could feel the cavern walls getting slimmer and slimmer!  The leaders were amazed at how courageous she was in even trying!

            Our next stop was the Canyon Crawl, where we walked above a small canyon area in the cave.  While keeping three points of contact, we walked across the canyon to see that the owners of the cave were actually beginning to commercialize this area of the cave for those less-adventurous cavers. In fact, we were told that we may be one of the last tour groups here before it was closed from the Wild Cave Tour for good!  What an experience to be one of the last to see it in its most prime and untouched form!

            We then decided to take a quick break before our last difficult crawl and played around in the Mud Room.  Here, the mud was so thick and sticky that many participants began losing their shoes!  Some of us started making mud angels on the ground or made mud sculptures for future cavers to see when they come down.  I left my name on one of the walls, just in case I get to explore the cave one more time!

            Finally, we moved to the last difficult crawl before exiting the cave.  We went through the Dragon’s Mouth and moved towards Rain Drop.  After squeezing and crawling our way through the rock, we finally made it up into the main area of the cave.  We headed towards the picture area and were amazed to see just how dirty we had gotten!  Mud. Was. Everywhere!  As we again walked into the sunlight, we got to smell fresh air again and enjoyed the sun on our bodies as we relaxed and reflected on our expedition beneath the ground.  While it was nice to be outside once more, I know I can speak for the entire group that there is nothing quite like exploring the chambers of rock and dirt found beneath the Earth and that we cannot wait for another chance to do it again!

Jeremy Rechtien, Trip Leader.

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Ziplining Day Trip (9/15/12)

A Successful Saturday

Each semester, SMU Outdoor Adventures (OA) plans and runs fun and exciting trips away from campus.  This fall, we are offering seven trips, the first of which was our Ziplining Day Trip.  I was lucky enough to lead this particular trip.  Two other OA leaders, Mandy Trexel and Joshua Munguia, assisted me in making this a successful trip…

On Saturday morning, I waited with Mandy and Josh by the Doak Walker statue for our four participants to arrive.  One by one, they all showed up, somewhat nervous, but excited for the day ahead.  Once our last participant arrived, we began the two hour drive out to LaRue, Texas.  Our destination, New York Texas Zipline Adventure is located in a small town near Athens, Texas.

We neared our location on a small, shaded back-road around 10:30 AM.  We arrived at our location around the same time as our guides and followed their Jeep up a steep, tree-lined driveway.  At the end of the driveway, we found ourselves facing a large, historic home surrounded by trees and picnic tables.    After checking in, we began to explore the property and were greeted by Winston the ziplining boxer dog (apparently dogs like ziplines too)!   Looking out over the tree tops, we admired an expansive view of the lush, green tree-filled valley below.

Our guides wasted little time getting us suited up in harnesses, helmets and all the appropriate equipment.  We were walked through a few basic safety rules in ground school.  We practiced zipping (about a foot off the ground), learned how to brake and perform a self-rescue… then it was time to get on the real lines!

The first three lines allowed us to zoom from tree to tree, stopping on platforms built up on the trees.  These first lines went pretty quick, but were lots of fun and gave us plenty of time to admire the amazing views of the valley. 

The next two lines were much longer and required steep, but short hikes through the trees in order to reach the access points.  After climbing up a wooden staircase, we all got to ride on these longer lines.  A few of us tried turning upside-down or spinning while sailing through and above the trees.

For the last few lines, we went back to the first line, and then continued on to a longer line to the left that none of us had noticed earlier.  This line was approximately 800 feet long, providing ample room to try out some more tricks.  Our guides demonstrated some impressive tricks, like spinning while upside down.  Encouraged by their skills, we all attempted some more adventurous methods for riding the last zipline.  We even recorded a video of everyone showing off spins and turns.  Needless to say, we all loved that last line!

With our feet back on the ground, we returned all our gear and thanked our guides.  Since the weather and views were so nice, we unloaded our lunch and all crowed around a picnic table before heading home.  While we ate, we recounted our favorite parts of ziplining, told stories about previous trips and got amped up for more adventures yet to come!

That Saturday we all made new friends, enjoyed a fun outdoor activity together and came home safely… that’s a successful trip in my book!

 Jordan Lee, SMU OA Trip Leader

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Outdoor Leader Training (OLT) Trip- August 2012

At first, I didn’t know what to expect. I had a vague idea of what it would be like to be out in the wilderness for an extended period of time, but nothing prepared me for what was to come in the OLT trip.

Right from the start, I knew that it was going to be quite different than anything I had ever experienced. Starting with the 4:00am departure and one of the longest continuous drives I have ever participated in, the journey had started: The group consisted of five students in training and two leaders. Hardly anybody knew each other, which made for a long, quiet drive out to Red River, New Mexico. A few stops for gas, bio-breaks, and food. I was quite entertained with the ever-changing scenery unfolding infront of me as the drive went on. By the time we arrived to our first campsite, we were all a little bit more acquainted with each other. The easy part had ended though,  and the real part had yet to begin.

The following morning we were all up and ready to go by 9:00 am, which became a routine for the majority of days infront of us- wake up by 7 am, eat, pack our backpacks and be ready to move out by 9 am, arrive at the next campsite between 12 pm and 1 pm. This was repeated almost daily with a few exceptions. Sleeping was tough, especially being  in a tent with 3 other men in what seemed like a 3 1/2 person tent, but it was also probably due to poor choice of terrain. The food was actually a lot better than what I had anticipated. Not only did I learn how to cook great combinations, but also learned to create cinnamon rolls which surprised me with its wholesome, sweet flavor. From quesadillas to lentils with rice, macaroni and cheese to mashed potatoes with refried beans, the menu was as diverse as the flavors.

The scenery was absolutely breath-taking.  Two hours into the first hike of the trip and we were already surrounded by green, living mountains and fresh crisp air. The stars were a thing unto themsleves. When I could, I would stare at the night sky for hours, contemplating my reason for being there at that moment, pondering the rest of the universe and feeling so small in the middle of nature, but in awe all the same.

The hikes were tough. Inclines would get steep and we would get treated to some nice descents every so often to catch our breath. All paces were steady and enjoyable. So much flora surrounding us at all times, it would fill me up with energy as well as catching a good gust of refreshing wind during our arduous moments of the hike. There was nothing like finally getting to the next campsite and laying down to rest with your backpack off for a while in our down time before the afternoon classes. The classes given were also quite interesting. Learning a great many things and even now knowing that there is still so much more to learn excites me. The leadership opportunities also helped raise my confidence level in myself and grow as a person. The several mountains we summited were reminders of how great each and every one of us can be if we just pull ourselves together and work towards a goal. On one of the final days, we were given the opportunity to reflect for three  hours alone, to which I say, was probably the turning point of my experience on the trip. It helped me put a lot of things together, find strength in what I had acheived over the course of that week. It pretty much summed up to this: If we are able to climb mountains, our problems in the front country look much smaller and more manageable. It is possible to overcome your own personal ‘mountains’ when you muster up your strength and pull it towards a goal.

On the final day of the hike, Albert Mitugo and Kelly Gilliland (our leaders) left us so we could find our way back to the van by ourselves, to prove that we can, in fact, put everything we learned into action and lead our way out of the wilderness. We were greeted with delicious sandwiches for all at the roadhead. We drove back to Red River, where we had a refreshing shower, an amazing dinner and slept in a yurt. That is where I found out that I had lost 13 pounds over the course of the hike! The following morning we left at 3:30am and began our final 13 hour trip home. By this time, everybody had become so close, that even the thought of ‘group death’ after the trip ended put saddness on our faces. We had to change the term to ‘group transformation’ beause ‘death’ was too strong a word for us.

 A few stops for gas, bio-breaks, and food and we were back in civilization once more.  I felt awkward with so many people around, and when I got to my apartment, it felt so small and dark, compared to having the mountains as your living space. A sense of empowerment and confidence has been flooding my system since then, I can fully say that I came back a changed person. Problems look smaller, I appreciate my loved ones so much more, and the discipline that the OLT trip gave me has served me wonderfully, to the extent that I now wake up a lot earlier to appreciate the day more. It is one thing I tell everybody now, to make a week long trip, unplugged from civilization at LEAST once a year. I plan going on  many more trips such as this one, and I hope to make the same quality of friends that I managed to make this time around.

This was probably the best experience of my summer!

Manuel Familiar- SMU OA Leader in training

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