Bottom line: nature is beautiful
When a lot of students think about relaxing, they think about a fluffy bed where they can watch hours of Netflix, eat their favorite foods, and prepare for a solid nap in the near future. While my roommate can vouch that this is exactly what I do on a Friday night, the thing that really clears my head and releases my stress is getting outside. There is a ton of science behind why sunlight and the outdoors boosts your mood, but being the English and Writing Seminars double major I am, I’m here to describe what it means to me instead.
Being in this pandemic, I’ve rediscovered my love for getting outside. Those daily walks I take to get out of my tiny apartment provide an instant mood boost. Not only does it give me a break from my screen, but it’s helped me find so many new paths and neighborhoods to pass through in Baltimore. I am so grateful to be in a place that has changing seasons. Everyone knows that amazing feeling of stepping on a perfectly crunchy leaf while many more float to the ground around you. Bottom line: nature is beautiful. I find myself thinking back fondly to the many trips I’ve taken with Outdoor Pursuits before the pandemic, and how I’d give just about anything to be sleeping under a tarp in a torrential downpour, water leaking into my sleeping bag. Doesn’t that sound relaxing? The hiking trips I’ve taken with the friends I’ve made in this program remain some of my fondest memories of college. I never considered myself an avid hiker before coming to Hopkins, but now, being in Outdoor Pursuits, I’ve fallen in love with it. I relish the excruciating steepness of walking up a mountain with a 30 pound backpack on. Making it to the summit or to the end of any long hike makes me feel like I can accomplish anything.
Even though you may think hiking is just walking on a trail, it’s a full-body workout that can make your legs feel like jelly. But I don’t consider that a bad feeling. It makes me feel stronger, more empowered, and ready for another trek through the trees. There’s a running joke between backpackers that while you are out hiking to admire the view of nature around you, you never want to look up to see how much you have left on an incline. You keep your eyes right on the trail in front of you, no further. Honestly, hiking and being outside are the only times I feel truly present. There’s no rush to get to your destination, no distractions around you. Hiking is my own personal meditation. I just focus on my breathing, the ground underneath my feet, and the trees beside me. Hiking isn’t a race, and it isn’t a competition. It’s an escape from the trap students can fall into at school: focusing on getting the best grade, getting through the semester, and getting to the next step after college. I became a hiking leader because I knew I wanted to share the impact it has on me with as many people as possible.
Like many incoming freshmen, I participated in a Pre-Orientation program with Outdoor Pursuits before coming to Hopkins, and spent five amazing days white water rafting, kayaking, backpacking, and rock climbing with other new students. I had the privilege of becoming a Pre-O leader myself this past summer, backpacking in the Appalachians with an enthusiastic group of freshmen (roll AB2!) and my incredible co-lead, James. The very first day of our week in the outdoors, we started off with an extremely steep climb. I turned to see my group members craning their necks to see the top or wrinkling their noses upon seeing it. Whenever there are two leaders, one always takes the front and the other takes the back, to make sure we don’t lose anyone in the group. I took the back. I like taking it slow and enjoying chats with everyone by shouting things or singing Disney songs from the rear. As usual, I loved the hike. But on this first day, I discovered something I loved even more. My group members’ faces when they reached the top, when they looked back down with a shimmering of quiet pride, made my entire trip. Their first day hiking, some of them hiking for the first time with heavy packs, they conquered the steepest incline of our entire expedition. And that moment sticks with you. Hiking makes you feel strong and at peace with yourself. Especially now, crouching over a computer screen for hours and hours every day, I catch myself looking back on those moments where all that mattered was the path right in front of. And honestly, that is some wisdom I think we can all use in our lives. Whenever you feel overwhelmed, like the hill’s too steep, just look at the path right in front of you. And before you know it, you’ve conquered a mountain.
Sandy Clancy (’22)