Are You There Vox? It's Me, Marius

A Trip Leader’s look into the success of First-Year Trips despite several wilderness-related mishaps.

by Marius DeMartino | 9/14/22 2:20am

doc-robo-nainabhalla
by Naina Bhalla / The Dartmouth Senior Staff

I am not an outdoorsy person by any means. I’ve gone camping perhaps twice in my life and I can barely set up a tent. Techniques like hanging bear bags and cooking with camping stoves are foreign to me. Most of my gear for First-Year Trips and other hikes had to be purchased from my local REI just before freshman year. Despite all this, somehow I thought it would be a great idea to set out with a group of eight ’26s into the hills of Vermont, leading trip C4: Moderate Hiking. 

As you can imagine, I am not the most qualified to lead a three-day camping trip (I was definitely the personality hire). Still, we set out in good spirits, walking right across the Connecticut River and into Norwich for the steepest part of the hike: the road leading up to the trail.

We arrived at our first shelter with hours to spare, full of excitement for our first night camping. Unfortunately, our enthusiasm would soon come to an end with the emergence of our first problem: Our dedicated water source, and the backup stream, were both completely bone-dry. It was only after several phone calls with Vox Croo, struggling to converse with spotty reception, that we accomplished a backup water rescue.

With our water replenished, we prepared to cook curry for dinner, only to discover we had forgotten practically every seasoning except salt and pepper. It wasn’t exactly curry without curry powder; we ended up eating what basically amounted to chickpeas and grilled bell peppers. 

That first evening — waiting hours for water just to cook a subpar dinner —  wasn’t exactly stellar. I expected my Trippees would be upset about the long wait for water, but I returned to the campsite to find them all playing Uno. Instead of complaining that we had forgotten the seasonings, they jokingly scraped together a meal of their own creation and our measly dinner of stir-fried vegetables was dubbed “Happy Hill Hibachi.”

Night fell and we stumbled around trying to clean dishes in the dark. We then arrived at the issue of hanging bear bags. Frankly, my co-leader and I had no idea what we were doing. Once again, though, our Trippees were glad to help out. We relied a little too heavily on a former Eagle Scout among our ranks to hoist our bags into the trees and keep our belongings safe. 

As we finally went to bed, I faced a conundrum of my own making: I had thought it wise to bring a hammock instead of a sleeping bag, so I could carry less weight throughout the day. What I didn’t consider was the New Hampshire weather. Exposed to the elements at night, I barely got a wink of sleep in the freezing cold. 

Despite that, our second day went pretty well, even though it started with me leading the group down a wrong turn — until we ran into another hiker who pointed us in the right direction. After a couple more miles, we walked over the White River, where we stopped for lunch and swimming. 

Immediately after our swim was one of the toughest legs of our hike. It was a constant uphill battle and we were struggling, even though we still had several miles to go. Finally, we collapsed on the hillside to take a well-deserved break. We were all exhausted, but even then, my Trippees began to joke around. We didn’t resume our hike until we all had trail names based on inside jokes from the trip.

This was what’s so incredible about my Trippees. While we dragged ourselves over hill after hill, trying to make it to the night’s shelter, my Trippees were buzzing around giving each other nicknames, playing games and capturing moments on disposable cameras. By the third night, when we finally arrived at the Skiway Lodge, the dance party was borderline euphoric. It was so gratifying to see that my co-leader and I had helped form a group that seemed to mesh so well. 

Leading a First-Year Trip this year was an amazing experience. I’m still close with my Trippees from my freshman year last year, but at the time, we were limited by pandemic protocol and didn’t have a chance to truly bond. My ragtag group of freshmen this year was brought together all the more by our extended time together, and the myriad issues that we faced and solved together. It’s a lot easier to bond when you’re all trying to survive the Appalachian Trail. 

This is a love letter to my C4 Trippees. The experience would’ve been completely different without their infectious optimism and much-needed outdoor skills. The bonds we formed despite and because of all the issues we faced is a true testament to the power of Trips. It’s weird to be back on campus with all my creature comforts once again. I think most Trip Leaders can agree that those three days spent with a bunch of strangers in the woods are an unforgettable part of our lives. 

Without a doubt, I’ll be a Trip Leader again next year. But maybe next time, instead of packing my hiking boots and hammock, I’ll consider picking a Trip with a roof.

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