For some freshmen, college journey began as a hike
The freshmen arrived at the university’s campus in Central Aug. 11. After getting their equipment ready, they traveled to a trail access point at Bad Creek, located in a mountainous area of Oconee County.
The students, along with Roger McKenzie, religion professor; Daryl Couch, associate vice president for institutional effectiveness and Carol Sinnamon, director of counseling and health services; hiked 33-miles on the trail, spending four days and three nights backpacking in one of the Carolinas’ most remote regions. The trail traverses high swinging bridges over rushing streams, climbs steep rock outcrops and offers wild, natural beauty and spectacular views.
The group is the first to participate in the Southern Wesleyan Outdoor Orientation Program (SWOOP), which provides incoming freshmen an exciting and memorable experience as they transition from high school into college. For all but one of the students in the group, this was the first true backpacking experience – none had been in the great outdoors for so long.
Hikers endured hurting, blistered feet, aches, pains and cellphone dead spots, but gained a camaraderie unique to such an experience and learned valuable lessons about trust and teamwork – and how to appreciate the beauty of God’s creation.
“We were forced to trust each other – there was no room to be a burden – that couldn’t happen or it wouldn’t go as smoothly as it did,” said Dillon Groves, an English education major from Laurens. “You’re in a position where you’re vulnerable but in the end it pays off and you’re very close and being able to gel together. You find confidence because these are people you don’t know,” Groves said. He added that he learned to appreciate God’s creation and water, a necessity that had to be replenished along the trail and filtered before it could be consumed.
Sometimes I let myself give up too easily,” said Kylie Rovenstine, a youth ministry major from Lawrence, Kan. “When you’re out there, you can’t give up because you don’t have any other option. So I learned I have the ability to push myself.”
McKenzie recalled a particularly challenging climb up a steep outcrop.
“One of the cool things that happened was at these steps, we started applauding and encouraging, cheering people on,” McKenzie said.
Hikes varied each day – as many as 12 miles or as few as five miles – depending on the terrain and geography. On two of the days, they took a break, either at Lake Jocassee or at Laurel Fork Falls to cool off with a dip in the water. Each day’s hiking ended with time around the campfire where students would share with others in the group.
“We would always share burdens on our hearts and that gave us immediate community. Just as a person everyone goes through those kind of struggles – it was nice to be able to relate to other people. We know we’re never alone, but to sit around the campfire – it’s a whole different element,” said Erin Bolt, a criminal justice major from Boiling Springs.
Since coming off the trail, SWOOP participants continue to hang out together. Although they continue to make friends, they share a bond from the wilderness experience.
“I made a lot of good friends,” said Sarah Bryan, a forensic science student from Delaware. “The main reason I went on this trip was to get over my fear of heights.” Bryan overcame that fear crossing the trail’s swinging bridges and making her way across narrow passages or steep climbs.
The hike started in the Bad Creek area near Lake Jocassee and ended where the trail intersects U.S. Highway 178 at Rocky Bottom.
“I was amazed at how quickly (the students) bonded and how quickly they started sharing really personal things about their lives, their transition to college, about concerns, about things back home they were having to trust to God,” McKenzie said. “The level of caring and sharing was really impressive. It’s one thing to share a dorm room – it’s another thing to share a tent that would fit on the top of a table.”
McKenzie looks forward to seeing some of the students become leaders of next year’s SWOOP experience.