Up North

Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore, MI

20-22 August//

For two nights and three days my best friend and I embraced a time honored Midwestern tradition: going “up north” to the lake. She told me the thing to do in Michigan in the summer is head up to your cottage in the north and hit the lake, so thats what we did!-with the slight modification of camping rather than staying in a cottage.

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Hittin’ the road and headin’ Up North

We camped in Empire, MI at a campsite equipped with RV and camper sites and primitive tent sites. We stayed at a primitive site with a tent, picnic table, fire ring, and plenty of woods space; it was fairly closed off from the rest of the campers and altogether quite lovely. Because we were car camping we packed a cooler of s’mores fixings, sandwich stuff, snacks of fruit and granola bars and Cheez-itz, and eggs and bacon because we had glorious plans of cooking on our fire-

which ended up being almost nonexistent other than a few flames big enough to make a s’more apiece each night. For all our fire starting techniques, FaceTime calls to wilderness semester friends, and tinder collecting we were unable to get a good fire going (I know I know, I was shocked and ashamed too).

On our first night we meandered around the town of Empire where we had dinner, visited some touristy shops, and caught a glimpse of the sunset at Lake Michigan.

On our second day we kayaked on Lake Fischer in Empire and later ended up at an eclipse viewing party put on by the National Parks Service. We were given glasses and had a wide open field to view the eclipse from. Our location was at about 75%, and it was one of the most interesting things I’d ever seen.

Following the eclipse we visited the sand dunes, which were essentially mountains made of sand. Let me tell you, it was no joke hiking up a steep giant sand pile in the hot sun. Though sand hiking wasn’t my favorite outdoor activity, the dunes were really fascinating. Running down them was the best part!

Because Sleeping Bear is a national park Kendall and I were able to become junior rangers, which is available for park visitors ages 1-110. I would recommend the junior ranger program to anyone visiting a national park; we had to fill out a booklet and bring it back to the ranger station where we were “sworn in” and received a patch and badge. It was a fun way to learn more about the sand dunes, plus-free souvenirs!

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Junior Ranger certificates & souvenirs

Following our dunes experience we went swimming on Lake Michigan. As a girl who has lived in Florida for a while now it was weird to be in a body of water and not be worried about alligators, sharks, snakes, or anything else that could eat me. Following our freshwater dip we got some ice cream and proceeded to fail once again at fire building.

Overall, it was a fantastic weekend of new experiences with old friends. Summertime in Michigan did not disappoint!

 

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OLDS: Sea Kayaking

For our last wilderness section the water and I met again. If you remember from my River post  the water is not my favorite place to be, and this definitely held true for sea kayaking as well.

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Prepping before leaving camp!

This section began with a ten hour roadtrip down to Florida, which was a blast. Once we arrived in FL we practiced wet exits from our boats and maneuvering in the water. Before setting off we also had to pack 7 days worth of food, our clothing, tents, sleeping bags, journals and bibles, camp stoves, etc and enough water to have a gallon a day per person into the two hatches on each of our kayaks.

We took this trip in the Everglades and camped on islands, ground sites (campsites attached to the mainland), and chickees, which are raised wooden platforms. The islands were by far the favorite places to camp. They were not as buggy or hot as the chickees and ground sites and it was fun to hang out on the beach and be able to shell hunt and build fires in the sand. On the islands you had to beware of raccoons though, as they are notorious for opening the hatches on kayaks and stealing the fresh water. Luckily, none of our water was stolen.

Sea kayaking was radically different from all the other wilderness trips we went on. Even basic things like packing and cooking were different. We had spent three months packing 100 liter backpacks, and now we had to pack the same items but into boats, and make sure no sand got into our stoves.

The environment was different as well; we spent all day paddling on the ocean rather than hanging out in the mountains under the trees. Instead of wondering if we’d run into deer and bears we saw sharks, turtles, lots of alligators, sting rays, manatees, and dolphins.

It was interesting to put our knowledge and previous experiences up to a completely different environment and activity.
It was challenging, really challenging, for all of us.
The ocean is tough; it pushes and shoves you and reflects the sun back up at you and makes you sandy and salty. Unlike when you’re walking in the woods, we were at the mercy of the tide, which could either help us along or push us back.

Along with the physical challenge, I found there was a mental and spiritual challenge as well. The whole atmosphere of OLDS was unreal: we were cut off from the realities and distractions of the outside world and as such could focus on our relationships with Christ and building community in a way that is difficult to replicate in the real world. I know that for the whole section having to go back to reality soon weighed on me. We were all a little apprehensive about going home and leaving that environment.

In total we spent 7 days out on the ocean. The first day we paddled out on a channel through mangroves to get to the open ocean. The mangroves produce these long green seed pods that we nicknamed cucumbers. I was in the back of the line everyday on this section with the sweep (which is the person designated to bring up the rear of the group) and on the first day we made a game out of seeing who could throw the most “cucumbers” into someone else’s boat. We camped on an island called Pavilion the first night, and it was one of my favorite campsites from the whole semester. On a walk around the island we found a dead sea turtle which had been preserved from the salty air and saw the bones of many horseshoe crabs.

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The undead turtle 

On day 2 I was Leader of the Day (LOD), which meant that I was supposed to stay in the lead and set the pace, but as previously stated I was in the back the entire time. For lunch we stopped off at an island and later landed at a campsite called Lopez River, which was a very swampy ground site.

10/10 would not recommend camping in a swamp.

On day 3 one of my friends noticed that I was paddling really ineffectively and showed me how to do it correctly, which served to fix some of my slow pace issues. This night we stayed on a chickee. This was a fascinating experience because we had to sit on top of our kayaks while they floated to unpack our things. Precariously balancing on top of water we knew was home to many alligators was quite thrilling. All ten of us were also confined to two small wooden platforms connected by a small walkway; we had to rub shoulders the whole time because there was literally no where else to go. Alligators also circled us almost the whole night, which again was both interesting and also slightly terrifying.

The next day we paddled to another island called Mormon Key to camp at. On the way we met up with the rest of our group for a game of frisbee because the tide was so low. We also saw a shark, sea turtle, and manatee, which for me was definitely a highlight. We had a lot of the day left after we landed so we were able to explore the island and have some time to relax and hang out on the beach. On this night we left our kayaks too close to the shoreline and had it not been for one of the instructors waking up in the middle of the night some of them would have floated away as the tide came up, which would have put a significant damper on the next morning.

Day 5 was both the worst and the best day of sea kayaking. We left early in an attempt to go out with the tide, but the tide and the wind actually ended up pushing against us almost the whole paddle. It was very hot, I was very slow, and almost the whole pod had gone on ahead. It was me and the sweep, by necessity, in the back of the pod. One of our friends ended up waiting for us and the three of us spent the last 40 or so minutes of the paddle goofing off and having a good time and creating the Low Tide Paddling Pod (LTPP!). It ended up becoming one of my favorite memories of the whole semester 🙂
Once we landed on the island (Pavilion again) we were able to walk out where the tide had gone out and see all manner of marine life: starfishes, conchs, scallops, crabs, little fish, and many other things I couldn’t identify.

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The Low Tide Paddling Pod!

The next day we had a zero day and were able to explore the island, contemplate our semester, go swimming, and just relax and hang out before the impending end of our time together.

On the last day we began paddling at 4:45am to beat the tide. We paddled under the stars and moon, which was very eerie but also very beautiful. One of the most spectacular things I’ve ever witnessed was the sun rising over the ocean while floating on a kayak in the ocean. There was no obstructions from seeing the sky come alive and turn the ocean into a fire for a little bit. This was another difficult day, and it concluded a difficult but overall growing and fun section.

Shortly after we ended paddling one of my friends asked me if it was worth it, despite all the challenges. And it was, every moment of strife and frustration and feeling like I couldn’t do it was worth it, because these are the things that make us grow and help us realize our strength and potential. And much like on other sections, I learned again to not doubt myself so much, to lean on the people around me for strength and encouragement, to loosen up and have fun, and most of all to give my frustrations to God and let Him take care of them.

On this section we studied Ephesians 6:10-23, which is the armor of God. This was very fitting and uplifting because we were able to dive into the tools God has given us to live for Him most effectively right before going back out into the real world.

Some of the highlights from my notes are:

Asking how the enemy attacks me and becoming aware of that to better combat it.

“Forgiveness is easier when we see our sins and the sins of others in the light of satan and the flesh at work.” -realize that we are all fallen and broken and have things to work on.

We are most effective when we are wearing the whole armor, not just pieces of it.

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OLDS: Caving

For our next section we went caving and had a small primitive skills section.
Caving was a blast because it was essentially playing in the mud, but underground.
For the first two days of caving we split into two groups. Our first cave was mostly mud and dirt to crawl through and throw at each other (which was the best part and also). The caves were so dark and cool and damp, the opening of the cave even felt like air conditioning coming from the ground. Inside the cave we threw mud at each other, crawled through the dirt, saw bats, and turned our lights off to experience real pitch black darkness (literal actual complete darkness). We also had to administer WFR skills because a substantial amount of mud ended up in my ear.

The second cave was a more technical experience in that there was less mud fights and more squeezing through tight spaces. I definitely enjoyed playing in the mud more, but exploring rock tunnels was fun too!

The last two caves were a mix of both mud slinging and rock squeezing. There was also a room where people made mud sculptures, a huge mud slide, and an underground river that we swam through to get out of the cave.

In the middle of caving we did a couple days of primitive skills. During this section we covered debris shelter building, basic fire assembling, map and compass reading and orienteering, and to top it all off we each killed a chicken (most of us with our hands) and then skinned them. The point of this section was to teach us very basic survival skills should we ever find ourselves in a situation without the proper gear and shelter. On the very first night of this section we were given a paper bag with various survival items and had to use them to build a shelter and start a fire. My partner and I had a magnesium stick and cotton swabs for our fire.

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Our primitive skills location

During this section we also had a 40 hour solo. We were each dropped off in a section of the woods about 200 yards from our neighbors. This time was meant for us to reflect on our semester, spend time with the Lord, and relax. It came at a very opportune moment for me as I was sick as a dog and needed some time to recover. In the beginning of the solo I had to set the tent up by myself, which was quite a time.

During the solo I spent the day alternating between praying, reading from the book of Jeremiah, journaling, writing poetry, and singing worship songs (there was also a couple naps thrown in). I also spent some time listing out sins I struggle with and praying for the Lord to help me deal with them. It was a refreshing and incredible time of simply sitting with God and allowing Him to speak to me and help me process different things.

 

One of the poems I wrote during the solo sums it up perfectly:

I lay on the leaves and
watch the wind push them
from the sky to the ground.
They fall and dance
with the clouds and sun
before becoming a carpet
and place for me to rest
my body and mind as
I think on a Creator
who laid these leaves
down years before for
me to feel His peace
from and see His
power and experience
a love deep enough
to let me feel the
wind on the leaves
and know He gave them to me to remind
me of Him and me
and Him in me

This whole semester showed me how nature can be an outlet for worshiping God and spending time with Him, but the solo really showed me the value of going out alone into a completely distraction free situation with nothing to do other than spend time with the Lord.
That being said, sleeping alone in the woods was a terrifying experience, but nevertheless I prevailed.

Our teachings primarily covered Ephesians 4, 5, and 6:1-9.
Ephesians 4 talked about speaking with authority and realizing that we, as believers, are a threat to the enemy. Also, not letting anger have a hold on us but realizing that God can handle our anger so we should give it to Him.

Ephesians 5 discussed the importance of being precise in the way we imitate Christ; we are to represent Christ in a way that shows people exactly who He is.

Ephesians 6 covered the topic of marriage. We discussed this in a group, which was a good way to hash out our thoughts and learn from each other.

Overall, caving was an experience unlike anything I had ever done before. Being underground is like being in a whole other world, not to mention sliding down mud and swimming in underground rivers was a blast.

Wekiwa Springs

Taking a break from my wilderness semester blogging to catch ya’ll up on a more recent excursion!

From 12 May to 13 May my dad and I camped at Wekiwa Springs State Park, which is in the Orlando area. The park boosts paddling on Wekiva River and Rock Springs Run, camp sites ranging from RV hook ups, tent sites with water and electricity available, to primitive sites that can only be accessed by canoe or kayak, an educational nature center, hiking and horse trails, and a spring-fed swimming hole.

My dad and I arrived around 5pm, set up our hammocks at our campsite, and went for a swim in the spring water. The water was crystal clear and 72 degrees, which is where it stays year round. Because this park is so popular a small beach has been built around the water and there are steps that can be used to enter the water in order to make it more user friendly.

Our campsite was very populated with tents as well as campers and RVs, there was even one refurbished school bus. Every campsite had been reserved for the weekend so we had may neighbors.

For dinner we had Good to Go meals, which are dehydrated meals you add boiling water to and then eat! Not quite as satisfying as cooking over a camp stove, but definitely better than an MRE. After some chitchatting around a would be fire if not for a state-wide fire ban we each climbed into our bug netted hammocks for bed.

For breakfast we had tea and coffee courtesy of an MSR pocket rocket and oatmeal, which I made bearable with a handful of craisins and some Nutella.

Wekiwa struck me as a very family friendly and easily accessible place to camp and hike. People of all outdoors skill levels and interests could find something to do here. I cannot speak for the primitive sites, but the sites with water access and electricity hookup were perfect for someone looking for an easy car camping trip.

Though being very populated and therefore noisy with much artificial light it was a nice place to sleep outside for a short, quickly planned one night camping trip. However, for someone looking for a more authentic wilderness camping experience I would recommend a less popular camping area or checking out a primitive site.

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Underwater selfie game strong

OLDS: Rock Climbing!

This section was my favorite wilderness section of all semester. I have never experienced anything like starting the day on the ground and then at the end of the day being able to look down at that same spot from the top of a mountain.

Theres nothing like feeling you’re on top of the world.

On the first day we were issued our gear (a harness, carabiners, ATC, webbing, prusik loop, helmet, and climbing shoes) and practiced using it on the climbing tower at camp before hitting the real rock. I had never rock climbed, or really climbed anything other than trees, in any sense before, so I wasn’t sure what to expect. It was very difficult at first, and that made me nervous for the rest of the section.

We started on actual rocks with some bouldering. Bouldering is a type of rock climbing done without any ropes or harnesses. Though you don’t need hardware for this activity most people use climbing shoes and chalk to help stay on the rock. Bouldering was a lot of fun, I wasn’t very good at it (which I know is seeming to be a reoccuring theme) but it was nice to get a feel for being on real rock before beginning the actual climbing. I had a lot of almosts during bouldering but only made it to the top of one called “E for Everyone.” Bouldering was a challenge by choice activity, meaning we only had to participate as much as we wanted to and could just hang out and watch when we weren’t feeling up to it. It was nice to have time to hang out as a group and relax together.

Next we top roped; top roping is a style of climbing in which the climber is attached to a rope that goes up the route, through an anchor, and back down to the belayer. We top roped at two places: Rumbling Bald and the Chimneys at Linville Gorge. The first day at Rumbling Bald, the first day of top roping at all, we had three routes to chose from. I only managed to make it to the top of one route (I spent about 20 minutes smacking the wall in frustration on one unable to make it over the first push before my group made me take a rest). I can’t remember the name of the route I did, but it was slightly slanted, had a section with a big crack down the middle on one part of it, and I had to get a boost onto the first part to get started. In the beginning I couldn’t riddle out how to smoothly and successfully advance up the rock. After a bit of fumbling it began to make a little sense and I managed to make it to the top.

At the second top roping site I had similar troubles and found myself getting incredibly frustrated and discouraged with myself. At this point I had pretty much given up on being a rock climber because everyone else had managed to succeed while I had made minimal progress. Sometimes when you’re frustrated you just gotta take a drink of water from your Nalgene, take your climbing shoes off, have an hour long conversation with the proctor of the year about theology and marriage and letting things go, remind yourself that the whole point of this is to have fun, and then you hit the rock on all three routes, make it to the top of two of them and land a sick dyno on the third (I didn’t get to the top on that one because I figured I’d quit while I was ahead).

Following top roping we did two days of multi-pitching at Tablerock. Multi-pitching is a type of climbing where the route is split up into several sections, in this case three, called pitches. The lead climber builds the route and anchors as they go and then belays up the next person, who then belays up the third person. The last climber cleans the gear as they go, and then the process is repeated on all the pitches.

I would love to try and explain fully the sensation of hanging from the side of a giant rock by a harness and rope and being able to see for miles and miles and realizing how small and insignificant you are, in a good way, with people you love, but I don’t know if I could.
So heres a poem about it instead:

Sitting on top of a rock
Looking at a scene of beautiful change
And reflections on faces of the
face of God
nothing
nothing
is as beautiful as this

Somewhere along the line after I relaxed and stopped verbally berating myself for not being as good as everyone else and focused more on having fun climbing clicked for me. I wouldn’t call myself a phenomenal climber, or even a great climber, but I was successful, and not just in the sense that I put myself out of my comfort zone and tried. I was good at it, much to my surprise and excitement, and that was an incredible boost of self-confidence. Its absolutely true that you can have fun even without being good at something, which I had learned on the river, but being good at climbing added another element of it for me; unlike the river I would love to do this again. This also taught me not to give up on myself so easily, because even though it took a minute, the abilities I had showed up and the skills I was learning grew stronger.

This section was a time of immense growth and realization for me. Our teachings focused on different spiritual disciplines and how when we as individuals are disciplined enough to grow in the Lord the whole body is built up (Ephesians 4:7-16). This deeply impressed on me the importance of my study time not only for my sake but for the whole body of Christ. I learned to have heaps and piles of grace and patience for myself and others. I received peace about hurts and confusions I had had for a long time about being a female.  I did something, several things actually, that I never thought I’d be able to. I saw a spark and determination in me that I had never before realized I had. I surprised myself, and it made me feel strong in a way I never had before.

This section has so many stories and memories: the bear that tried to steal our food, city and star gazing after the sun had gone down, fight club Friday on the bus, sunrises and sunsets, sitting late at the campfire after it had gone out, rappelling, reading poetry aloud on Lunch Ledge, packing camp up in record time because we thought it was going to rain on us, going around the campfire and affirming our group, growing as a body, having everyone cheer for me as I took 18 tries to land the dyno.
I could write books about all those things and more, and maybe one day I will, but all of that was simply consolation to the overwhelming peace and joy I felt from learning and growing and being built up and accomplishing.

Rock climbing is this insane thing where you have to put your trust in gear and other people and just do it. Its hard and seems crazy and often make you wonder what on this green earth you’re doing. But its worth it, so so worth it. Because once you push through the fear or the doubt or the difficulties (or all three) you make it to the top of the route and your breath is taken away by the vast beauty of the world you can’t see when you stay on the ground.

Following Christ is a lot like that. Instead of trusting gear you have to trust the Lord. Its hard and on the surface doesn’t seem to make sense. You’ll have seasons of fear and doubt and seasons where it feels too hard, too tiring, too completely insane to carry on. But its worth it. Living for Christ, living in Christ, letting Christ live in you, is like making it to the top of the route and realizing that all the hardship and difficulties and pain brought you to somewhere beautiful. Its not easy, following Christ isn’t easy, but it takes you to a place you could never imagine or get to on your own.

Ephesians 4:1-6 is the best way for me to sum this time up:

As a prisoner for the Lord, then, I urge you to live a life worthy of the calling you have received. Be completely humble and gentle; be patient, bearing with one another in love. Make every effort to keep the unity of the Spirit through the bond of peace. There is one body and one Spirit, just as you were called to one hope when you were called;one Lord, one faith, one baptism; one God and Father of all, who is over all and through all and in all.

 

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I’m not sure why we’re all fuzzy, but nevertheless heres my people

OLDS: WFR Certification

Our first section of OLDS was a Wilderness First Responder (WFR) certification course. This course gave us instruction and training in backcountry first aid. Essentially, to quote our instructor Bailey, we were taught how to “do the best we can with what we have.” Believe me, this came in handy later on (even later that week).

We split our time up between learning about different types of injuries and illnesses in the classroom, and then going outside and putting these skills to practice during real life scenarios.

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OLDS students participating in a scenario

The medical field isn’t generally my chosen field of study, but it was fascinating to learn how to treat people using things you would have in your backpack for outdoor excursions. For example, I used sticks, my hammock, my hammock ropes, and a sleeping pad to make a splint for a broken leg. Our WFR class encouraged all of us to get creative and think out of the box of what normal first aid is.

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Making an arm splint for Lizbit

Aside from the medical training, WFR week was spent getting to know each other. This was our first section on OLDS, our first time being together. Theres just something about being painted with fake blood and helping each other remember what AMPLE (allergies, medications, pertinent history, last ins/outs, and events leading up to the injury) means that brings people together. Aside from that, we bonded over dinners and teachings at the OLDS director’s house, trips to Walmart, movie watching, singing ( a LOT of singing), working together to “treat” each other during scenarios as well as being the victims, studying for our test, and ultimately passing our certification tests. This week also included a remake of the song Lean On Me (“…you might have a problem in the wilderness, we all need a WFR to lean on..”), and the creation of a dance for our instructor Randy, who told us we were the best class he’d ever had.
We also played a game similar to manhunt, where four people would be the “runners” and have to avoid getting tagged by the “chasers” on their way to a base. During this game I, one of the runners, ended up stepping in a hole and spraining my ankle. The next day I ended up passing out from the pain, but on the way to the ground I somehow managed to bang my face up. Lucky for me I was surrounded by a bunch of qualified enough almost WFRs who could help me out. Even before we entered the backcountry our skills were coming in handy. (I also found a fair bit of irony in hurting myself so badly during a week filled with learning how to fix stuff like that.) S/o to my girl Aleah for going through the triangle to make sure I was okay.

For our teachings during WFR we went through Ephesians 1:1-14. We studied through Ephesians all semester, so we got to dig in really deep. We began by emphasizing that we are Christ’s holy ones and faithful in Him. We would spend the semester learning how to be faithful to each other as the body of Christ (1:1-2). Next we looked at our identity and how it should be formed because we have been chosen by God, and how in being chosen we are made new and blessed with His spiritual blessing (1:3-4). In verses 5-6 we learned that He has adopted us into His family, making all of us at OLDS brothers and sisters in Him. In this section we also discussed how to reconcile that we are chosen by God, but also have to chose Him too. Through the rest of the verses the main thing to realize was that we have been redeemed by God, and because of that redemption we now can place our identity in Him, and not what the world says or thinks we are. Verses 7-12 sum this up nicely,

In him we have redemption through his blood, the forgiveness of sins, in accordance with the riches of God’s grace that he lavished on us. With all wisdom and understanding, he[a] made known to us the mystery of his will according to his good pleasure, which he purposed in Christ, 10 to be put into effect when the times reach their fulfillment—to bring unity to all things in heaven and on earth under Christ.11 In him we were also chosen,[b] having been predestined according to the plan of him who works out everything in conformity with the purpose of his will, 12 in order that we, who were the first to put our hope in Christ, might be for the praise of his glory.

We are His, and we must use this truth to glorify Him always (1:13-14).

Even as we spent everyday that week together bonding and learning and laughing, we had no idea how much further, in terms of our knowledge and abilities and relationships with one another, we’d come as the weeks went by.

OLDS: Intro

Hey adventurers! Its been quite a while since I updated this blog, but I am happy to report its because I was otherwise occupied on a semester long outdoor program.

From September to December, I attended a program called Outdoor Leadership and Discipleship School (OLDS). Based out of Andrews, NC, for those three months I showered maybe 10 times, slept outside more than inside, let the leg hair grow, grew closer to the Lord, fell more in love with the outdoors, lived out of a 100 liter backpack, and experienced real true community with the best group of people I’ve ever met.

Throughout the whole semester we:

  • Got Wilderness First Responder Certified
  • Spent two weeks backpacking
  • Learned to river guide and got Swiftwater Rescue L4 Certified
  • Rock climbed for 10 days
  • Went caving and learned about primitive skills
  • Did street evangelism in Asheville
  • Spent two days mountain biking
  • Sea kayaked for ten days
  • And spent a week in Clarkston, GA learning about unreached people and refugees

I well delve deeper into each wilderness section in later posts, as well as others aspects of the semester, to include community, discipleship, relationships, injuries (many injuries), the book of Ephesians, the body of Christ, and self-discovery.

I plan to post these weekly, so check back then!

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All the OLDS students + 2 proctors

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Ya girl (+ some random hiker)