From Asia to the California Wilderness! A major program of Resident Assistant (RA) training at my college includes a 4 day backpacking experience known as Imprint. The RAs are divided into teams consisting of RAs from various dorms and Resident Life staff with whom they spend a few days hiking mountains and living together within the parameters of nature. The purpose of the trip is to challenge the upcoming student leaders in their skills of preparation, communication, leadership, service, spiritual care and personal awareness. Imprint initiates the beginning of the RA’s training and year-long work ahead. It serves as the foundation from which RAs (like me) will source strength and encouragement in times of confusion, busyness, exhaustion, excitement, beginnings, and ends. If you haven’t already figured out…Imprint is a powerful experience that engages the whole of a person and a personal experience worth sharing.
As you can only imagine…the anticipation surrounding Imprint consisted of more fears than enthusiasm. Carrying a 50-60lb backpack across rocky and often shifting terrain holds many physical liabilities. Also, just imagining the amount of physical endurance required to hike all day with that load saps the energy right out of someone. No showers, no toilet paper (large plant leaves and soft rocks as our only replacements), and a communal shovel for digging a body hole throws all standard hygiene expectations out-the-window.*bleh* Food always holds a special area of concern as it can make or break a person– and their digestive tract (y’all know what I’m talking about). Is it even necessary to mention the fact that any team situation includes the uncertainty of human personalities mingling? To say the least, the challenges of Imprint can induce a sudden sensation to run to our cozy beds, full fridges and seated toilets with plushy toilet paper. Yet, a whole week later and now in the depths of RA policy training, I look forward to the next opportunity where I can grab my hiking boots and live humbly in the fresh air of the wild.
My team was the “Luscious Lemons” and we conquered the trails of Franklin Lake and Forester Lake! *Hooray* Each day we covered approximately 6+ miles and thousands of feet in elevation…eventually reaching an elevation of 12,000+ ft (coming from sea level *shoulder brush*). We walked along worn trails, through mosquito ridden forests, in blazing heat (I was gifted with a seared scalp and nose burn), and up/down rocky and loose paths. All the while, we each shouldered a pack of clothing, overnight gear, and team supplies. *whoa* The mornings often felt too quick, the hills too steep, and the evenings cold-to-the-bone. But I wouldn’t have changed it for the world…and neither would any of my teammates. Amidst all the “suffering” and physically uncomfortable moments, we laughed until our stomachs hurt. We ate until we could eat no more. We threw away pretenses (especially concerning digestive realities) and lived in raw vulnerability with one another. We encouraged fervently. We pushed until we conquered. We served intentionally. Our 4 days in the wilderness stripped away all falsities and illusion of our character and priorities. It left us with the core of who we were as human beings and young leaders. Imprint placed us in the state of simplicity where both authentic joy and deep struggle coexist. Most importantly, it provided us –me– the time to step into solitude and silence with others—the most beautiful kind of community.