At 5 a.m. on Saturday, March 24, fourteen USM students and Portland Campus Recreation Coordinator Tina Aldrich met at the Sullivan Gym to kick off leg one of their spring break trip to Moab, Utah. They chose the trip as an alternative to typical spring-break destinations, embracing the opportunity to enjoy a backcountry experience while working on teambuilding skills. For weeks ahead of time the students had been holding raffles and bake sales in an effort to make the trip more affordable.
“Every group is different,” said Aldrich, “But I was so impressed with this one. I never felt like there were little social pockets-everyone was excited to be part of the group.”
From the gym they caught a van to Manchester airport, where thy boarded a flight to Salt Lake City. There they rented a van and a Durango for carrying equipment, and drove to Provo, Utah to camp for the night.
The next day they were faced with the daunting task of buying enough food, dry bags, and gear for fifteen people in southwestern wilderness for five days. The shopping list began something like this: 55 tortillas, 37 bananas, 30 kiwis, 48 bagels, and was reportedly taller than Aldrich. Luckily, Aldrich was well prepared, making sure all necessities were in place.
“Tina really took care of the details,” said senior English major Allyson Ashe. “We didn’t have to worry about anything.”
Monday morning the crew arrived early at the outfitters, a company based in Moab called Tex’s Riverways. There they learned about acting responsibly in backcountry, including everything from fire safety to carrying out waste.
“We got a very enlightening talk about chemical toilets,” said Aldrich. “They send people out with a good mindset for taking care of the environment and a deep respect for the natural resources.”
From Tex’s they were escorted to the put-in spot on the Green River, with seven canoes and a single-person kayak, ensuring everyone would have constant paddle-duty. They set out into the 35-degree current in shorts, t-shirts, and lifejackets. With the river moving steadily at four miles an hour, they had plenty of time left to stop and enjoy hikes in the breathtaking red canyon landscape, full of petroglyphs and wildlife. They even spotted a pair of peregrine falcons.
“It was really overwhelmingly beautiful and awe-inspiring,” said Andy McLeod, junior geology major. “And the weather was perfect-sunny during the day and cloudy at night, so we were never too cold.”
The second night the group learned an important lesson in being mindful of the effects of the heat and sun. Though Aldrich, who is certified in wilderness first aid, had been very adamant about the group stopping every hour to drink plenty of water and have a light snack, several of the group members experienced mild dehydration symptoms, from fatigue to chills.
“It’s important to learn how to listen to your body,” said Aldrich. “I think it was hard for people to understand how quickly the sun and heat catch up to you.”
That night they also encountered their first scorpion, hidden in some leaves where they were pitching a tent. Though scorpions and snakes like copperheads and rattlesnakes are a danger in the area, the group avoided any serious run-ins.
Thursday, after a campfire pancake breakfast, the group made it to the final destination of Horseshoe Canyon, nine miles downriver from the put-in. They hiked into the canyon, and were amazed to find that a fire had swept through the previous year, leaving charred brush and blackened trees.
“Here was another great lesson,” said Aldrich. “The slightest spark can catch, and the area is so arid that the flames just spread. It must have been an inferno down there. It was eerie.”
Friday morning the people from Tex’s met them at the take-out point at Mineral Bottom Canyon. After returning all of the gear, they hiked around Arches National Park in Moab, then made the drive back to Provo. They flew out of Salt Lake City, and made it back to USM around 1 a.m. on Monday.
The trip the group made down the Green River went through some remote backcountry, with students from a broad range of experiential backgrounds. Not only did they avoid the tropical spring break insanity, they learned about backcountry travel and working in community.
“In the city you have to put up so many walls,” said McLeod. “There’s so many people that you can’t be yourself. In a little group like ours, out in the wilderness, you could let your true self shine through.”