Trails in the National Parks

My STEP project involved collaborating with five other STEP fellows in studying the national parks system while on a two-month road trip. We visited over thirty national parks sites in the United States and western Canada – during that time, I was studying the types of trail experiences particular to each of the parks we visited. I am currently in the process of analyzing my notes, the goal being to build a complete picture of the trip through our hiking.

I embarked on this trip in the hopes of “finding myself” out in the great American West. I’m studying landscape architecture here at Ohio State, but I wasn’t (and still am not) entirely clear on what I want my role to be within that field. The hope was that two months on the road with some of my best friends from school would give me some room to breathe; away from the pressing concerns of school life, I hoped to gain a clear head, and with it some direction in life. I also am finding myself here, at age 20, on the cusp of adulthood, and this trip felt like it could serve as a rite of passage into the next chapter.

We have been home from our adventure for six weeks now, and I still don’t have all the answers I was looking for, important answers to the timeless questions “Why am I here?” and “What am I going to do about it?” I’m coming around to the fact that sometimes, we have to go through life without knowing all the answers. There is something to be said about going forward into the unknown, doing one’s mightiest to improve on this life for others and ourselves, despite the haunting ambiguity and uncertainty of it all. This trip was certainly a move forward into the unknown – we were going to be gone for eight weeks, living out of a Honda Odyssey and Honda Pilot, tent camping where we could. If anything, I found out during the course of the summer that risk-taking is important, and can be incredibly rewarding. This roadtrip had a whole panoply of risks involved – but we did it anyway, and I’m returning to society with an incredibly rich experience.

What made it so rich? Well, I alluded above to the amount of thinking time this trip allowed me – during the schoolyear, especially my second year, I was always too busy to spend time thinking. As an individual that is constantly asking “why?,” time for thinking is worth gold. It wasn’t just me thinking, either. I was with a group of individuals I could talk to, late at night around the fire, after having hiked all day. Conversations that encouraged others to open up, to be real. I savored those late nights spent talking.

The physical work that is hiking also played a huge role in the experience. Speaking of being real – you can bet people drop their pretenses when they’re hot, they’ve been hiking for fifteen miles, soggy feet pruning up and the mosquitos beginning to feast. Our first harrowing experience occurred on day four: making our way across the Great Plains, we decided to attack Pikes Peak on four hours of sleep and no time to acclimate to the altitude. Needless to say, it was an intense struggle to make it to the top. Only myself and one of my compatriots arrived at the summit – through that adversity, the two of us forged a bond that can’t be explained. We made it to the top together, and that’s something we can share throughout our lives. Later in the trip, all six of us summited the highest point in the lower 48 states, Mt. Whitney in California. That was a great thing, the halfway point of our roadtrip, all six of us pushing each other all the way to the top and down in one go, some twenty-something miles.

As was to be expected from this trip (although I didn’t believe it at the outset), our patience with one another wore thin from time to time. Because we were with each other constantly (eating together, sleeping together, hiking together, driving together), there were several points along the trip, especially near the end, that our group was rifted by arguments. I found myself to be spokesperson for one side on the two main occasions of dispute – the first time, we managed to keep our heads cool and talk everything out. The second time, after we had been driving all day, crossed the international border from Canada back into Montana, had only four hours of sleep, and were on the home stretch of our trip, I found I took the argument personally from the outset. I had already lost it for everyone by that point, and there came a point when several of us were hot with anger around our campsite – at that point, I knew there was no point in continuing the discussion, so I left. And I went away for several hours, walked under the huge blue sky of the Montana wilderness, called my parents, and cried a bit, I was so frustrated with myself for getting angry. Although it took a full twenty-four hours for all of us to make amends, make amends we did, and the friend that I had been most furious with, well, we spent the following night finally realizing our wrongs, offering apologies, accepting apologies, and I can say our friendship is more robust today because of it.

Why does this experience matter? For one, I discovered a component of my humanity that I typically keep tucked away. I don’t get angry often, and I got to see how such an intense situation can affect me. In the future, I will know how to better handle anger, channeling it into something positive. I got to do something no one in my family has ever done before, and I see how dedication to a goal, with intelligent leveraging of available resources, can make it happen. I didn’t get all my life-questions answered, but I have a hunch that I will spend my entire life answering those questions. To return to research – by documenting many miles of trail experience, I now have a better appreciation and understanding of trails as a designer. I see how trail hiking is not only good exercise, but can be a revelatory experience. I’m still curating all my notebooks filled with sketches, documentation of the power that trail design can have on the traveler. I would know.


I went all over the country this summer. 12,000 miles, and it feels like just the beginning. I know this trip marks the start of many adventures to come


Multicultural Histories and Legacies of London and Paris REFLECTION

Hello! My name is Katerina Sharp and this summer I had the opportunity to travel to London and Paris through theIMG_6858 STEP program. I participated in the Multicultural Histories and Legacies of London and Paris program, where my group spent three weeks in the United Kingdom and France learning about the different cultures of the two places. Our visit focused on diversity, current political and location issues, history, government, and religion. We spent time touring many different locations that we learned about in class before leaving, and also additional places that are important to the two countries.

I learned so much about diversity, religion and history on my trip. I have come to realize that the world is a very diverse and complex place, so much more so than I ever realized before. I was able to really expand my horizons on a lot of topics, but especially ones related to diversity, integration, the immigration issue, different governments and the relationships they have with their people and with other countries, and how religions play into all of this. There is so much history that has unfolded in the past, making some of the current issues very complex. I learned there is no single right or wrong opinion when it comes to these issues. There is also not a single way to solve these concerns. All countries have been effected differently and have their own cultural ideals to follow. What works for one country may not work for another. What I do know for sure is that we are all connected to each other in some way, whether we areIMG_6950 from the same country or from two different continents. What each of us does has an impact on someone else, and it is important to be aware of this.

A lot of what I did and learned had a definite impact on my views about different issues. One of the days when we were in London, we visited the League of British Muslims. I learned a lot about religious norms, traditions and history. We talked about the difference between culture and religion, which is an extremely important distinction that I had not realized before. Diverse cultures that are properly integrated into an area strengthen the community. This is a really important topic right now across the world. I was able to see how diverse London is, but the different people are all so integrated into the culture that it isn’t an issue. This is something I believe the United States needs to work on. We also talked about how propaganda has had an impact on how people view these topics, such as with different religions and the actions of the people following the religion. Many people tend to group everything they know about a large topic together and apply it to everyone across a wide range of differences. I have noticed that London is so much more culturally diverse than the U.S. Part of this is due to location, but still they are a lot different. I have seen way more women in government positions in Europe.

I also learned a lot about the places we visited, and how they have been affected by current world issues. I never IMG_7377would have thought that Paris would have been so different from London. The first thing I noticed when we were in Paris the first night was this energy that seemed to be everywhere. It definitely made me feel more alert to everything around me. Learning about the differences in the governments between Paris and London were huge. Also, unlike London, Paris has been more directly influenced and exposed to the immigrants fleeing the Middle East. I was able to learn a lot more about the issues concerning this topic in Europe than I would ever have been able to learn here at home. It’s a messy and confusing topic to try to understand. The people fleeing some of these dangerous areas are trying to find somewhere safe where they can live, and it doesn’t seem like too much to ask other countries to let these people in, as their very lives depend on it. But at the same time, this huge influx in migrants across the world is causing a lot of problems for other countries. I guess you have to ask yourself if you have a duty as a global citizen to help those that need your help, or if you should look after your own country and your own issues first before adding someone else’s disputes into the mix. As I said previously IMG_7245this is a really complex topic, and one I have thought a lot about since my time spent learning abroad. I was definitely able to expand my horizons on this trip, which have already begun to impact my views and way of thinking.

Most of our service learning hours were completed during the semester before our trip while taking the class, but we also did a bit of volunteering in London, too. We spent one day volunteering at the London Action for the Homeless. The conversations I had with the people there were really thought provoking. Several of the men had been to the United States in the past. Most knew a lot about our current political issues, definitely more than I know about other countries’ politics. This is something I want to work on improving about myself. I never know much about the current issues taking place around the world. In order to have well founded opinions and make decisions that affect others, I need to do a much better job researching these topics and issues. These conversations gave me just a glimpse of what these peoples’ lives used to be like. Not only does this show how much something can change in the blink of an eye, but it also demonstrated how different people value different things in life. I was a bit nervous for this experience beforehand, but I really enjoyed talking with all the people that I did.

Another place we visited was Normandy. I loved learning about the beaches where the invasion of D-Day first took IMG_8031place. Seeing the destruction on Point du Hoc was also really eye opening to the horrors of war. No matter how much I hear or read about such a topic, I know I will never be able to fully understand it. There are some things that must be experienced to fully understand. I thought it was really cool how they try to keep Point du Hoc in the same state of destruction it was left in after the battle in order to ensure that we never forget the horrors that happened there. Unfortunately, we have a habit of IMG_8079forgetting things we do not want to remember. The beaches were completely reclaimed, but there were other areas that were not. This just proves that even though some things can be healed over, other things can never be fixed. I was touched to see so many of the houses and road sides in Normandy with American flags displayed right beside French flags. The American cemetery was truly beautiful to see, as well. I believe Normandy was really important to learn about for a lot of reasons. I think one of the most important things to know about D-Day is that a lot of countries were able to come together and make huge sacrifices to accomplish a common goal.

The Multicultural Histories and Legacies of London and Paris study abroad program really expanded my global perspective. I am very interested in history and was so grateful for the opportunity to immerse myself in the changing cultures of these two captivating cities. I am a communications major and I know my major benefited extraordinarily from experiencing firsthand some of the issues in Europe, such as diversity, religion, gentrification, and the influx in migration. There is so much more to these issue than I ever understood before my trip. There was IMG_7592also a multitude of history to be experienced in both London and Paris. Both of these cities have their own special cultures that are different from each other and are different from the United States.

We live in an incredible world and to truly inform others about it, I must experience world events and cultures with my own eyes. The experiences that I gained from this event are not ones I could have learned in a classroom. There was so much history and culture to learn about in just these two cities alone, and I know that I only brushed the surface. This experience definitely opened my eyes to a whole new world and exposed me to an entire new sense of life.