In August of 2016, recently-high-school graduated me decided it would be fun to spend five days in the backcountry with nine people I had never met before. Those five days changed me, as cheesy as it sounds. Flash forward about a month, and see me opening an email with the subject line “BuckWild Leaders Wanted.” A series of doubts and a week later, I was sitting in a group interview, and then the final, individual interview for the position. After that, it was out of my hands.
A few weeks later, I turned on my phone after frisbee practice to find a message from an unknown number. As I listened, I had to stop walking, and then play it once more, just to be sure. I almost couldn’t believe what the voice on the other end was telling me; that I was one of the newest BuckWild Leaders. I honestly couldn’t have been more ecstatic.
The first few meetings with the rest of my training class were rather bland, mostly due to the subjects of said meetings; paperwork, policies, and administrative things dominated our first few encounters. In late October, we began our experiential training with our first training trip: a weekend backpacking on the Black Forest Trail. From our very own “Watergate Scandal” (it literally had to do with purifying water) and a sprained ankle (yours truly), to a beautiful sunrise, we learned a lot about ourselves and each other, and were told to sit down and buckle up- we were in for a wild ride.
The next six months are a blur of BuckWild. We had numerous classroom sessions where we learned soft skills, balanced with hard skills on training trips. Over winter break, we came back to school early for Wilderness First Responder training, during which we developed an unusually strong bond to Chip Sonn (one of our instructors) and learned some pretty useful stuff. Broken femur? We can splint that (as long as you’re more than an hour from definitive care). The week after WFR (pronounced WOOF-er), we headed to Northern PAto learn how to safely wander the woods (a skill called bushwhacking- first rule: hold the branch for the person behind you!). Along the way, we had a few slip ups (like that time our bus slipped on ice), but it was all part of the learning experience. Over NoPA Trip, we all grew really close. I remember (finally) showering back in my residence hall after the trip and thinking to myself “I’ve really got a great new group of friends.”
Our training continued through the spring semester with a caving trip, followed closely by our climbing trip (we can set an anchor anytime, anywhere), and finally our paddling trip. Each of these trips brought us a little closer together and taught us a little more about ourselves. Coming into college, I was a nervous wreck, mostly about the social scene. Would I find my friends easily? It was on my own BuckWild Trip that I felt reassured, and so despite the doubts I had, I applied to be a leader. Let me just say, it has been one of the best decisions I’ve ever made.
The other leaders in my training class have shown me unconditional kindness and caring, but the thing I need to thank them most for is their ability to teach me. Through their comments, actions, and shared stories, each of them has taught me a different lesson; I have become more open-minded through their opinions, and I have learned to trust myself with their support. I think this is the crux of what is really spectacular about the entire OEL program; the climate is so accepting and supportive, it’s practically impossible to leave without a bettered version of yourself.
Around these people, it is 100% okay to be your true self, which means it is 110% okay to make mistakes. In making these mistakes, we learn from them and emerge better people. Now, I’ve always been an advocate for accepting failure as a motivator, but my training class helped to teach me the true meaning of such a concept; they helped me to shine a light on some of my personal flaws in words and actions that I have been trying to fix for years. They were incredibly supportive in helping me patch up the holes, I didn’t realize I had changed until after the fact. It’s this behind-the-scenes work, this silent magic, that I really need to thank them all for.
And so, to Abbie, Aleks, Ali, Brenna, Erin, Evan, Faith, Ikmal, John, Julia, Leah, Mackenzie, Matt, Peter, Rachel, Ryan, Sam, Zach, Ziwei, and Savannah, I say thank you for so many things, but mainly thank you for teaching me to be me. You all hold very special places in my heart and I can’t wait to see what the next hill on the rollercoaster of BuckWild will be like for us.