October 11, 2000
On the Campus
over blisters and bruises
Action teaches survival skills and more
By Emily Johnson '01
It's all about the hard-core
points. Courtney eats a cricket. Points. Maya swallows her toothpaste.
Points. Becca licks her bowl clean instead of using water. Points.
Stephanie hikes five miles with blistered feet and zero complaining.
As a first-time Outdoor
Action leader, I saw my 11 frosh, most of whom had never spent more
than a day in the woods, eat spilled rice grains one-by-one out
of the dirt, store used toilet paper in small plastic bags, deal
with sharp (I mean SHARP) body odors, and cheerfully gorge themselves
on tattered pita bread for six days of hiking on the Laurel Highlands
Trail of western Pennsylvania. What a way to begin the
But as they learned
from my co-leader, Kit, and me how to make a tent out of tarp and
rope, use a camp stove, and to leave no trace of their passage through
the semi-pristine woods, we learned from them. Take Cullen, who
never spent more than a few months in the U.S. because his parents
were in the foreign service. The last four years, he tirelessly
explains, he spent in Cairo. "Yes, it was hot. Yes, the pyramids
were right nearby. Yes, our Middle East history course had Jews,
Muslims, Christians, Palestinians. Yes, the debate over Israel got
native American and with wondrous waist-length black hair to prove
it, spent a lot of her life on the Cheyenne reservation. "No,"
she says. "There was no Native American history taught in school.
I learned it all around the kitchen table." Courtney spent
her summers in Kazakhstan, the rest of her time at the Madeira School
in D.C. She was the savior of backs sore from 50-pound packs. "You
trade a lot of massages in boarding school," she says. "And
you grow up a lot." John's father immigrated from Croatia at
age 20, learned English and the electronics trade, and started his
own, very successful business so that his children could attend
a school like Princeton.
The Outdoor Action program
has been around for 26 years. Every year about 60 percent of freshmen
go hiking, canoeing, or rock climbing for six days with a group
of people they've never met. The trips can involve miles of uphill,
heavy packs, and bruised hips, but absolutely no prior experience
is necessary. One purpose of the trip is to introduce Princeton
students to the outdoors. The other is to introduce them to Princeton,
letting them make friends before classes start, ask questions, and
get ready for the next four years. I've already been at Princeton
for three, and for me this trip was still amazing. The depth and
breadth of knowledge, perception, and sheer awareness of this group
of 18-year-olds bode well for the university. We had two saxophone
players, 10 varsity athletes, and, not to sound cheesy, 11 seekers
of the world.
It wasn't all seriousness,
though. Two of our number, who shall remain nameless in case their
mothers read this, took time out on a pedestrian bridge to moon
the passing truckers. I never laughed so hard as I did around Brian,
who introduced himself with the true story of riding a lawn mower
to his senior prom.
The first day of the
trip I taught knots: bowline, square, trucker's hitch. A day later,
Pete, New York tough-guy exterior, sweetheart smile, came up with
a new bowline method and proceeded to assist the rest of the group
with using the knot on their packs. Rachael and Katie invented an
improved tarp setup scheme. Ross concocted enough pita recipes to
fill an OA cookbook and then ate most of his own work. Brian's campfires
went from a depressing 20-second twig flare-up to all-out scorchers.
At the end of the trip,
Kit and I asked the group who would feel comfortable going camping
on his or her own. Every single person raised a hand. We asked Katie,
who frankly admitted her preference for a bed, toilet, and shower,
and who distributed facial cleansing wipes every morning, if she
would do another trip like this. "Sure," she said. "I
had a great time."
These 11 freshmen, neophytic
woodspeople all, came to OA with a cluelessness and an eagerness
like a contagion. I
and all my hard-core points were blown away.
Senior Emily Johnson
up only soft-core points during her semester in Scotland last year.