The senior project is a period before graduation that is allotted to the seniors of Columbus Academy to design a project, complete it, and reflect on it. Sitting in the chemistry room, we listened to a teacher drone on about the importance of taking advantage of it, and how our project, in that it involved travel, gave us particular opportunities to make our trip worthwhile. I dreamed of the fresh air, delicious smelling fires, exercise while hiking to beautiful peaks, and fun adventures with my best friends. We were all so excited and felt that it was going to be an inspirational experience, so we started planning right away.
We spent a week tracking down supplies like a sturdy tent, cooking utensils, tarps, etc. We met with our biology teacher to learn the basics because we were all very inexperienced. We tromped out to our school’s fire pit and practiced building fires and tying knots. We even built our tent over and over again but when it came down to it, there was nothing we could do to simulate the largest problem we were going to encounter.
The first night there went something like this: I woke up in an inch of freezing water inside of our flooded tent in the isolated hills of Cataloochee. The rain had been getting into our tent for hours and we finally decided there was nothing we could do about it. We were waiting out the torrential downpour until morning. And really, a lot of the trip seemed like waiting.
I remember one day we hiked in a storm and it was difficult to hear each other, so we trudged through muddy hills in silence. Then we returned to the damp, stale-smelling tent and stayed there for the rest of the day.
Not to mention, each day we looked for the ranger and a place to buy firewood and ice, neither of which we found. So far, the trip seemed very different from the one I’d planned out in my head that day in the chemistry room. I’d imagined vast, breathtaking skies, but at night, there were no stars and there were no lights. I have never been so fully engulfed in complete and utter darkness.
However, what was really valuable about this trip happened inside the grey tent, in torrential downpour, and in perfect darkness. I finally had a moment to think clearly; I used the down time to reflect on the notion of going off to college and my senior year. When you spend the year working so hard and getting so little sleep, it is certainly a strange experience when it all stops and you’re given three weeks to live out in the woods. The hours I had to read books again, to write again, and to sit in one spot and know there was nothing else on earth that I should be doing instead, was invaluable. I felt like I could finally breathe and I was doing it in a place that was fresh and new.
I suppose travel works its magic like that; it takes you out of the everyday and puts you in situations you never would imagine. It allows you to experience something completely different. I think adapting to those differences is what leaves you in a place of vulnerability and with a perfect opportunity for self-reflection. Even the dampest of trips allowed me to escape the routine of my daily life and center myself so I could get back to being the person that I am.
Our documentary that we made afterwards is on my facebook page. Unfortunately it was too large to upload to YouTube. It's the most recent thing on my wall and the caption is "Video for Travel Scholarship"
Dear Reader: This page may contain affiliate links which may earn a commission if you click through and make a purchase. Our independent journalism is not influenced by any advertiser or commercial initiative unless it is clearly marked as sponsored content. As travel products change, please be sure to reconfirm all details and stay up to date with current events to ensure a safe and successful trip.