College Ambassadors

New Levels

AESOP is an acronym for Annual Entering Student Outdoor Program. At Bates College, a small school in Maine, this is a required part of orientation for first year students. AESOP is often times the highlight of orientation for a Bates first year. Trips include hiking Mount Katahdin, mountain biking in Acadia national park, and canoeing on Maine’s crystal clear lakes, to name a few. Considering I am a senior at Bates this year and that AESOP was the highlight of my orientation, I decided to pair up with a good friend to lead ten first years into the woods of Maine. 

            The trip my co-leader Hope and I were assigned to lead was called Flagstaff Lake. The trip was amphibious. We were to hike a mountain range, the Bigelows, which overlook Flagstaff Lake.

Following the backpacking along the mountain range we would lead the first years down to Flagstaff Lake where a picturesque paddle would ensue. When I first signed up to lead ten nervous students that do not know each other into the Maine wilderness to do things they have never done before, I decided to keep expectations low.  

            The trip started out well. The first and arguably riskiest part of the trip was the 100-mile van ride to the trailhead of the Bigelow mountain range. The kids seemed upbeat, talking with each other and enjoying the carefree playlist. Once we arrived at the trailhead, the hike commenced. The first day we ended up hiking about seven miles. Although it might not seem like a lot of mileage, for beginners this seemed like a long day. Comments from some of the students were questioning if they could do it, how much longer the hike was, etc. Hope and I made sure to lead the group with positivity, encouraging the group that the views will be well worth the hike. Sure enough, by the end of the first day the comments began to change from doubt to promise as the group began to meld together.

The second day continued with amazing backpacking along the Appalachian Trail. The group summited three peaks this day and met some thru hikers on the AT. Meeting people who have been on the trail since early March seemed to motivate our group. By the end of the second day the group was meshing together as we found our campsite beside the lake at the base of the mountain range. The group was entertaining themselves so much so that by the second day Hope and I were merely in the background of the trip. This trend continued through the 11-mile paddle on Flagstaff Lake. By the end of the trip, everyone was happy and impressed with what they had accomplished and that they had done it together.

            All in all, my low expectations were blown away. If I had higher expectations, those would have been blown away as well. Among the many lessons learned during this experience, one was to never underestimate a group of young and motivated people. I also learned about the powerful ability of the outdoors to bring together a group of strangers. I look forward to rewarding adventures like this one in the future.