Planning is Essential, Plans Are Useless

Cara Monteleone & Sage Lalor

The clock strikes 2:00 p.m., t-minus 15 hours until we Arcadians head off from our comfortable Massawepie home to the wild Adirondack High Peaks region. We are about to embark on a week-long backpacking excursion, all student planned. A draft of nervous yet excited energy consumes Arcadia as we strategize our way into fitting seven days’ worth of food into 12x7-inch bear canisters. Chaos fills the kitchen.

“How much rice is too much rice?”

“I can’t tell if this is instant mashed potatoes or lemonade powder anymore.”

“Will three people actually eat three pounds of cheese?”

Our food rationing comes to a halt as Amanda Colley, our assistant director and soon-to-be expedition guide, summons us to the far side of the room to teach us the most efficient way to assemble our life essentials and fit them into a backpack.

The organization of our packs is only one example of the lessons we have learned thus far in our Modern Outdoor Recreation Ethics (M.O.R.E.) class. Taught by Amanda Colley and Will Madison, this unique course has the Adirondack Semester assistant directors doubling as course instructors. M.O.R.E. focuses on four main components: outdoor skills, leadership, wilderness ethics, and communication and community. Whether we are learning how to Leave No Trace in the Adirondacks or the difference between a bowline and taut-line hitch knot, Amanda and Will provide us with hands-on opportunities to build lasting confidence in the wilderness. Although understanding these nuts and bolts of outdoor recreation is crucial, M.O.R.E. also highlights the social dimensions of outdoor culture, such as the correlation between privilege and accessibility. We have learned that, in order to be a responsible and informed member of outdoor culture, and to help improve that culture, one must recognize the inequity barrier that some people face when it comes to participating in recreational activities. To offer a real-life perspective on the course’s lessons, M.O.R.E. extends beyond its scheduled 9-11 a.m. timeslot on Tuesdays and takes us on several outings in the region. Specifically, the backpacking expedition is a cumulative experience to practice these inclusive values and concrete skills. From planning to execution, our expedition will put our prior preparations to the test.

However, on day two of the trip, when a fellow Arcadian has to be evacuated because of a knee injury, we kiss goodbye to our beautifully crafted itinerary and perfect preparations. It’s time to think on our toes. As we sit in the Johns Brook Lodge lean-to and consider our options, we decide to forego five of our ten planned High Peaks so we can hike our group member out as a whole crew. The next morning, we hike three miles back to the trailhead, say goodbye until we meet again, and wish our friend a speedy recovery. Although we had hoped to accomplish the challenging feat of hiking ten of the Adirondacks’ famous mountains, we have learned that being able to compromise for the community is a feat in itself. When the rest of the group hikes back in to finish out the week, we realize that the nuts and bolts of outdoor recreation isn’t the only thing we have been learning. Will Madison agrees, reminding us that “one of the biggest takeaways to expeditions is learning to adapt to the group and work as one team.” Thus, adverse circumstances help us arrive at the last pillar of M.O.R.E. class: communication and community. In the words of Amanda Colley, “Learning how to be an outdoor recreator is also about learning how to be a community member and vulnerable with others.” Not only have we built personal confidence in how to orient a map with a compass and light a camp stove, we have gained the ability to see for a group instead of just for ourselves.

Now, a week after our backpacking excursion and settling back into life at Arcadia, we notice the same dynamic shift becoming a predominant value within our village. From August to October, our minds were fixed on learning the system and enjoying the safety of Arcadia, but as we approach the middle of the semester, we are also prioritizing our people. Keeping support, trust, and vulnerability at the forefront of our everyday lives, we are creating the community we want to live in. It is the people who build the foundation of Arcadia and keep it standing even when plans need to change.