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2018 ‘DISCOVERY’ trip participants reflect on their time on the Appalachian Trail

2018 DISCOVERY trip participants reflect on their time on the Appalachian Trail

On May 12, the Office of Student Engagement and Loyola’s Outdoor Adventure Experience (OAE) club embarked on their annual DISCOVERY trip, an outdoor excursion of backpacking, reflecting, and camping. The 13 adventurers sought to discover themselves through experience, discussion, and reflection while navigating throughout the forest. The campers drove out to Michaux State Forest in Fayetteville, Pa. to begin their week-long trip filled with self-reflection. During the week, the group hiked and built different campsites while getting acquainted with their peers. The adventure also consisted of rock climbing and “Solo Day,” a period of seven hours in which the participants practiced introspection alone in the woods. On the seventh day, the campers emerged from the forest with sharpened survival skills, lifelong friends, and a new sense of themselves.

Below, Jennifer Valencia ’20 and Nicoletta Di’Ambrosio ’20 reflect on their once-in-a-lifetime experiences in the serenity of nature here.

Jennifer Valencia ’20

I grew up in a city and never received a chance to truly immerse myself in nature. Although I have participated in a few hikes before, I always found comfort in knowing that I would be inside within the next hour. Because of this, I have always desired to take a trip into the wild. When I heard about DISCOVERY, I immediately knew that it would be the perfect opportunity to not only discover nature, but to also utilize my time to experience something I had never before.

DISCOVERY was much more than hiking with a forty-pound backpack and learning about back-country cooking. This trip allowed me to reflect on different aspects of my life, such as my aspirations and personal goals. At first, the thought of camping for six days without my cellphone was  daunting. But by the end,, I found that being disconnected from the “outside world” was refreshing and necessary after a long school year. Self-reflection is almost impossible when responsibilities pile up, and there is rarely time to step back and remind yourself why you do what you do. For me, DISCOVERY served as a reminder to remain attentive to my inner self in spite of obstacles.

While on the trip, participants were accompanied by inspiring student leaders who helped guide us through numerous reflections.One of the greatest takeaways from this experience was an exercise on the “Three Ways of Being:” being attentive, being reflective, and being loving. During the school year and during the summer, I find it difficult to be attentive to myself and my surroundings. Students have to balance many responsibilities such as school work, social life, and extracurricular activities throughout the year. Although these activities allow us to explore more about ourselves, it is easy to become overwhelmed and lose focus of our purposes and goals.

While on the trail, we did an activity that helped us develop consciousness. Immediately afterward, I was more intentional about being more attentive during our hikes by observing the greenery around us in detail. In general, being attentive allows us to have a better understanding of not only our surroundings, but also our inner being. As a result, we gain a better understanding of ourselves and grow more aware of how our actions affect others. While it is easier said than done, practicing attentiveness during DISCOVERY has motivated me to continue building my own attentiveness outside of the Appalachian Trail. Practicing this skill can be as simple as not wearing my earbuds while I walk around my hometown. Small, simple tasks can contribute towards building consciousness of ourselves and others.

I am looking forward to practicing the lessons I learned while on DISCOVERY during the upcoming semester. Although junior year will be challenging, I feel more prepared knowing that I have some valuable tools from my experience on the Appalachian Trail. I will face inevitable obstacles, but I know that I can always utilize the lessons I learned and lean on the friends that I have made while on the trip.

Nikki D’Ambrosio ’20

Below are excerpts from Nicoletta Di’Ambrosio’s ’20 blog, on which she shares pictures and reflections of her time as a DISCOVERY participant:

“I am so incredibly thankful for the people I shared this experience with. There was no lack of support, openness, or laughing on this trip. I was constantly inspired by the strength that I saw from the group. I don’t think the experience would have been as impactful if it weren’t for this great group of people.”

“One of the biggest reasons why I decided to go on this trip was because of the emphasis on personal growth and reflection. About halfway through the trip, we had solo day. Solo day consisted of 7 hours alone in the woods to reflect, journal, or practice handstands—if you’re me. We each were placed in a different location on one of the Appalachian Trails and sat solitary for 7 hours. It was really relaxing and somewhat surreal to just be in nature. I just sat there and took it all in.”

“The most significant idea I realized was the importance of trust. While trusting that the universe will guide you is an important ability, you must also trust in those around you, which can help you persevere through the tough times and make the good times even better. But, most importantly, you must first trust in yourself.”

“I went in not knowing what would come out of DISCOVERY. I gained a new sense of who I am and what I am capable of while learning the importance of slowing down and being present in my own life.”


Feature Image: Photo Courtesy of Nicoletta D’Ambrosio ’20

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2018 ‘DISCOVERY’ trip participants reflect on their time on the Appalachian Trail