I went on my first big trip with Outdoor Adventures, and it brought me friends, a job, and a lifetime passion for the outdoors.
Fresh out of high school and newly accepted to Northern Illinois University, I had no idea what was coming next. I would soon be moving in to a dorm room with a girl I had never met, and none of my friends had plans to attend NIU... so I knew no one. One day I happened to come across a post on the Facebook page for the incoming freshmen class advertising something called an "EMBARK Trip" by some group called Outdoor Adventures. Luckily, I was just outgoing enough to sign up – despite never having done anything of the sort.
The trip was a week long and took place in August, and the plan was to hike, camp, rock climb, kayak, and go caving all within the span of those few days. We'd spend our time between the western border of Illinois and the eastern border of Iowa, adventuring along the Mississippi.
I had always been an outdoorsy kid with a love for the natural world, but I had never done much more than hike or occasionally paddle a canoe (not very well, at that). So this seemed like the perfect opportunity to learn a few new skills, meet some new people, and send off my last summer before college with a bit of fun.
The trip was amazing. It was a small group; just a handful of participants and a couple leaders, and we all got very close over the course of the week. I tried so many new things, and learned that even the simplest meals taste gourmet after a long day of activities. My phone became a camera, and because signal was hard to come by and we were so busy, I hardly touched it all week. I didn't realize until we got back how exhausting it is to be constantly bombarded with notifications.
At the end of the trip, we had a barbecue/lake day/debrief at our director Christine's lake house, and as we wrapped up she happened to mention that Outdoor Adventures was hiring new trip leaders. I applied, and spent all that fall training and becoming a certified leader. OA also needed help with their marketing/design, and so I was able to incorporate my degree into my job as well.
It seems unreal that these past four years I have had the privilege of providing students and the community with experiences like the one I had. I've gotten to travel the country, discover tons of ways to have fun outside, learned how to be an advocate and steward of the natural world, and I've seen what it takes to be a good teacher and leader. I've met and worked with so many incredible, driven, hilarious people, and they've honestly changed my life. My college experience would not have been the same without Outdoor Adventures, and I will be forever grateful to this amazing organization.
If you're a student at NIU or even just living in the area, I strongly recommend participating in an Outdoor Adventures trip or event. You never know, it might just change your life!