Undergraduate Student Blog, Speaking of Princeton

Undergraduate Student Blog

Author: Serena Zheng ’17

Rockville, Maryland • Computer Science View Profile

Fall Break in Shenandoah

Backpacking with Outdoor Action (OA)

Ahhh, fall break — it’s the most wonderful time of the year! The leaves are a million different colors, the weather is cool but still sunny, and at night, the air tastes smoky and crisp. Even better, Princeton students get an entire week off school.

After midterms, the week-long break is the perfect time to catch up on sleep or homework, visit family back home, take road trips with friends, or even go on a class trip. During my freshman year, I went back home, savoring the comforts of my own bed and home-cooked food. As a sophomore, I went on a Breakout trip in New York City. This year, I led an Outdoor Action (OA) backpacking trip in the Shenandoahs.

We drove down on the first weekend of fall break, passing through New Jersey, Pennsylvania, Maryland, West Virginia and, finally, Virginia to reach Shenandoah National Park. It had been a few months since I’d been in a car or beyond the borders of Princeton, New Jersey, so I relished driving a car, singing along to Top 40 radio, and seeing the trees along to road in their varying stages of fall colors.

On the road
Driving down to Virginia.

This OA trip was a Leave No Trace Master Educator course, generously funded by the Feather Foundation, which supports OA’s environmental sustainability efforts. During the day, we would hike, learn about the Leave No Trace principles and discuss how we could teach other OA leaders how to reduce their environmental impact on their trips. We also did all of the usual OA things, like bear bagging, playing Mafia in our tent at night and eating lots of GORP.

bear bags
7am, the usual morning lineup: taking down our bear bags.

OA group
The group on the trail.

Sometimes, the wind would blow and shower us with a whirlwind of red and golden leaves.

One of the many waterfalls we saw.

The group discussing Leave No Trace principle #3. Dispose of waste properly

My favorite part of the trip was at night, when the sky would get completely dark after the sun set at 5 p.m. And by dark, I mean zero light pollution, which is not a common experience on the East Coast. On one of our first nights on the trip, we lay out by a big meadow and stared up at the Milky Way. The sky felt so big! Toward the end of the trip, our campsite for the night overlooked a valley, so we could see colorful lights glowing from the small towns below, which was probably one of my favorite sights from the trip. Another bonus was seeing shooting stars at night; I hadn't expected to see any, which made the numerous sightings all the more wonderful.

We went to sleep every night around 9 p.m. (there’s not much else you can do once it gets dark in the mountains), and there was nothing to worry about without Internet or showering. Overall, I'd have to say that it was a relaxing and rejuvenating break. If only all life could consist of pretty leaves, shooting stars, and plenty of sleep! But, alas, I am a student and duty calls.

Now, back to studying!