High Sierra Backcountry Leadership

Name: Logan Sherman
Pronouns: they/them/their

Type of Project: Leadership

Through the Outdoor Adventure Center, I went on an intense, 25-day backpacking expedition through 130+ miles of the High Sierra mountain range. It was considered a level 5+ trip, meaning it is the highest level of difficulty offered.

My trip was nothing short of life-changing. Although I knew I would challenge myself physically, what I was really looking for in the backcountry was a sense of healing. Without distraction, every problem, insecurity, and hope is amplified in the mountains. I was forced to reflect deeply on my past and my character, and I am better for it. I left with a better sense of who I am and the direction I want to head in.

On top of that, a month without mirrors did wonders for my self-esteem. As a trans person, I found that the backcountry was an excellent place to reconsider gender-expectations and to reflect on my journey and all of the changes that have taken place in my life since coming to OSU. My perspective shifted as I began to work on the disjointed feeling I’ve had about the years before I was Logan and my life since I’ve begun to live as my authentic self.

When I departed the OAC with 13 strangers, I had no idea how close we would become. A special bond forms between people who spend so long isolated from society with one another. We had to place a significant amount of trust in one another as you quite literally depend on your team for your survival. Each person took a turn as “Leader of the Day” and during those 24 hours, all of the team’s decisions were guided by them.

When it was my turn to serve as Leader of the Day, I was responsible for leading the entire team through every angle of expedition travel. That included navigation, elevation gain/loss, mileage, weather, emergency and risk management, water access and food, wildlife management, site location and management, group engagement and dynamics, and team physical wellness/endurance. I had to juggle a great number of variables while taking into account my team’s emotional state and communication. With so many moving pieces, it was easy to forget the details. My day as leader also ended up being the longest day- it spanned over 48 hours and around 15 or 16 miles. While we had initially planned to complete one section of the John Muir Trail, the team realized that we could make up some time by pushing forward. We decided to wake up at 3am (or some ridiculous hour, I don’t exactly remember) and do a sunrise hike. We had an incredible view of the mountains over breakfast and got to the top of the pass by lunch time. It was a long trip down and when we found a spot to camp, a crotchety old man made us relocate. By the time we set up camp after the second day, we were exhausted. Leading for such a long stretch gave me a new understanding of my strengths and the feedback my team gave me the next day will help me make adjustments moving forward. Overall, this trip was physically and emotionally demanding and challenged my limits and my perceptions of myself as a leader.

I learned that the mountains are a mirror. They reflect back what you are feeling. The most beautiful views on the trail seemed to align with times that I pushed myself past what I thought I was capable of. They came at times I felt most powerful and secure in myself.

I learned that people are a powerful resource. When you carry literally everything you need on your back, you don’t just walk past someone and avoid eye contact- they can provide critical information about the weather and the trail ahead. Humans and relationships are vital in the backcountry.

I learned that I can go without. For 30 days, I wore only two outfits and didn’t shower. I disconnected from texts, emails, and social media. It was quieter and simpler and, by-and-large, I was genuinely happy.

Moving Forward:

I was critically aware of the fact that when I did see people out on the trail, they were white. I’ve been thinking about who is afforded the opportunity to backpack and the ways race, class, gender and so on impact one’s ability to escape to nature and look for that challenge and depth. This train of thought and new awareness is something I am sorting through this semester, particularly in my WGSS classes.

I’ve also been thinking about combining my love of deep conversation and relationship-building and the outdoors. I’d like to explore adventure therapy further in my social work education.

Finally, my experience has made me more reflective and has changed my priorities. I realize how much happier I am when I am living simply. I’m more committed than ever to take care of myself and to seek out adventure. I want continue to step out of my comfort zone and find the beautiful, well-hidden places in the world.

 

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Grand Canyon Leadership 2015

My STEP experience was a leadership intensive trip with the OAC (Outdoor Adventure Center) to the Grand Canyon this past May. Our team backpacked through the canyon and got to know each other while working together to accomplish various activities to make the backpacking trip successful and enjoyable. We all took turns in charge of a variety of tasks ranging from group leader, map/compass guide, cooking crews, and so on. This way we received a holistic approach to backpacking through the canyon and maximized our experience.

The most crucial thing that I learned from my trip is that most things are a team effort rather than an individual effort. I think that’s something everyone acknowledges but not something everyone necessarily understands. I’m used to being fairly independent and taking responsibility for my actions and sometimes the actions of others. I subscribe to the philosophy that “if you want something done right, you gotta do it yourself”. There are definitely instances where that view is valid, but I’m reaching a point in my life where I am beginning to engage in larger group efforts and projects that need cooperation and team unity rather than individual work. The backpacking trip was a great lesson about how more complex activities cannot be an individual effort.

There were a few key moments in the canyon that helped me learn why many activities are better executed when done as a team effort. The first night we were in the canyon we made a dinner of jambalaya and rice. I’ve been camping before, but we always made camp before the sun went down. We got into our campsite late because we had to make to this stream for water, which also meant we had to make dinner in darkness. It was pretty difficult and one person could not have done it alone. One personneeded to hold a light while other people could cut and prepare food. The dinner was satisfying and we all felt accomplished that we made dinner in the dark.

The next morning we started our morning with breakfast and broke camp. We were camping a few miles that day to the next water source, and needed to consult the map and compass to get there. I can use a map pretty adeptly but I don’t really know how to use a compass. Our team leader did however and we took turns learning how to use the compass and map to navigate our way through the canyon. This made me realize that one person is almost never going to know all the necessary components to completing a task.

Lastly, a day or two later we were hiking to our final campsite before we left the canyon. It was the hottest day we experienced while in the canyon. Our OAC group leader said the temperature was about 95 degrees Fahrenheit. This time, there was no special task accomplished. It hiking was strenuous, but just the simple fact that I had other people who were there that were going through the same thing helped me realize that this was really a team effort. We ate and made camp together, which were successes, but we also had to suffer a little bit as well together. This built camaraderie in the group. Some people also got annoyed with each other along the way, but at least for me I actually felt more connected to the rest of the group.

Having learned that group efforts are both more enjoyable and productive than individual efforts, I feel more prepared for my professional career as well as set up for success in my personal life. It’s not that I feel like less of an individual, but rather I think that I am better situated for group tasks and efforts. This well definitely help me in my career. I plan to go into business, where group interaction and group projects are critical for success. As for my personal life, group gatherings will be more fun and enjoyable. I’m very grateful I had the opportunity to participate in STEP. I have a greater appreciation for travel and the outdoors, I met many friends through the program, and I learned valuable lessons I will carry with me and utilize.

Taylor Ewashinka