As my time at Colorado College comes to a close, I have been reflecting on my growth as an outdoorsman.
When I moved to Colorado, I barely knew how to keep myself comfortable while camping. If you had asked me as an incoming freshman how to plan any sort of outdoor venture more complicated than a day trip to Breckenridge, I would have had no idea where to start.
In high school, I had always been intrigued by nature, but I was an obese, awkward kid with a tendency to retreat into computer games and television. A camping stove may as well have been a nuclear reactor, considering my understanding of how it worked.
My experience with the backcountry was limited to a few weeks at summer camp. More importantly, I was not a happy person. Antidepressants and the distractions of suburban New Jersey were inadequate plugs to the holes in my psyche.
Four years later, I am a different person. I type this in my room, which primarily functions as a receptacle for my outdoor stuff. I now know my way around a camping stove, a GPS, an avalanche beacon, an ice axe, crampons, a belay rope, ski skins, and bear spray, among other things. I more or less know what I’m doing. More importantly, I have found happiness, both with my friends and with myself. I met a girl who loves the outdoors as much as I do, and we fell in love in mountaineering tents and ski huts.
Friendship will never seem truer than when declared at 3 a.m. around a dying campfire. Food tastes best squished into backpack. Music sounds best sung as a group under the stars. Freedom is best realized with hiking boots. Beer is best chilled in a river. Warmth is never so welcome as it is in a sleeping bag. Solitude is enhanced immeasurably by actual distance from other people. Everyday objects gain value when you hike them ten miles into the wilderness. Life is livelier when lived on top of the dirt and under the sky. The world will never seem more mysterious and beautiful than through the lens of an open tent flap at dawn.
Some people are born with a hole in their soul that can only be filled with mountain air, whitewater, spring snow, dirt, twigs, and wild flowers. I look around this campus, and I see it in most of you. We make mad dashes for the mountains and the deserts and the oceans, drinking it in at the first opportunity. Plastic bottles of bourbon passed around a campfire are our communion wine, and silent contemplation is our mass. These places are not escapes for us – they are where we go to live inside our souls. When I interact with you all in the sprawling playground that is the American west, I see your authentic selves.
I see wilderness as a fundamental value in this community. It enhances everything we do. Who can look out on the cliff walls of the Maroon Bells, or the granite expanse of Pike’s Peak standing sentinel over Colorado Springs, and not be moved? Who can see the evergreen forests that thrive on a precipice in the Black Canyon of the Gunnison, or wander through an aspen forest in fall, and not conclude that the world is worth fighting for?
Stay wild, CC. I love you all.