Colorado State has this amazing program to keep second year students involved on campus and gives them opportunities to connect with new people. As for the truth, I really had no friends coming back to school this year, so I did something I never thought I would do--I signed up for a weekend in the mountains with complete strangers.
If you asked me a year ago if I would have ever thought of signing up for something like this, my answer would've been heck no. But my first year at CSU brought on a lot of unseen challenges, personal issues like depression and anxiety, and a feeling of being alone. By the time school ended, I had said good riddance and wanted nothing to do with college anymore. But here I am, six weeks into my second year and absolutely amazed by how much has changed--including myself.
Before we headed up to CSU's Pingree Park Mountain Campus, right in the middle of RMNP, I had a few worries about the upcoming weekend. First and foremost, did I bring too much stuff? They said to prepare for any kind of weather between snow, rain, and 70 degrees. I'm not a super committed hiker so I don't have hiking shoes or synthetic shirts or rain pants, I packed what I thought would be best and just prayed that I wouldn't be too cold. I was also nervous about not connecting with anyone, or everyone having their friends with them, and I being the odd one out. I was scared that the hike was going to be too hard for me and I would fall behind, especially with the altitude adjustments and my asthma as a few obstacles I would have to face.
If I could go back and tell myself that I shouldn't have been nervous at all, I would've saved myself a lot of stress.
The group met at one of the halls, where we ate Krazy Karls, before boarding the vans. I had my phone as my security blanket for the first fifteen minutes of the ride, as we all were just introducing ourselves and getting used to the fact that we would be spending the next whole weekend together. But thats the thing about the mountains--you get no service, but a better connection. So I lost phone service twenty minutes into the trip as we starting driving up, and didn't get it back until Sunday when we got back. But as it turned out, my phone became just another thing I could actually live without, and I loved that.
The fifteen of us arrived at our cabin, picked our rooms, and unpacked a little. We met up in the common area a few minutes later and everything changed from there. At first, we did a more serious activity--reflecting on our first year. It was hard for me to go to a time that was so dark, where I felt so alone. I didn't like my hall, I had no friends, I was fifteen hours from home. But as we all discussed our issues on the second year, it seemed that everyone was going through what I did my first year. Losing touch with hall mates, having roommate problems, nothing going how you imagined it would or how it did first year.
As for me, my second year has been a complete 180 from my first--but I could relate to what everyone was going through still. It made us all relax a little bit, and it seemed like everyone was on this trip, for more than just spending a weekend in the mountains. It was because something was missing and we thought we could find it here. That maybe if we met new, interesting, cool people, we could be okay, because we had someone there for us.
I wish I would've done something like this my first year.
That night we played card games and stayed up talking, getting to know each other. It was like camp, except better. No one was sitting there on their phone the whole time, no one was in their room doing homework, no one had any responsibilities except to pick up the pen faster than anyone else did or defend themselves for not killing everyone. (Spoons and Mafia got intense).
It was a really weird situation for me--because I feel like I always bail out early to go home and watch Netflix, or just be by myself after a long week. Its the introvert in me. But up there, I was one of the last ones to go to bed, I stayed out playing Spoons until we all left and I wasn't feeling drained or tired at all. It was a completely new experience for me being around other people and not needing "me" time. It felt like my childhood again at my lakehouse, where it didn't really matter what you were doing except spending time together with people you were close to.
The next morning, at 6:50 am, we all met in the common room for our hike. We all were bundled up with our backpacks and ready to go. We spent time making breakfast at the dining hall and packing lunches before starting on our way.
I think the hike to Emmaline Lake was one of the most pivotal points for our group. You are stuck with the same fifteen people for the next eight or so hours, in the middle of the woods, and you are going to want to talk to someone. Our whole group was closely together for most of the time, chatting and hiking, getting back to nature. We all were constantly taking pictures or pointing out amazing views, it was really cool.
There were times where we had to push each other a little bit up the hard parts of the hike, or deal with the embarrassing moments when we tripped over rocks, or laugh with one another when they got up and said they were okay. It was the little things like that that I think brought us all closer.
Its just not something I saw happening on this trip--I didn't think I would make genuine connections with anyone, that even though it would be fun, we wouldn't all come back and keep in touch. (But we have already basically stalked each others social media and planned on doing game nights.) I was surprised at how easy it was to make new friends, make new connections, and make new memories with people who were strangers to me twenty four hours before.
The hike was one of those times I'll look back on and know that I was so stupid for worrying, that we all were in this together, and that I was really happy. And I want my parents to know that, because I know they worry more than anyone about my wellbeing, and I hope they know they shouldn't worry anymore.
After our twelve mile hike, all I wanted to do was get clean and comfy. We all sort of spent the next two hours before dinner taking showers, playing a little bit of Pictionary, and just relaxing. Then, we had dinner and went back to the cabin to hang out for a little while.
That night we had a campfire and went to the rec room. There was foosball, and ping pong, and S'mores. It was like summer camp to me, being outside all day and just enjoying the good company. We learned about some of our own amazing, hidden talents like playing piano or being able to sing really well. I never imagined it would be as fun for me as it was, and I'm so grateful to have made myself sign up and go through with it all.
Later on, we played a few rounds of Mafia before changing games to Signs (which basically sums up the rest of our weekend and probably all communication between us). We were up until the middle of the night playing this game and yelling and freaking out and just laughing. It wasn't really a game where you talk and get to know each other, but thats exactly what happened with our group. We all bonded over it--until we were told we had to go bed now. It was hilarious and fun and really brought us all together in such a simple game.
I usually have a hard time staying up late, since I'm more of a morning person, but I didn't want to go to bed that night because that meant we had only one more day left. It seemed like so long ago we all were eating pizza and learning each others name, but also that the weekend had flown by.
Sunday morning came (and with some pain from the long hike) and we had breakfast at the dining hall again, before going back to the cabin for some team building activities. We had an "I Am" discussion, anonymously checking off things that we were and weren't in regard to our second year. We were working a job as well as going to school. We were living off campus this year. We weren't sure on what we wanted to do for a career. We were wanting to make new friends. And most importantly, we weren't alone.
That was the whole point of the this trip, right? To recognize that we had people out there with the same struggles and obstacles, with the same problems and hardships, with the same feelings and doubts and worries. We were in this together, and we were going to let that connect us all. We were happy to have this great new group of people enter our lives and it not be something we had to work at--it just was.
From there, the high ropes course got us all excited and nervous, but comfortable because we had people cheering us on. We had friends by us who were really brave or believed in us--and as cheesy as that sounds, it made it all that much better. We got some group pictures taken (which I will share soon), and hopefully will get some more in the future.
We headed home shortly after that, but not before getting everyone's numbers and social media names, with the plan on booking out one of the rooms in the LSC (so there was enough room for us to play Signs) and beat the clock at Krazy Karls.
I wanted to say thank you to all of those amazing people that I got to share this weekend with, that maybe thought I was really quiet at first and learned that I'm not always like that, and that I hope had a similar experience to the one I did. I'm so thankful I went on this trip and that I didn't let my own doubts and worries keep me from going. That I was able to do something so far out of my comfort zone and it was able to have such a big impact on me. That I might've found a part of myself that is a little more grown up, a little more secure, and little more confident in who she is.
That I did it.