How exactly do you blog from NOLS?

The Gap 2015 cohort is out in the back country, sleeping under the stars each night and cooking over a campfire each day. They’re enjoying the fresh mountain air, far away from modern conveniences such as cell phones and computers. Which begs the question how exactly do you blog from NOLS?

Each of the Gappers writes their blog post, the old fashioned way using pen and paper. There are also two Go Pro cameras for the team to take a few photos and videos along the way. A few times throughout the Expedition, a NOLS staffer with the food supply for the next leg of the journey meets up with the group at a designated place and time out in the wilderness. This is usually done on horseback. During this exchange the group receives food and supplies for the next portion of the Expedition. This is called a re-ration. The Gappers then give their handwritten blog entries and memory cards from the Go Pros to the staffer who brought their re-ration. The re-rationer then delivers the handwritten blogs and memory cards to our friends at NOLS Rocky Mountain who then decipher the handwriting, type the blogs, upload the photos, and email everything to the Coordinator of Gap Programs at Elon. The Coordinator of Gap Programs then uploads the blog posts and pictures to the Gap Experience blog.

Voila! Friends and families can get a sneak peak into what life is like on the NOLS Expedition! Be on the lookout for the second round of blogs from the wilderness in early September.

Words from the Wilderness Part II

8-17-15. Day Four.

Today began with a gentle shove from a tent mate and the fast realization of where I was. As a group we quickly dressed in all our layers, packed up our sleeping bags and pads, shoved our feet into frost-covered boots and made the 100+ pace hike to the “kitchen.”  Breakfast consisted of a lazy bagel smothered in either butter or peanut butter, a handful of raisins and the always exciting gulp of water.  After a quick stretch circle, morning meeting and pack packing session, we were studying maps and planning routes in our daily hiking groups.  Today we were with Brandon, a young hiking enthusiast who lives out of his car and splits his time between NOLS work and teaching students about backcountry first aid.  In other words he is all about the hiking!  Together with Brandon our group plotted our 3-mile hike course to our next camp site.  Our terrain consisted of steep embankments, on top of which sat huge boulder formations with spectacular views, huge stretches of willows a normal person would use waders to cross, and large rolling grassy meadows.  Overall an amazing variety of all the wonderful environments Wyoming has to offer. We left camp around 10 and spent the next 4 ½ hours making fun and interesting conversation, snacking on wildflowers like the harebell and munching on grouse berries.  The amount of information Brandon has to share is crazy. He is literally a vault of plant names, map skills, and fascinating nature nuggets (tidbits of info).  He spent the morning and part of the afternoon pointing out plants, walking us through scenarios and picking apart mule deer poop.  Just a normal day in the woods.  At one point we were sitting on top of a knoll on a gargantuan boulder overlooking the drainage of Horseshoe lake and a giant mountain ridge along the Continental Divide covered in glacier ice, boulders in avalanche position and bluffs with struggling trees.  I’d never seen anything like it.  We stopped, had a snack and did some necessary foot care before continuing on to camp.  All in all a wonderful day spent doing rewarding and challenging work with awesome people. -Krisandra Provencher

Journal Day 5  8/18/15

Wow!  It’s day five here in Wind River and I can’t believe that only a week ago I was at home in my own bed.  It has been a full five days, but absolutely incredible.  I’ve been camping before – pretty intensely too- but this is a whole new world in NOLS.  Not only have I already learned a ton about camping, cooking and the environment, but I have also been challenged beyond anything before in my emotional and physical limits.  So far we’ve hiked through rivers, over mountains, across boulder fields, under fallen tree trunks and through six foot high Willow fields – making our own trails most of the way.  We’ve cooked pancakes and pizzas, seen a moose and her calf on multiple occasions, reached 10,000 feet in elevation, and crossed the continental divide.  It has been crazy.  Lots of fun with a few low spots, but I can’t wait to see what the next 20 days hold.  I have moments when I miss my family and home, but I’m coming to learn that the 17 other people here are my new family.  One that supports one another well and is also pretty hysterical. This group is pretty awesome to say the least. -Eliza Upton

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8/15/15

My alarm rang around 6:45 am and you would think since it was day 3 of college that I’d be waking up for my 8am or to write a paper that was due later in the day. But as I slowly rolled over to hit the snooze button like I normally would I realized I had no idea where I was.  I slowly opened my eyes expecting to peer over and see my roommate making coffee but instead I opened my eyes to pure darkness.  In a bit of a mild panic I quickly put my hands out (maybe the power in my dorm had gone out overnight.) but all I felt on either side was sleeping bag.  A sleeping bag. For college? It didn’t hit me in that moment as I slowly rose to the top of my (bag?) that for the first 23 days of college I would be spending my time hiking in the Wind River Range. No dorm room just a tent and a sleeping bag.  Maybe I should be slightly worried since I had 23 days to go and I couldn’t even find my way to the top of my sleeping bag but I was up to the challenge.  I rose and made my way to the kitchen to have my first cooking lesson with Brandon, one of our NOLS instructors.  Learning to make hashbrowns, not such a bad early morning class.  As the hashbrowns sizzled on the fry bake I listened to the chirping of the birds and watched as a chipmunk scattered over a nearby rock.  Although my pants were slightly wet with dew I didn’t mind.  The Wind River Range is my home for my next few weeks and in the end I’d rather be sleepy at the base of mountains than writing papers. -Lyn Nelson

Aug. 18 – Day 5. It’s crazy to think that tomorrow is already our first reration. So much has happened already, it’s impossible to put in to words.  Today was an early morning and another day waking up with cold feet (have found a good solution for this however :D) We made biscuits for breakfast, which were delicious!  This morning was a little hectic getting everyone going but the hike turned out to be very satisfying.  It was probably by far the longest and toughest hike we’d done this far but I was in a very good place mentally which was awesome.  This was also the first day we were given the opportunity to use the map and guide our own way to camp.  At the end of it all, I felt very satisfied.  I look forward to a day of laundry, self-care and eating (12 days is a lot of food = a lot of weight!)  All for now. -Elizabeth McDonald

8/19/15 Sitting here on a ledge looking over the beautiful foliage around Simpson lake I finally find time to take a seat and blog.  I’ve never really blogged before so bear with me.  We just finished rationing our food and supplies.  I was in charge of sorting the maps and that went well.  What I really want to talk about this morning is the importance of smelling oils/spices before using them in cooking.  5 days ago our, our first night, I was the head chef and prepared cheese quesadillas for our group.  I had the tortillas and cheese all ready and after turning the stove on reached into the oil bag to release the oil.  You should know that the bags are filled with containers of liquids of various sizes.  I reached for what I thought was the cooking oil and poured a good bit into the fry pan.  After throwing on a tortilla and cooking the cheese to perfection, we were ready to eat.  At that point I should have thought something was up because of all the bubbles in the pan.  The first person to take a bite gagged and spit it out.  I was scared, was my cooking that bad?  I then took a bite and once it touched my mouth I honestly spit it out.  Turns out we used soap instead of oil.  Well so far that’s the best lesson that I’ve learned here is sniff before you use. -Jack Kapes

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8/19/15

Day 1 of our journey I ended up kneeling in a pretty big pile of dung.  Yet even though that happened I found myself having a great time.  Everyone was in high spirits and the sites we were hiking through were beautiful!  The best part of the day was seeing the sky filled with stars, more than you’d be able to find in any city.  Even if you don’t know anything about constellations you could see the variety of shapes seamlessly forming before you.  So far I’ve only seen a single shooting star, but we’re only on Day 6 so I’m certain I’ll see at least two before we leave.  This adventure is quite difficult but equally rewarding.  It’s time to go for now, so I guess I’ll end this with a “wish us luck!” and a “signing off!” -Anthony Fraden

8/19/15 8:35am

The reminder for ten more minutes rings out. The pace of breakfast kitchen clean up quickens as we rush to meet the deadline of 8:45 to be ready for morning lessons and our plan for the day.  It feels like I’ve done this a hundred times.  It’s only been 6 days.

I’m not sure if I am jumping the gun but living like this feels all too comfortable.  We are here as individuals but not the individuals we were when we began.  Generosity and interest in the common good rule the atmosphere on the trail and in camp.  There is no indifference or contempt.  No jealousy or gossip that plagues young adults our age.  We care about food, we care about water, and we care about each other.  Without each other we lose this phenomenal opportunity to gain knowledge we didn’t even know was out there.

I know it’s been 6 days but I’ve made friends for life.  I’m not 18, I’m a child in a glorious new world that fills me with a fresh sense of wonderment at every turn, and I have 14 new friends to explore it with. -Gabe Thornton

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8/18/15

The peaceful morning is interrupted by the chills of the night prior.  As I squatted for what was my first poop, the meadow danced under the blue sky.  Mother nature, so far, has seemed to be a big tease, changing on us at every turn.

It was one of the more eventful days of the trip so far.  This lake we hiked to might just be the best at hide and go seek.  We travelled in a hook formation.  Even though we passed it 2 hours prior to reaching the camp site.  Maybe one of the best bonding moments I have ever had.  Great start, hoping for an amazing finish.

The days have gone by so quickly that every day seems to be blurred together.  The mixture of blue skies and dark clouds flood the sky.  We travel through, over, around mountains.  The rock faces might be some of the coolest thing ever, I am just dying to climb them.  The positive vibes of the group have help shield me missing everything I left back home – my mom, dad, and girlfriend.  I love them and miss them all.  I am no longer counting down the days, but rather living in the moment.  These people are my family and this is a once in a lifetime opportunity.  Nothing can beat right now.

Shout out to my girlfriend, Mary Grace, happy 1 year!

-Nathan Hannicutt

8/19/15

At the risk of being cliche, HI MOMS!

Everything’s been pretty crazy here.  I’ve never been more aggravated to get up in the morning; crazy early and shivering in my tent.  This is, however, balanced out by the next 30-40 seconds when I actually step out of the tent and am taken aback by some of the most majestic views I’ve ever woken up to.  An interesting dichotomy for sure, and ultimately one that I think is definitely worth the next 19 days of my life.  Before we actually left the Noble Hotel to embark on this insane journey, we talked about what we expected to gain in return for each day that we spent here, days that we could never get back.  What we didn’t discuss, and couldn’t have possibly understood, was what other forms of metaphorical currency we would have to cash in to reap the benefits of this wild, whacky, and wonderful adventure, like the soreness in our muscles from lugging around these 50lb packs through some of the most untamed wilderness I have ever had the pleasure of traversing, or the absence of a magical box that at one point in time enabled us to eat whatever, whenever, or the luxury of knowing what our “home” will actually look like each day, once we finally manage to get there.  But I think through the inherent act of cashing these things in, we gain things we never could otherwise, like the physical perseverance we didn’t know we had, or the not-so instant gratification of holistically preparing and then eating a meal after a long day’s hike, from setting up the stove to munching down on that first bite, or the child-like wonder of what beautiful landscape we’ll have the honor of calling home next, never being completely sure of what might happen.  I find myself thriving on the excitement inherent in this level of uncertainty; something I find myself all the more able to enjoy given the assuredness of our group leaders and their steadfast commitment to making sure we’re safe and secure.  Yet decidedly and invigoratingly out of our comfort zones; the only way I feel I can truly grow at this stage of my life.  I send my sincerest sentiments of gratitude to all who helped me get here, for I know none of us could have gotten to this amazing place on our own.

-Henry Bost

Words from the Wilderness

Adjustment. Adjustment is the biggest lesson that I have learned so far on my NOLS course. First, I had to adjust to my fellow Gap Semester peers (which was quite easy to do since each person brings a variety of amazing strengths and traits). Then I had to physically acclimatize to the 10,000 feet of elevation – quite different from my flat North Dakota home. The terrain on our hikes is vigorous – complete with peaks, glaciers, and lakes – but the views and sense of accomplishment after a long days hiking is worth the struggles. Daily matters, like sleeping arrangements and cooking, also took several days to get the hang of. Setting up our tents each night, learning how to tie the truckers hitch, and figuring out my little issues, but being cocooned in my warm sleeping bag and talking with my tent-mates at night is very cozy and recovering. These first few days have been full of adjustments but I believe that learning occurs outside of personal comfort zones and that’s exactly where this NOLS course takes me. -Laurie Heggedal

The NOLS course has been awesome. I am learning lots of little pro-tips for the outdoors and getting good at reading and orienting a map. Our group is amazing and led by amazing instructors. Things I glad I brought: puffy coat, washcloth, extra bandana, pocket knife. We have many days left but we are gonna grow and become experts of the wilderness, learning leadership and environmental science. -Andrew Novinski

This has for sure been a new experience for me so far. I have never even camped before. It has for sure been exciting. I have set up my first tent, trail blazed, and have navigated my way through the wilderness. I look forward to seeing what is next for me to learn and to grow as a person. I know this is going to e tough but I know with my group’s help I will get through it! With a smile of course! See you soon mom and dad. I am exited to tell my friends and my family all about my adventures out here. It is truly an experience of a life time. -Jill Salvucci

Day 4: Hiking day. Today I was in a hiking group with Henry, Jill, Gabe and leader Christina. The group dynamic was really great. We kept the conversation going, which really helped keep my mind focused and appreciate where I was. Also, I got the change to lead my hiking group to our desired camp site. Being your own GPS is difficult at times but I am starting to feel a lot more oriented with the maps. We had a six hour hike but a good group dynamic made the time really pass by. This was my first hard hiking day. -Marta Djalleta

Check out the article about the Gap Experience on E-Net, Elon’s electronic campus newsletter!

Gap Experience Welcomes Members of Class of 2019

Fifteen incoming Elon University students began their collegiate studies on a semester program that takes them across the nation to grow leadership skills and serve communities with various needs 

The Elon Gap Experience welcomed the first 15 members of Elon’s Class of 2019 on Aug. 12 when students met in the Denver airport to begin their journey to Lander, Wyoming, home of the National Outdoor Leadership School and the kick off for their 26-day Leadership Expedition in the Wyoming back country.

Unknown ObjectCarol Smith, a faculty member in the Department of Health and Human Performance, and Elizabeth Coder, assistant director of New Student & Transition Programs and coordinator of Gap Programs, facilitated an abbreviated orientation program, similar to what incoming first-year students will encounter when they arrive on campus later this week.

Students learned about the Elon Honor Code, academic expectations, campus resources and engaged learning.

Students also met their NOLS instructors, who will guide them throughout the Expedition. NOLS instructors will train the Gap students in leadership, environmental science and outdoor living skills. Students learned about the equipment they will need out in the back country, prepared their food rations, and packed their backpacks in preparation for their departure on Aug. 14.

Unknown ObjectGap students also participated in their very own New Student Convocation under the oaks at City Park in Lander, Wyoming, complete with letters of welcome from Elon President Leo M. Lambert and Vice President for Student Life and Dean of Students Smith Jackson.

Throughout their 26-day Leadership Expedition, Gap students will hike about 75 miles through the Wind River Mountain Range in western Wyoming. After completing their NOLS course in early September, the cohort will embark on the second phase of their Gap Experience with four weeks of service-learning in South Dakota, Missouri, West Virginia, and Washington, D.C.

The members of the 2015 Gap cohort are: Henry Bost, Marta Djalleta, Anthony Fraden, Annie Gordon, Laurie Heggedal, Nathan Hunnicutt, Jack Kapes, Elizabeth McDonald, Lyn Nelson, Andrew Novinski, Krisandra Provencher, Jill Salvucci, Gabe Thornton, Eliza Upton and Marin Williams.

Published on Elon E-net on August 16, 2015.

New Student Orientation

Our Gap 2015 students had a rather unorthodox new student orientation during their first full day on site at NOLS Rocky Mountain in Lander, Wyoming. The cohort had an orientation to Elon’s honor code, academic expectations, and engaged learning, similar to what their peers on campus will experience.

The team learned all about academic expectations and the Elon Honor Code with Dr. Carol Smith, a faculty member who has traveled with the Gap cohort for the past 3 years.

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Dr. Smith also did an Engaged Learning activity with the Gap cohort where they had to communicate with one another on how to lay their hand over a ‘live’ mouse without setting it off. It was a lesson in communication and teamwork!  Everyone’s fingers made it through unscathed!

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Students also heard from their NOLS instructors about the route for the expedition, packed their food rations, and learned the in’s and out’s of the equipment they’d need out in the back country.

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The day ended with a team dinner and New Student Convocation under the oaks at City Park in Lander, Wyoming where the Gappers received their acorns, a tradition for all incoming first-year students at Elon!

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Welcome to NOLS!

The 2015 Gap cohort had quite an eventful first day as Elon University students! After a quick flight from Denver and a scenic drive through eastern Wyoming, the group arrived in Lander, home of the National Outdoor Leadership School Rocky Mountain Headquarters. The Gappers met their NOLS instructors who will be with them for the next 26 days out in the back country.

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Last blogs from Costa Rica & the 2014 Elon Gap Semester

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Costa Rica is a true testament to the saying “time flies when you’re having fun”. As each day goes by I realize that I need to be appreciating the little things more so than I have been. For example, I have really enjoyed eating dinner with my host family, but these past few days I’ve made it a priority to have dinner with them. If some people from the group offer an invitation to me to go out I say no because I want to spend as much time with my host family as possible. Along with this, around 6 o’clock every night my host mom asks if I want to eat now or later with Marypaz (my host sister). I think for two seconds and always answer with “yo puedo esperar hasta que llegue Marypaz en casa” which means “I can wait until Marypaz comes home.” Whether it’s in the United States or in Costa Rica, I’ve always enjoyed company while eating, and I especially enjoy the company of my host family. I find that we have great conversations every night and we always end up laughing. Even if we sit at the dinner table in silence, which rarely happens, I know that they appreciate me just being with them. In these next few days instead of thinking about leaving, I am going to cherish the last few dinners I have with them.

Continue reading “Last blogs from Costa Rica & the 2014 Elon Gap Semester”

Costa Rican fun!

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Just when you think you have done the best thing yet on the Gap Semester, another amazing opportunity presents itself—and our past weekend in Cahuita is great testament to this. What I found to be most interesting was how Cahuita, which is located on the Caribbean side of Costa Rica, compared to where we live in the Central Valley and how each place identifies itself. One thing that I picked up on was the difference in cooking styles. Since my arrival in Costa Rica, I have adapted to the daily consumption of “gallo pinto” which is a simple rice and beans dish with spices such as coriander, garlic, cumin, salt, onions, and a sauce called Salsa Lizano. When in Cahuita, the meal options did not appear to be much different, however when I ordered a typical lunch option at a restaurant of rice and beans con pollo (chicken), not only was I surprised by the name of the plate in English (and it is referred to that way) I was also surprised by the taste! Unlike where I live in San Jose, Cahuita creates a similar rice and beans mixture however uses coconut milk, cinnamon and allspice. Like both places, the rice and beans from the Central Valley and Cahuita were both rich in flavor and had their own twist. Experiencing traditional Caribbean food helped me to realize the different identities and cultures that exist in Costa Rica. After spending several weeks in the Central Valley, it is easy to think that in general, Costa Rica can appear to be a fairly homogenous place due to the food options, the people and the places; yet thanks to our weekend excursions, we are able to have a clearer understanding of how colorful and diverse Costa Rica truly is.

Continue reading “Costa Rican fun!”

Blogs from week 2 in Costa Rica

IMG_3323Our hotel in Monteverde gave us our best view of Costa Rica’s diverse natural beauty so far. The mountain’s slope dropped rapidly beneath the last building allowing us to look down the entirety of the valley. The first time I looked out on this view I was amazed by the blue color of the clouds hovering amongst the lower peaks. I thought it was interesting how the last light was rolling across the clouds much like it dances on water. At this point I realized that what I was staring at were not clouds but Puntarenas, an inlet of the Pacific Ocean. The following day as we hiked through Monteverde’s cloud forest reserve and zip lined through the jungle I could not help but to be amazed by the diversity of the area. Being surrounded by jungle yet still able to see the ocean was something that I had never had the chance to experience before. The beauty surrounding us in every direction was breathtaking and unlike any other place. Yet, the diversity of Monteverde is similar to the diversity of Costa Rica as whole. No matter where I have found myself in this country, I have been blown away by the range of difference that I have seen. This has been true in not just the nation’s natural beauty. In San Jose, for example, life follows its own rules. A quality sushi bar can be found right next to a Soda, a restaurant serving traditional dishes. Clothing style ranges from business to beach wear, even in the concrete jungle. Having been surrounded by this physical and social diversity for the past two weeks I can confidently say that Costa Rica’s diversity is what makes it unique and beautiful. We, the Gap Pack, often talk amongst ourselves about how quickly our time here is disappearing. I know that I will spend every minute of our next three and a half weeks taking in this culture that I know I will never find in another place.

Continue reading “Blogs from week 2 in Costa Rica”