Traveling to Ithaca, New York in July 2014 was both illuminating and unforgettable. Although situated in upstate New York, the most un-foreign of places and only a four hour car ride from home, Ithaca was a different world and an eye-opening opportunity for me. I traveled to Ithaca for a two week writing program called the Ithaca Writers Institute at Ithaca College. Of course, I was excited to hone my writing skills and craft fiction pieces in my workshops. Becoming a better writer, however, wasn’t the only thing I took away from my time in Ithaca. I made new friends, lived the college dorm life, and sipped from the cup of teenage independence.
Unfortunately, for the first few days – or even the first week – I was plagued with homesickness. It was difficult being away from home for so long and not seeing my brother’s and parents’ faces every day. Yet, as I spent more time in Ithaca, I realized I was happier when I was around my new friends. This led me to embark on an unforgettable trip to the gorges.
During Fourth of July weekend, twelve of us headed off campus to swim in the lake near some of Ithaca’s famous gorges. We left campus around 6:30 p.m. Led by one girl who thought she knew where to go, the rest of us followed cheerfully down the gravel path – until we walked two miles past the turnoff point and had to retrace our steps. Once we followed the trail into the woods, we took multiple wrong turns down winding, barely discernible dirt paths. It wasn’t until 8:30 p.m. that we finally reached our destination. Too tired to join in, I watched my new friends catapult themselves from the towering gorges into the freezing water below. Although I laughed and cheered whenever they successfully jumped, I grew slightly more apprehensive each time I glanced behind me and noticed the ever-darkening woods.
We finally left after 9 p.m.; by then, the woods were pitch black. Digging out our cell phone flashlights, we hiked out of the woods onto the gravel manmade path, which took an hour. Upon arrival at the main road, Google Maps informed us campus was two miles and another hour’s walk away. Tired, hungry, thirsty, and in desperate need of showers, we had no choice but to brave this last part of the journey together. But despite my fatigue, hunger, thirst, and general feeling of grittiness, I found myself smiling. The noticeable temperature drop that accompanied the sun’s disappearance was masked by the warm, reassuring hand of a friend cupping my own. Our isolated surroundings – the mostly empty road, the lack of sidewalk, the occasional house – were not as threatening when I noticed a scattering of stars across the night sky. And whenever a vehicle did approach, someone would yell, “Car!” and the rest of us would fall into formation at the roadside, like a single unit.
Our arrival back on campus by 11:30 was followed by many group hugs. As I sat in the lounge, listening to the others tell stories of the day’s adventures, I felt bonded to these people whom I’d only known for a very short time. I realized from that night how quickly and willingly people could adapt to each other and become so close after just one experience. We had made it through without anyone fighting or blaming others for getting lost, which was a miracle in itself. And, what was more, we had gotten back before midnight curfew!
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