By Alaina Bartel
Summer for college students is often thought of as a time to recharge and relax. That wasn’t the case for 10 Ohio University students and three faculty members who participated in the summer class, Recreation 324: Outdoor Leadership. The group pushed themselves mentally, emotionally and physically as they backpacked, sea kayaked, and bikepacked through the wilderness.
The field-based course is an intensive 25-to-28-day class designed to help students develop their knowledge and skills as outdoor leaders. It helps students refine basic wilderness living skills while developing expertise in specialized modes of wilderness travel.
This year’s outdoor leadership class was unique because it was the longest trip they’ve completed, clocking in at 28 days. It was also the first time they had bikepacking as a mode of travel.
“We don’t know many programs out there that are doing bikepacking,” said Danny Twilley, senior lecturer in the Patton College of Education and the faculty lead for the bikepacking leg. “… It’s pretty unique, this is a relatively new form of travel.”
Before the bikepacking came the sea kayaking trip led by faculty member Bruce Martin; and the backpacking trip led by faculty member Andy Szolsi. The third and final leg of the trip took the students bikepacking through West Virginia’s Monongahela National Forest for six-and-a-half days.
They biked about 15 miles a day and 75 miles overall, starting in Durbin, West Virginia, and they made it to the highest point in the state: Spruce Knob.
As the group got into camp the night before the trek up to Spruce Knob, it started raining. They woke up to a cold morning and got a slow start to the day, realizing their goal of biking three-and-a-half hours up to Spruce Knob seemed like quite a feat.
“It turned out to be this picture-perfect day, high in the 70s, beautiful sunny weather,” Twilley said. “We ended up biking up to the top of West Virginia. The fun part was, as the people up front got to the top, they would get off their bikes and go cheer on the others because it was a relatively steep hill.”
After everyone made it up to Spruce Knob, they debriefed in a beautiful open field with a three-sided view of the valley. A student led an appreciation circle, where they shared the impact they’ve had on each other and their thanks for the encouragement along the way.
“For a lot of us, I think it reminded us why we do what we do, the true impact of being together in an outdoor environment, the importance of challenging yourself physically, mentally, but then having the good support of people around you and being able to share that,” Twilley added.
Left: The sign before entering the Spruce Knob lookout, featuring their bikes and gear for the six-and-a-half-day trip. Photo courtesy of Kelsey Gallagher
“These locations along the way reminded me of just how remote we were,” Gallagher added. “I specifically remember one area along the trip where we had stopped for a break and we had heard some cows in the distance. After our break we continued on, and the forest cleared into a farm land full of rolling hills and cows. It was such a beautiful rural area and I felt extremely blessed to have been able to bike though it.”
With it being a leadership course, the students were responsible for a couple of things within each mode of travel. Throughout the process, they were required to hold different roles, such as leader of the day, assistant leader, navigator and scribe, for example.
For sea kayaking, the leader of the day turned into co-leaders of the day. The students also were assigned lessons they had to teach on various aspects of outdoor living.
“The bikepacking section of the course was a little different than the other sections as far as leadership is considered,” Gallagher explained. “I believe that this was because I have never led or even participated in bikepacking before. I found it challenging to be a novice in bikepacking while also being looked toward as a leader during certain days. I think that this challenge made the bikepacking exciting; I was able to learn a new activity while also learning the skills required to be a leader within that sport.”
Aside from the countless memories and friendships she made during the summer course, she said she gained a significant amount of confidence in her leadership abilities.
Left: Kelsey Gallagher and Matt Schlegel mapping out the route for their leadership day. Photo courtesy of Kelsey Gallagher