Night Sky Ambassadors

Lying on a dam, stargazing and sleeping out with the group I’m leading, in the middle of a camp in rural Kentucky. . There is a 0% chance of storms, and the sky is perfectly clear. As we look up at the night sky, a smog overcomes it. That smog is lights from an urban area a 20 minute drive away from us.

Coming over the trees, the lights of Owensboro, Kentucky, impede our stargazing. A yellow haze, exactly like the smog I used to see floating over Denver, Colorado, on really hot days when I lived there. The big dipper is halfway gone, swallowed up by the light pollution.

This probably isn’t a shock. We all know city lights impact your stargazing. It has been called light pollution for years, and when I traveled through Peru two years ago with Global Explorers, we all talked about being night sky ambassadors. But none of that really impacted me until I could see the lights impacting my beautiful stargazing night.

As the world becomes more populated and urban, so much is disappearing. Forests are gone, lakes and rivers are becoming polluted, the air is filling with smog, and fields are becoming parking lots. The night sky to some is an untouched wonder, but society is beginning to destroy that as well. We all need to be night sky ambassadors, by turning off our lights, and resisting growing levels of urbanization.

Mismanaged Flights

I leave for Madagascar in approximately two months. So today, while I was on my break from camp, I decided to check out my flights. To my horror, I realized I had scheduled my in-country Madagascar flights a day early. I checked my e-mails about seven more times until I admitted defeat: I had messed up.

As I started attempting to remedy the situation, I realized I was in a bit of a bind. I’m Canadian, with a Canadian phone, but am currently working at a summer camp in Kentucky, and I needed to call an airline in Madagascar. I don’t know about you, but I can’t afford that phone bill. I searched for an alternative way of communication for another 15 minutes until I, once again, admitted defeat: I had to call my mom.

Luckily, my mom answered, and agreed to help me out even though she’s in the process of moving 14 hours north of where she currently lives. And, my flights have been worked out.

Moral of the story: you’re family can be extremely helpful, and quadruple-check your flights before booking them.

Peruvian Passion

Travel is the only thing you buy that makes you richer.

Travel is all about the experiences along the way. These experiences can range from minute to life-changing. No experience has changed my life more than when I went to Peru during the summer of 2012. I went through Girl Scout Destinations and a youth adventure travel program called Global Explorers. We backpacked the Lares Trek for 5 days, explored Cusco, and went to Machu Picchu. These are just the facts though. The growth in myself that these two programs fostered was truly remarkable.

This trip was not my first Girl Scout Destination (an adventure program designed for girl scouts). I went to London, England in 2008 and went backpacking through Costa Rica in 2010. Obviously, both of these trips were amazing, since I kept coming back for more. But, Peru was where I “found myself.” I found my love of nature, outdoor education, travel, and adventure.

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It all started with a lengthy 28ish hours of flying. Louisville to Atlanta to Miami to Lima to 5 hours sleeping in Lima’s airport (where I, full of excitement, did not sleep) to the final flight to Cusco to finally passing out in a hostel for two hours before our exploration began. We spent 3 days in Cusco, 2.5 days touring and trying local food, plus a half day volunteering at a school as well as donating school supplies to it. Luckily, I have never suffered from altitude sickness in my life, so even though we were living at 11,000 feet above sea level, I was shockingly feeling well and enthusiastic. Many girls were not. But, after three days, almost everyone was feeling better, and we began our trek.

ImageThe trek was amazing. I refer to it as trekking because we did not carry our own packs, but had donkeys that came with us that carried them. We camped for four days, and reached our highest altitude of 16,500 feet. It was cold, it was exhausting, but it was amazing. Watching everyone come together to complete this incredible feat, between the ages of 14 and 18 years old, from all different parts of the world, was amazing.

The sense of community was also amazing. Two years later, I still talk to two of my best friends from that trip. When girls were struggling, we all encouraged each other. One day, a girl told me that she would have had to stop if I hadn’t walked with her and talked her through the climb. It started to click then that pushing and helping people in the outdoors was what I wanted to do with my life.

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What I loved most, though, was my guides. They truly loved every second of leading us, and it was then that I realized I would always work for passion, not for money. I had always thought about being a teacher, but I knew that that was what I was going to become. Outdoor education had floated through my mind, but I knew that that was going to become my specialty. People are so focused on becoming a success, that they overlook the job of helping other people become a success.

The journey was not over quite yet. You cannot travel all the way to Peru without a trip to Machu Picchu! My personal pictures look like I am standing in front of a green screen, the site was so spectacular. Never have I been so amazed and inspired by humans, since this piece of architecture is truly magnificent. The exactness and the time spent are things I cannot even begin to fathom. Sad as well, since so many people died attempting to build Machu Picchu. Historical monuments like this are really a part of the nature, something that European society has moved away from in their architecture. I enjoy investigating historical motivations, like different architecture, and this is why part of my degree is in history.

Travel always opens you to a new world. But, the feelings of hope for humanity and myself I got on my adventure through Peru are what push me to keep travelling, as well as push my limits and others.

 

Exciting Plants?

Being injured, I have become trapped in my house. After about five hours of the TV life, and finishing a book, I came to the conclusion that I was stir crazy and needed to do something. I thought about my looming camp season, and my personal lack of knowledge about native plants and animals in Kentucky that were not poisonous. So, I decided it was time to make myself a booklet about the unique plants and animals, things that would interest my girls.

From the University of Kentucky Horticulture Department

Ecological regions of Kentucky, from the University of Kentucky Horticulture Department

I’m an environmental studies major at my school, and want to go into outdoor education. So, I do recognize that while this type of thing is appealing to me, most 13 year old girls find plants, trees, and animals that cannot kill them boring. I figured I was in luck though when I stumbled on the fact that the origin of the name for the Pennyroyal region in Kentucky, which one of our camps is named after, came from a herb we could find on camp property! I knew that connecting the plants to their knowledge would excite the girls. I also discovered more information about the armadillos of Kentucky. I mean, that’s such a random creature, who wouldn’t be excited about that!

Goldenrod, the state plant of Kentucky

Goldenrod, the state plant of Kentucky

However, that was kind of it. There were no lesson plans on teaching kids about plants and animals. No fun activities, outside of a scavenger hunt at the University of Kentucky. Nothing, besides an extensive list of trees, and lots of information about the Cottonmouth (a very poisonous snake found in Kentucky). I found a couple very helpful websites about ecology in Kentucky designed for teachers, but that said there was really no set plans for teaching this topic. I grew up in Kentucky, and am oblivious to what is around me. And, it seems the rest of the state is as well.

Pennyroyal

Pennyroyal

Outdoor education really needs to be implemented into schools. This is absurd that no one has developed this field further. And, while it has given a mission for my house-trapped self, it disappoints me. We should be embracing our natural environment, and even though I’m trying, I can barely scratch the surface.

Back Country Community

You walk into the kitchen of a hostel in the mountains in North Carolina at 8 am, to see a youth group in one room and a man drinking a beer in the other. The difference is astonishing, yet neither group is upset by the other. When you spend a week living with thru-hikers on the Appalachian Trail, you learn to expect the un-expected. This situation would have upset so many people in the ‘front country.’ Yet, in the back country, there is a mutual respect between everyone, and a sense of community that you cannot find anywhere else. And that is what is amazing.

I was not hiking the AT when I experienced this, even though I was staying in a hostel on the trail. I was getting Advanced Wilderness First Aid certified, and also enjoying the mountain life. I went there knowing nobody, and within 15 minutes had some new friends. From bonfires on the river to chilling with thru-hikers in the kitchen, everybody was fully immersed in the mountain life. I learned so much from people I spent 30 minutes of my life with, something unheard of in real life.

The community became even more apparent after the third day. Basically, I had to go to the bathroom really badly, and had my computer in my hands. I started running, fell, and partially tore a ligament in my foot. I made it to the bathroom and my computer survived, but the irony of injuring myself while I was getting my AWFA was not lost on me. My friends I had made in my course helped me immediately, and everyone else was very supportive.

One lady, a member of the youth group, shocked me though. She offered to help the next day as she saw me hobbling around, and I told her not to worry. She then startled me by asking “Are you a religious person?” She did not specify a religion, but having lived in Kentucky half my life, I assumed she was Christian. I do not consider myself a member of any religion, nor do I have a belief in any. Terrified she would be upset, but not wanting to be rude, I said: “No, but if you are that does not bother me.” So she said, “May I pray for you?” And I urgently reassured her that if she wanted to she could. Only later did I realize that I never knew her religion, and that she in no way pressured me to believe anything. She just wanted to see how she could help me, and if I was refusing physically, I might enjoy some spiritual help.

I am still not spiritual after this experience, but am thankful to that lady for being so respectful of my beliefs (or lack thereof). She really solidified the community that I felt in the mountains, and that we can all overcome differences in beliefs in a respectable manner.

I wish the world could be like the mountains. And that’s why I want to work with kids in the outdoors, so they can not just experience nature, but experience the community that is part of nature.

The Introduction

It’s all in the introduction.

Recently, I was hired as a tripping director for my school’s outdoors club. I want to live my life in the outdoors as much as possible, and I especially love introducing other people to this passion, and helping them find their own passion.

But, it didn’t seem real. Being a part of something so amazing, something that I loved so much, something that really made my first year. I couldn’t fathom my place as a leader in the program, one of only three frosh hired.

That all changed tonight. At the meeting, the new exec had to introduce themselves. And, with that introduction, I felt myself become a part of something. I am a trip leader, I will be part of this for the rest of my time at Queens. That is so exciting, and so amazing.

My introduction was by no means amazing. Just my name and year. Yet, it felt like so much more. I’ve never felt so changed and simultaneously prepared in a moment.

The introduction makes things real.

 

Climbing and Exams

As a student in university, I have plenty of exams I have to take. Mid-terms and finals, they’re really a never ending cycle until the sweet release of summer break. So, sometimes the exams overlap a bit with adventures. Most people cringe in fear at the thought of going backpacking and returning the day before an exam. I have done it, twice.

The first time was in December. I am a first year, so this was my first set of university finals, ever. I had about five days off between two exams, and some people were heading to New Hampshire to climb Mount Washington. My exam was the night after we would return. But, hey, it was Mount Washington, the tallest mountain in the Appalachian Mountain Range, so I wanted to go.

The climb was spectacular. Extremely difficult (I was definitely struggling with some of those freshmen year weight issues), but I did it none the less. The wind was crazy, with gusts up to 60 km/h, but I pushed through and reached that summit.Image

So, after that little adventure, I rushed back to take a final for Classics. Some how or another, I got an A- on it. I really think not stressing about the exam by getting away for a little actually cleared my head and prepared me better for it. However, that was just a theory, so I would obviously have to do something ridiculously similar again to prove it.

And that opportunity came my way just a month and a half later.

Over reading week, I went and attempted the Presidential Traverse in the White Mountains. I say attempted because between getting really sick, and the couple extra feet of snow we had to blaze through than was expected, we had to turn back before summiting any of the mountains. But, that did not deter us, as we went to the Adirondack Mountains. Here we did some ice climbing, a couple quick hikes up some shorter mountains, and one summit up Mount Algonquin. Mount Algonquin is over 5,000 ft high, and the second tallest mountain in the Adirondack Mountain range. That summit was fine, until we reached tree line. Then, the 70 m/hr gusts were insane. A lot of groups had to turn back, but as risk taking college kids with ice axes, we made our way to the top. We couldn’t even see anything from the summit, but it was still amazing reaching the top.Image

After this long week, we drove back to Ontario. I had not showered in about a week, and had way to much laundry to even think about. So, I showered, got some real food, finished my laundry, and passed out by 8:30 pm. I had a midterm the next morning (shockingly enough, for this semester’s classics course). The midterm was at 10:30 am, and I woke up at 6:30 am to start studying for it. The four hour cram was scary, and the midterm was an interesting time. Yet, somehow, I pulled off a B+.

I am no super student. The only classics exam I have not taken immediately after climbing a mountain I got a B- on. Now, with these experiences, I really do believe getting into nature is a therapeutic thing people should do. It relaxes and rejuvenates. It pushes you beyond your limits, yet leaves you with so much satisfaction that you know you can do anything in the world.

So get out there, climb a mountain, and live life one day at a time.

Africa is Calling, and I Must Go

Just a couple short months ago, Madagascar was nothing more than a movie to me. And now it is a place that I am going to.

Volunteering abroad sounds like an amazing idea. Teaching English in a French country, nothing could be better suited for myself. I took the initiative to research my options on IVHQ, but am still forever grateful that my parents offered to pay.

Even though they’re paying, I have still stepped up and am taking care of vaccines and plane tickets by myself. It is terrifying making these decisions for the first time, but I can do it.

Life is about taking risks and finding yourself along the way. This trip to Madagascar is another step in the amazing journey that has become my life.