Country Roads, Take Us (Far From) Home

In a Prep@Collegiate first, the gents spent three days in the West Virginia backcountry. Working closely with the talented folks at Experience Learning, we took on some big challenges and faced some fears… and we got to know each other a *lot* better in the process.

A long, long… long bus ride from Notre Dame brought us to Circleville, WV—base of operations for Experience Learning, and the gateway to Spruce Knob: the highest point in West Virginia. We met our team of field guides (thanks again, Jackie, Sarah, Kathryn, and Erica!), and the boys were outfitted with gear to get them through the next few days.

From there, we split into two groups: AAMU & Morehouse went one way, and Hampton & Muhlenburg went another. Our separate base camps were ‘home’ for the next two nights (though we did manage to cross paths at the summit!). Rain started Monday evening, and continued through the night… we had just enough of a break to enjoy a dry breakfast, and a lesson in orienteering!

Our guides taught the gents how to navigate in the wilderness with map and compass—and then the boys were given the lead: crew leaders, staff, and guides were there to keep everyone safe, but every twist and turn of the route was entirely up to the boys. Each crew took their newfound navigation skills out for a spin, and bushwhacked their own (rainy, slippery, stinging-nettle-covered) way up to the top of West Virginia’s highest peak.

...and then, just as we the first crew reached the summit—the skies cleared! The boys were greeted with a truly epic view, as our guides explained that we stood atop a continental divide: rainfall on one side of the mountain drains into the Atlantic Ocean, while runoff from the other side winds up in the Ohio River.

After the heroic trudge up the mountain, none of us complained about catching a ride back down. We returned to our base camps for an evening of survival skills training & s’mores. The boys learned the ‘rule of threes’—i.e., that you can expect to survive for about three weeks without food; three days without water; and three hours without shelter (because of the potential dangers of exposure)—and then the crews competed to build the strongest shelter. 

Around the campfire that night, we starting prepping for our biggest adventure yet: Wednesday morning’s descent into a cave. The day dawned beautiful and clear—a perfect time to head underground! Some of the boys were understandably apprehensive, but every one of them went into the dark… and came back out! Fortunately for us, there was a cool, refreshing stream just outside the cave; we even managed to get most of the mud off!

…finally, it was another loooong bus ride home (be glad you weren’t immediately downwind of us), and a return to the comforts of home.

Of course, there was a lot happening on Thursday and Friday, too—from very full days in the classroom, to 3D printing, yoga, chess, a return to the farm, and Virtual Neighborhood Surveys (Part I of the gents’ crew-level, multidisciplinary final project on community improvement… but more on that next week!).

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For now, though—lots more pictures of the gents at play in the woods: