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You in the wild

Meghan Dorn

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By Meghan Dorn | Staff Columnist

Hiking is my form of active meditation. You are forced to be fully in the present. Your thoughts rotate between deciding where your foot will go next, looking upward for trail blazes, listening to your body’s needs and seeing how far you can push yourself forward. All are needs of the now.

It’s also an exercise in honesty. You can’t lie to a mountain about how ready you are to take on its challenges. It will pull your true self out of you, whether you like it or not. Sometimes that means grasping for breath and shaking your water bottle for the last lingering droplets, and sometimes that means feeling your breath ease from your chest as you sit for a moment at the summit, realizing that you are stronger than you originally thought.

My first major adventure into the wild was a nine-day backpacking trip through the Pisgah National Forest with the North Carolina Outward Bound School. I went off on the trip with eight other students from my high school; we were selected by the school’s administration because we represented all different backgrounds: different ages, genders, races, sexualities and other identifiers that weren’t filled in on a written quiz. I remember getting off the bus in the middle of the woods and thinking to myself – how in the world am I going to survive with these people who are so different than me?

We carried everything we needed to survive on our backs. Food, clothing, pots and pans for cooking, water, first aid kits, orienteering tools; anything and everything we needed to survive pushed down on my shoulders and into my waist. I had fantasized fancy Instagram posts and happy days on what I had thought would be a vacation. I was so incredibly wrong.

Four days in, our crew crammed together under a wooden shelter as a summer storm shook us with pounding rains and crackling thunder. We were exhausted, and scattered bruises and bug bites marred our skin. We were entirely broken down, and it seemed like civilization would never return. After one bolt of lightning hit close enough that we were temporarily deafened, I remember one girl suddenly starting to cry, saying that if this was the end, she wanted someone to know who she really was. Her testimony moved us all, and our guides encouraged us all to join, and slowly others in the circle began to share their incredible stories as well. In that makeshift shelter, there were sexual abuse survivors, suicide attempt survivors, family breadwinners at 17, people whose families put incredible pressure on them to succeed, those that had escaped abusive relationships and so many other tales that come to my mind almost everyday.

Eventually the storm subsided, and we started to re-strap our packs to our backs and walk away from that one corner in the woods – but the conversation stayed with us the rest of the trip. My pack felt lighter and the treks became easier, and I think in part because there was nothing left to hide or worry about other than the next step. We were purely ourselves in that moment – the good, bad and the ugly.

We often forget that we are animals. We are all fighting to survive in the wild, whether that is the wild of mountains and trees, or if it is the wild of the classroom and workplace. What differentiates humans from some of the other animals you may see on your hikes is that a bird or a squirrel doesn’t try to be anything other than what it is. Sometimes it is good to come back to center and remember that we are simply human beings breathing and striding forward. We don’t have to be anything more or anything less than what we truly are, and being purely genuine can help ease the burdens in our life. 

Meghan Dorn is a senior majoring public relations and political science. Her column runs weekly.

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You in the wild