Fall Break Trips: Unexpected Friendships in Unexpected Places

“A clear narrow lake, no more than a half mile wide, smoky mountains in the background and leaves changing colors all-around you…”Outdoor Adventures trip leader Nick Harwood, described a few of his favorite scenes during one of the Outdoor Adventures fall break trips. “You watch the leaves go from bright green to bright red and as you paddle you stare at this massive peak in front of you…it’s a beautiful trip,” he illustrated.

Harwood, a senior in accounting and information technology, has worked for Outdoor Adventures for four years as a rentals assistant, climbing wall expert and trip leader. “I participated in the Wolfpack Bound freshmen orientation trip in 2013 and asked someone ‘how can I get this job,’ and then applied to work at the rentals desk,” he explained.

Every year, Outdoor Adventures hosts two trips during fall break and this year they were: canoeing in Fontana Lake in the Smoky Mountains and backpacking in Big South Fork River. Harwood was the student leader of the canoeing trip in Fontana Lake. As trip leader, his responsibilities included planning the trip, working with a team to choose the location, campsite, food and organize pre-trip meetings. He was also responsible for teaching the participants how to set up their tents, sleeping bags, canoes and how to be safe in the waters.

Harwood also explained that many of the participants of the canoeing trip were international students, which brought interesting challenges and a lot of fun for everyone. “Everyone was so different and we had to recognize those differences so that we could communicate safety to them,” he stated. While there were a few language barriers, the team could successfully communicate safety to everyone, while learning new things throughout the trip.

Harwood boasted about the participants quickly becoming friends and sharing interesting things about their cultures, “being around people with different perspectives was a lot of fun and everyone was willing to get involved and make the most of their time at state.”

About 150 miles northeast of Fontana Lake, another group of bold students from NC State took an adventure through the Big South Fork River. Garnett Bullock, a senior in sustainable materials and Technologies with a minor in outdoor leadership and environmental science, has worked for the Outdoor Adventure trips program since fall of 2016. He has led many trips before around North Carolina, “that involve activities such as rock climbing, mountain biking, canoeing and backpacking. Like Harwood, Bullock oversees helping plan the event and teaching backpacking safety and functionality to the participants. “We had to start from scratch in terms of route planning, locating campsites and water sources, and what landmarks or popular areas we should see while we’re there,” he explained.

A four-day trip, over 30 miles on foot and carrying backpacks weighing between 30-40 lbs., “this might have been the most challenging trip I have led while working of OA,” Bullock stated. He described the challenges the group faced during the trip, from poorly marked and poorly maintained trails, fallen trees, grueling stream crossings and “a handful of blisters and poison ivy rash later, we were able to make it back to our van by Sunday around noon,” he joked.

Bullock also bragged about the great meals they had, such as chocolate peanut butter pancakes, vegetarian friendly burritos, Ecuadorian potato-veggie-quinoa soup and s’mores.

Both Harwood and Bullock expressed how the trips exceeded their expectation. Harwood described that the Smoky Mountains are incredibly unique to the other mountains in North Carolina and one of his favorite aspects of the canoeing trip is that you don’t have to carry anything on your back. “You get away from school work with a group of people with the same ambitions for the trip as you,” he explained. “You have this experience together on a relaxing weekend but even on the tough ones, you still become close friends.”

Bullock recommended these trips to everyone, “especially those who have never pictured themselves trampling through the woods with a bunch of strangers,” he added. “We plan every trip so that anyone, regardless of experience level, is properly outfitted and able to create a meaningful experience for themselves.”

One of the greatest aspects of the Outdoor Adventures program is the opportunities for anyone of any level to participate. Bullock continued to explain “a good portion of our trips involve an element of challenge and/or discomfort, these things always seem to bring everyone in the group closer and able to navigate any challenge that may be present.”