Outing Club Adventures

Nathan Strope ’24

As students dredged through the final weeks of stress leading up to midterms, October Break promised refuge from the stress of academic life. Many students took this break to recharge and enjoy a week where nothing was asked of them, returning to the familiarity of their homes or escaping to the happenings of nearby cities. Placated by the absence of school work, October Break is ostensibly a time to indulge in doing nothing. 

As I prepared for my first class the Monday after break, I quickly forgot that I had been granted any time away at all. My nights of sleeping for 13 hours and enjoying home-cooked meals were swept away as I sipped my Deece coffee and filed into Rocky. As I struggled adjusting to waking up before noon, I was struck to hear two of my classmates cheerfully recounting the week prior. Ariel Schwartzman Miles ’25 and Sam Kelley-Derzon ’23 explained that they spent their past week backpacking through Virginia, albeit on different trips. 

They were part of an anomalous group of students who found their curiosity more compelling than their desire to relax. These students, members of the widely popular Vassar Outing Club (VOC), chose to leave behind both homely comforts and metropolitan activities, and instead, seized the opportunity to venture into the great outdoors. 

Nathan Strope ’24

While I had spent a week doing completely nothing, these two had trekked through miles upon miles of mountains and forests. Yet somehow, they appeared to be more energized and refreshed than me. “Although October break was not necessarily relaxing, it was rejuvenating,” Schwartzman Miles ’25 commented. “Even though physically it was demanding, mentally and mindfully it was what I needed to unwind,” she added. The relationship between physical exertion and mental clarity struck me as odd, but Schwartzman Miles helped me understand the uniquely-relaxing powers of backpacking and the great outdoors. “For me, being in nature is the main way to unwind,” she said. Their time spent in nature seemed to be the key element in what led these tenacious hikers to come back to school so rejuvenated. 

Kelley-Derzon ’23, co-led a backpacking trip through Virginia’s Triple Crown loop from Oct. 16-21 for VOC. Her main goal was to get a group together and go on an adventure without the distractions of the Vassar world. Kelley-Derzon shared similar sentiments to Schwartzman Miles when it came to the outdoors: “I love going on outdoor trips because it allows me to re-energize and recenter myself by going off into nature and just being present.” Kelley-Derzon recalled one morning where her group of nine woke up at 5:30 a.m. and hiked through the dark of dawn to the picturesque lookout point, McAfee’s knob. Here, her group watched the sunrise along with other hikers who were venturing through the Appalachian Trail. She shared, “I felt a sense of unity between a group of strangers who all challenged themselves to see something beautiful.” To me, this story epitomized the rewards of backpacking, as the entire group willingly chose to wake up before sunrise and hike through the darkness to greet the sun from one of the most spectacular views on the Appalachian Trail.

Aside from the unwavering determination and early-morning climbs, the lasting impact of these two trips seemed to lie in the little communities created on the trails. Treasurer of the Outing Club, Nathan Strope ’24, spoke to the serendipitous formation of hiker communities. “The self-selectiveness of choosing to go on a backpacking trip with people you don’t necessarily know gets you out of your comfort zone and allows you to experience something very different from normal Vassar life while being with Vassar people,” he explained. These motley groups form under the premise of one commonality: a curiosity about the outdoors. Schwartzman Miles said that these unexpected friendships greatly contributed to the mindfulness and ease the trip granted.

Ariel Schwartzman Miles ’25

While the friendships, sunrises and nights spent hanging food in bearbags while singing around the fire sounded wonderful, I was still curious to hear how accessible these trips were to the greater Vassar community. I was surprised to learn that these trips are completely free and available to all Vassar students. Kelley-Derzon explained, “These trips are designed to allow people to experience the outdoors and adventure with other students without facing the financial burden of purchasing gear.” 

Strope added that while many may think enjoying the outdoors means strenuous activities and grueling hikes, that is not the goal of Outing Club. In fact, it is just as valid to want to experience the beauty of the world around us. Strope added, “I’m a lot more on the experiential side, going there to have fun and appreciat[ing] what the outdoors has to offer.” 

Not only does Vassar provide gear and encourage inexperienced hikers to join their trips, but leaders of Outing Club make the active push to include members of the Vassar community who do not typically get the opportunity to go backpacking. Schwartzman Miles explained that she designed her trip to prioritize people of these identities, specifically people of color and people who are non-male identifying. She added, ”The inclusive attitude of Outing Club’s members stems from their deep love of the outdoors and eagerness to share this excitement with the whole Vassar community.” Kelley-Derzon pushed that the sense of excitement and rejuvenation is not limited to those who commit to going on overnight trips. “With everything we do in the Outing Club, we try to promote a more intimate relationship with nature and the Vassar community.” 

Next October Break, I’ll consider going backpacking instead. 


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