Emory & Henry College Semester-A-Trail

The Appalachian Trail renewed my faith in
humanity. You know I went out there thinking I was going
to be this solo hiker and it was just going to be this backwoods challenge. And it really turned into a wonderful community
experience. And people helped us and opened their homes
to us and I had so many genuine conversations with people out there that I still remember and
I still value all of those experiences. One of the best things about a small college
like Emory & Henry is that big ideas can become a powerful and effective reality here. So, that was the seed. We started to develop this innovative program
where a student could remain in college and still attempt the journey that is the Appalachian
Trail. The Semester-A-Trail creates an opportunity
for a student to have an academic semester built around an attempted thru-hike or long
section hike. So, this year we have Tilghman Moyer and Sadie
Burton. Tilghman he’s working on a project in phenology. Phenology is the study of bud bursts as related
to climate science and so he’ll take photos and contribute that data to the Appalachian
Trail Conservancy’s phenology project. So he becomes a part of something so much
bigger. Sadie is invested in the humanities. As a creative communications major here. She’s working on actually filming a documentary. She’s also working on a photography project
that will result in a show. So she’s working on art. We prepare them for a solo journey and we
provide support for that and so we’re two weeks away now for departing in spring and
already they’re starting to look like hikers. I’ve been out here for two or three weeks
now and I’ve hiked over 250 miles to get to the Roan Highlands. In the beginning what surprised me the most
how unprepared I was mentally for the trail. I was physically prepared but I wasn’t quite
ready for the amount of solitude I would get out here off the bat. It’s been a challenging experience but I feel
a lot better knowing that I’ve been able to overcome my challenges and I have been able
to enjoy the wilderness and the company around me. The simplicity that the trail brings. It surprised me just how little I need out
here to be comfortable. The things that I carry in my pack that bring
me the most joy have been my camera, my reading book, sleeping bag, warm jacket. I really don’t need television or social media
or any of that stuff out here. This is definitely a very hands-on learning
experience. It’s actually a lot more challenging than
just going to the same classroom every day and sitting there for 45 minutes to an hour. I’m thankful for this adversity because I
have been able to overcome it and I think that’s a lot more rewarding than if I had
just come out here and you know if everything had been a breeze and if I didn’t really gain
anything out of it. So I’m proud of myself and the way that I
have been able to overcome my fears and challenges. The trip so far has been difficult. I don’t think anything can prepare you. There’s no training that gets you ready. You can be in shape but once it starts raining
and hailing and thunderstorming at the same time, when have you ever experienced that? My confidence every day gets higher. My attitude towards pushing my limit gets
more excited. The trail has been awesome. If you’re really looking for specifics it’s
different everywhere you go. You walk in these forests for 50 miles at
a time then you walk for 5 miles in a pasture. Seeing little towns in the valleys and seeing
them light up at night has been so cool. Experiencing Appalachia the way it should
be experienced I think is the way to do it. Honestly every day I look forward to. I’m looking forward to tomorrow or I’m looking
forward to Grayson Highlands in an hour. I just want to keep walking every day. I’m just like, let’s keep going. The Semester-A-Trail provides an excellent
opportunity for experiential learning. The student gets to conceive of these meaningful
academic projects that they are invested in. But then, go do it. They engage it in a way that is real– and
meshing academic learning with a big experiential journey, a very physical journey, it connects
learning and growth to life. What I want the students to experience out
there is connectedness. I want their academic experiences to be connected
to something real. I want them to have journeys. I want them to solve problems and I want them
to become confident in themselves and their ability to accomplish goals that are truly
hard, truly challenging.

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