Mountain Memories: Honors students travel through the Rockies

When you think about an honors course at Central Michigan University, what are some of the first phrases that come to mind?

Challenging? Time consuming? A heavy course load?

If you answered yes to any of these, you’re not alone.

But what if an honors class broke this expectation? What if it was fun – even exciting? Though this is not a common expectation, when it comes to the course “Leave No Trace,” this is exactly what students experience.

In this particular course, students were taken on an unforgettable weeklong trip in August through the Rocky Mountains, which Jordan Bruursema, creator of the course and Recreation Parks and Leisure Service professor, said gives students an entirely new perspective.

“The biggest benefit isn’t a part of the teaching, but the nature and mountains to transform students’ perspective on who they are and where they’re going in life,” Bruursema said.

On the trip, students learned how to survive in the wilderness while minimizing their human footprint in nature. Not only did they learn about the environment, but about how to step out of their comfort zones in order to further define themselves.

Leave No Trace is comprised of seven principles, including plan ahead and prepare, travel and camp on durable surfaces, dispose of waste properly, leave what you find, minimize campfire impacts, respect wildlife and be considerate of others.

Grand Ledge senior Sarah Clark explained how much of an impact these principles can have.

“The best way to learn the principles is by putting them to use, which makes this course so unique,” Clark said. “This was my second Leave No Trace trainer course, and it blew my mind how being in a different location changed some aspects of the principles.”

While putting these principles into play, each member of the group was tested as a leader.

“As leader of the day, we choose the route to take for the day, when to stop for breaks and meals and we were responsible for maintaining morale while on the trail,” Clark said. “It takes great attention to detail to do this successfully, especially because there are so many unpredictable aspects, like weather, fatigue and water sources”

While they were strangers when they began the trip, many of the students left with close bonds to their classmates – and now friends.

“I made it a goal to find something unique about each person and truly enjoyed getting to know each and every one of them,” Clark said. “When you are alone in the woods with a group like this, we form so many jokes and bonds that we become inseparable by the end of the week. It really is amazing thinking we were a group of strangers before the trip happened.”

Midland junior Alexis Cherven said these close bonds were necessary in order to help motivate each other in times of need.

“Everyone had a hard day or a time when they just wanted to quit, but it never lasted long because of the great support we had for each other,” she said. “For example, if someone’s backpack was too heavy, someone else would offer to take some of their items to make it lighter.”

One stipulation during this trip was that students were not allowed to have any technology with them, except for a camera. While it may seem difficult to most, Clark said this was one of the best parts of the trip.

“I guarantee I would not have become as close to my classmates had we all been using our phones and iPods while on the trail,” Clark said. “There is something so wonderful about living in the moment and giving people our undivided attention. Sometimes being away from technology can make us uncomfortable, but it’s when we are uncomfortable that we learn and grow the most.”

In addition to the scarcity of technology, minimal supplies helped participants learn one important lesson: If you can’t carry it – you don’t need it.

“We live in such a materialistic world and our houses are full of things that we never even open or use,” Cherven said. “On this trip, we used almost everything we had and it all fit in one backpack that we carried ourselves. If we didn’t have something that we needed, we got creative and made it work.”

(Photo | Courtesy of Alexis Cherven)