By Isabella Copeland

Last week I had the privilege to be a student leader on the Freshmen Wilderness Orientation Backpacking Trip. Getting to know a few of the incoming freshmen was a great time. I lead “The Boyz,” a group of six kind and hilarious freshmen.

One of the best moments of the entire trip came from a freshman trying to describe his favorite meme to one of my fellow student leaders. She just wasn’t understanding his description, so the freshman completed his explanation by stating, “It’s just so deep in the meta.” So many laughs were shared, and the growth that took place over the short time we were in the backcountry was amazing to experience. We got to watch them struggle with their tent on the first night, taking over an hour to set up. By the last night they had an organized group dynamic.

In addition to all the laughs and growth, it was personally satisfying to have such a full-circle experience. Last year I was on the same Wilderness Orientation Trip as a freshman. This year I got to lead. It was an extremely reflective time. A year ago I had no idea how much I was going to change in just one year. I had no idea that St. John’s could become my home, as it has. I had no idea that the girl I went backpacking with as a Freshman, who introduced herself by saying, “I’m awkward in these situations. Can you just tell me about yourself,” was going to end up co-leading with me a year later. I had no idea she was going to become such an important part of my life, that she and the rest of those Virtuous Maidenz were going to become more like home than any physical house I’ve ever had.

While we were backpacking I was working very hard to stay in the moment and enjoy the backcountry, but all the while I was so excited to start my sophomore year. I was looking forward to moving in. I couldn’t wait to dive into the curriculum and start working as a Lab Assistant. I couldn’t wait to see the people I care about so much yet haven’t seen for so long.

Over the course of the trip my eager attitude to get back to campus was obvious. My fellow co-leaders and I kept joking that I was going to have everyone up at 5am for the last day’s hike out. During dinner on the last night our two expedition leaders suggested we just stay up all night and get an alpine start the next morning. They were suggesting that we hike out at 0200 hours. At first we were a little hesitant, “Can we actually do that?” Six hours later we were hiking out of the Pecos Wilderness with our headlamps as our only source of light.

As we drove back to campus the sun rose and turned the clouds to pink and purple cotton candy. I was overwhelmed with a sense of purpose. Before my fellow leader put her head on my shoulder to fall asleep, she whispered, “We’re going home.” I mused: every homecoming deserves an alpine start.

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