Outdoor Leadership Highlight: Sisquoc Trip | Midland School

Outdoor Leadership Highlight: Sisquoc Trip

Ayanna '24 reflects on thirty miles and five days filled with memories

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Summer 2021

As the sticky spring turning to summer heat clung to the base of my neck and back, I reflected on the past couple hours leading up to this moment, trudging up the winding switchbacks of the desert landscaped mountains, my 65 liter backpack full of gear. I had left Midland’s main campus a few hours earlier, smooshed into cars, napping and grooving to the last of the music before we started our trek along the Sisquoc River, a trip that would take us through sandy manzanita-covered terrain, Pinyon pine forests, through creek beds swollen with water and down dry riverbeds; a total of over thirty miles and five days filled with memories. 

Our first two days were the most challenging out of the five. The first consisted of an uphill climb on the face of a mountain with the brutal sun in our faces and little shade to soothe the scorching heat. Sweat trickled down my spine, and on our first packs-off break, I found my shirt already sopping wet, the warm breeze soothing my burning skin. We had hiked four miles out of the five we had to cover before dark, which was only a couple hours away. My muscles were so tight and coily, I felt like a couch spring, and my lungs felt dry and each breath I took felt like a hindrance to my body. A junior and steward who was our designated leader of the day (LOD), slowed to my pace, umbrella in hand and gave me the verbal push I needed to make it to our next patch of shade and water break.

I had hiked Grass Mountain (a calf-burning workout up the gorgeous mountain framing Midland’s campus) two times in one week, had packed down Zaca Ridge and through Los Padres National Forest, a few weeks prior, on Experiential Week. I had felt like I was ready to conquer this trip, but at this point, only six or so hours in, I felt like I’d bitten off more than I could chew. This was not a great sneak peek into the trip, and I wasn’t the only one struggling, but that awful drudge up a fire road proved to be worth it for the next four days of our trip. The next few days were incredibly better and climbed uphill, so to speak. As we trekked along the Sisquoc River, we saw horned toads, turtles, meadows of flowers, and the occasional rattlesnake. Over the next couple of days, we hiked 9-12 mile days, and each day my lungs burned a little less.

On the third night of our trip, we stopped at Whiteledge Canyon, the sandstone echoing with the descending call of the Canyon Wren. This was where we were going to spend solo, a night by ourselves where we were given an area of space to set up our shelters and rest and reflect on the trip. We had packed with us a solo tarp and ground tarp, which we’d used consistently throughout the trip. Each solo tarp had six stakes and six pieces of paracord and it was up to each of us to decide how to put it up.

On the first solo I’d ever done, around two years ago, I’d fallen asleep about two hours into the solo because I was so busy thinking about food that it was hard to do anything else. This time, I had a lot more to think about than being hungry; in fact being isolated, so far away from campus and exhausted from the experience that we’d had, I was really able to tie together what we’d learned and been practicing in the past weeks, in terms of leadership. Both externally and internally.

This trip was both my highlight and the most challenging thing I did in Outdoor Leadership. On the last day of our trip, I was LOD along with a classmate, and guided by our older peers and stewards, we led the rest of the group nine miles back to the parking lot where we’d get picked up. Even though we had the support of the rest of our Outdoor Leadership team, who had more experience than us younger students, knowing that the faculty on the trip trusted us enough to navigate on our own to the parking lot was really empowering. The trip challenged me in ways that I had and hadn’t foreseen.

The trip challenged me in ways that I had and hadn’t seen. I pushed myself harder than I had on any trip at Midland so far, and from that I learned that I was capable of things I didn’t think I was capable of, in terms of physical labor and mental strength, which was a great learning experience. Learning how to communicate my own needs to be a better asset to the group as a whole was a challenge for me, but by the end of the trip I was able to be up front with what I needed to better perform as not only a leader but a part of the whole group.

I returned from that trip, a long winding drive back to campus, with a euphoric attitude and a tidbit of wisdom that Dan, the trip leader and Dean of Experiential learning said to us; that no matter how hard we tried to explain that trip to anyone who wasn’t on it, only the people who hiked those miles along the Sisquoc, jumped into its deep pools, shared stories, jokes, riddles, cooked meals together, and explored canyons, would really be able to know what that experience was.

By Ayanna ’24

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