August 21, 2009

Outdoor Odyssey

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“Now if everyone would please, put their Nalgene as high as they can …
Man, I love hiking, ay!
I love camping, ay!
I love hiking, ay!
I love Odyssey, ay!”
More or less parodying Asher Roth’s “I Love College,” Kerran and Oliver’s skit at Camp O Rama was sort of well sung, not very well heard, but extremely entertaining nonetheless. Followed by men (and women!) in tights, climbing Olympics, a surprise head shaving, and ice cream galore, the Adirondack Backpacking trip set the tone for a ridiculous evening that celebrated the conclusion of Outdoor Odyssey 2009.
Formerly known as Wilderness Reflections, Outdoor Odyssey is a pre-orientation program for incoming freshman and transfers that offers a variety of wilderness trips throughout New York State. It takes the form of a laid-back week in the woods, where one participates in a wide variety of activities ranging from rock climbing to canoeing to trail-building to mountain biking to backpacking to photography to multi-element to caving, to name a few.
Each group has up to nine “trippers,” with two or three experienced upper classmen functioning as the trip leaders. The leaders plan out all the meals, activities, transportation, etc and serve as resident “know-it-alls” for new students to bounce questions and concerns off of. It is an amazing way to get to know a small group of Cornellians in a wonderful new setting before descending in to the madness that is one’s first day at Cornell.
Odyssey (then Wilderness Reflections) was my introduction to Cornell, and it was my first proper introduction to the outdoors. Eight days in the Catskills backpacking and climbing ensured that I was beyond smelly, dirty and bug bitten when I met my roommate for the first time, but I didn’t care. I had had one amazing week, a bunch of new friends, and an entire community that I already felt at home with. I feel that both the former name and the current name for the Pre-Orientation Outdoors Program (POOP!?—maybe there’s a reason the administration never got on board with that acronym) adequately capture what this trip does for people: it marks the beginning of a new point in one’s life journey, and provides an opportunity to reflect on what all these approaching changes will mean, while hanging out in a calm environment.
Well, maybe I wouldn’t call Camp O Rama calm, by any stretch of the imagination. In fact, it is decidedly out of control, but you get the point. While I was unfortunately unable to actually guide a trip this year due to my life’s ambition to have a career and get old and fat sitting behind a desk, there was no way I was going to forego the annual zaniness the night before Orientation.
Normally, Camp O Rama is a great opportunity to scout new people who may one day work for Cornell Outdoor Education, or hold an officer’s position in the Outing Club, but for today, I was just happy to meet everyone. Being a witness to the great sense of community that this program has spawned was awe-inspiring to say the least. Yes, I felt old, talking with people who still reference high school as if it were yesterday, but that somehow didn’t matter so much. Everyone there was happy, vibrant and poised to begin his or her new life at college. The mood of elation was infectious.
As the skits began to wind down for the evening, they lapsed in to failed attempts to capture funny moments from the various trips, which never are as funny as they must have seemed at their conception (I never did get Joel’s truck reference). I decided to call it an evening, and bade goodnight to my friends who were spending one more night out under the stars. As I walked toward my car and prepared to return to civilization, I shook my head in amazement and gave thanks for the awesome group of people that have had such a large impact on my life over the past three years. As I turned the key in the ignition and pulled on to the long road home, I couldn’t help but sing to myself the concluding lines of Kerran and Oliver’s “I Love Odyssey”:
“Do I really have to graduate?

Or can I just stay here for the rest of my life?”