When we arrived at the Denver International Airport, the terminal packed full of people all singularly intent on getting to their destination as quickly as possible, many of us felt a bit aimless as we scanned the crowds for any sign we might recognize. We all wandered about, huge packs and duffels slung over our shoulders, looking for some sign of familiarity. As one student notes, “I was a bit wary of talking to strangers, but I sidled up to another who seemed to be in the same boat as me and asked him, ‘HMI?’ His affirmation brought the relief of knowing that I was in the right place, but also the nervousness of wanting to make a good first impression.” Though it took awhile, we all eventually noticed a sign labeled ‘HMI’ being waved about. A few others were already there. As we all introduced ourselves, the conversations were mostly get-to-know-you questions with a few awkward pauses sprinkled in. As more people arrived, we all got the sense that everyone was genuinely interested in meeting one another. The nervous excitement was palpable. We were a group of quite different and unique individuals, but instead of being put-off by those differences, we were excited and intrigued by them.
On our second evening of the Summer Term 2013, after a long day of orientation and community building, we gathered together around a bonfire. As our bonds with each other grew stronger and stronger with each passing hour, this gathering gave us a chance to pause and reflect upon our expectations and fears for this summer before we got too far in. We drew upon the community goals and expectations that we had established earlier in the day during a larger meeting including faculty and staff to discuss our feelings about the summer to come. On each of two pieces of paper, we wrote our thoughts on what lay ahead of us. We placed these in a bowl and then withdrew another peer’s notes. As we read aloud the fears and expectations of one of our unknown peers, we soon realized that many of us shared the same excitement and nervousness about the upcoming ten-day expedition and Summer Term in general. We were no longer alone with our anxieties, for we shared them with several others in our newly forming community. After each piece of paper was read aloud, it was tossed into the fire, allowing all of us to start fresh together. This experience brought together our community and let us move forward with a renewed sense that we are here together, knowing our future experiences will only create stronger bonds between us.
For our final day on campus before heading out into the Colorado wilderness, we split into three groups to prepare for the expedition. There was certainly a bit of nervous excitement on campus today, for few of us have rationed food for such a long trip or put so much into a backpack. However, everyone was supportive – we are all in this together after all – and the instructors worked hard alongside us, both teaching us and preparing themselves. It’s nearly unanimous that the most difficult part of the day came at the end when we were tasked with packing our pack. None of us thought that all of our gear could possibly fit into our packs. This was certainly reflected in the often heard “impossible!” Yet after two or three cracks at it, packing, unpacking, reorganizing, and re-packing, everything made its way inside our packs. We all felt very accomplished having finally succeeded at our first major expedition tasks. One student echoes the sentiments of the group, “I was amazed by the art of managing space, but more importantly, I learned how to adapt to changing situations with a positive attitude!”