There are lots of ways a group of college friends can become closer, whether it is hanging out at a specific restaurant or coffee shop on a weekly basis or sticking together through library all-nighters during finals week. Of course, if none of that sounds adventurous enough, there's always the option to take a road trip across the country and visit thirty or so national parks.
Nick Armstrong, Bradley Giordano, Jenny Hoppert, Amanda Knight, and Christian Moore took this approach. Armstrong, Knight, and Moore are all Landscape Architecture majors (Moore has a second major in Origins of Western Thought); Hoppert studies Biology and Giordano studies Mechanical Engineering. They all met each other either through classes or through living in the same residence hall freshman year. Most of them are in Honors or Scholars or both, reflecting that the smaller, more individualized Honors classes and the field-related involvement opportunities in Scholars have made these programs very worthwhile. They also participated in the STEP program, which allows students to receive $2,000 in funding for a project related to their academic or career goals.
This endeavor began when Armstrong was in the car with Moore on the way to a Landscape Architecture meeting in Cleveland and half-jokingly brought up the idea of a two month road trip, noting that the upcoming summer would provide a rare opportunity of both funding and time for a trip. As many friends know, often the only thing required in order to make a seemingly crazy idea become reality is for another friend to be on board with it. Once Moore was convinced, they recruited a few other friends and began working with research advisor Krisi Cheramie from the Knowlton School of Architecture. The group's research theme was "The State of the Western National Parks Service in its Centennial Year" and each student chose a specific focus within that theme; a few examples are trail experiences and the increasing ozone levels in national parks. In addition to STEP funds, Professor Cheramie helped the group secure funding from the Undergraduate Research Office. The group spent about six months planning the budget, itinerary, and logistics of the trip.
While the students were excited about the opportunity to contribute to their fields through their research, a lot of the trip's most memorable moments occurred in their free time or during their interactions with each other. Moore recalls a daunting hike up Pike's Peak, during which the group got separated, lost communication, and experienced the effects of sleep deprivation and exhaustion. Somehow, they eventually made it to the top and ordered hot chocolate in celebration of overcoming their first major challenge as a team. Hoppert recalls a similar feeling of exhilaration upon reaching the top of Mount Whitney, the highest peak in the lower 48 states. However, not every exciting moment of the trip involved an intense day of climbing. Giordano notes that while he cannot choose one single favorite moment, sitting by a stream in a meadow of Yellowstone National Park and just observing the nature around him certainly comes close. Of course, none of the experiences on the trip would have been quite the same without the group dynamic. Armstrong has fond memories of staying in a cabin with his friends after several long days of backpacking in Montana. "Hanging out there with my friends on a lake without cell phone service and just sharing stories and jokes was my favorite memory of the trip," he says. Similarly, some of Knight's highlights include accidentally running into Justin Bieber without realizing it, adopting a pet animal cracker, and listening to the Harry Potter audio books while driving at night.
Since hiking through national parks for two months in a row is an exhausting, albeit exciting, task, the young travelers found some interesting ways to keep things light on the more challenging excursions. They admit that out of the 60 or so days of the road trip, approximately 40 were spent talking almost entirely in a bad British accent. "Sometimes, when we would be staying in houses with some of Christian's family, Brad would slip into the British accent while talking to the family members, and it was funny to see the utterly confused look on their faces," Hoppert says.
While each of the students has their own unique set of research experiences, favorite memories, and goals, they are all in unanimous agreement on one thing: that the trip was life-changing. It made them closer as a friend group but also more confident in their own abilities as individuals to set out to do something and then go out and actually accomplish it. In fact, Giordano adds that the transformation is evident to him even when looking through pictures from early on in the trip and comparing them with the last photo they took together before returning home. "While [the photo is of] the same people, the change is uncanny," he says. "We look relatively similar, with the exception of Christian's burly mane, but the look in our eyes, the way we stand, how we are holding each other, is undoubtedly different."
Though they have accomplished their collective goal of spending a summer on a road trip adventure, they still have plenty of things left on their individual bucket lists. Knight hopes to travel to the remaining ten states she hasn't visited yet, take fun electives before graduating, and get a landscape architecture internship. Hoppert is planning to go to medical school. Armstrong hopes for a career designing urban parks or perhaps working for the National Park Service. Giordano wants to get involved with the theme park engineering industry with the ultimate goal of working for Disney Imagineering. Moore wants to climb Half Dome in Yosemite with his father, study perennial gardens in the Netherlands, and grow his hair out until it is no longer stuck in "half bun limbo." All of them hope to travel more in the future, and strongly suggest that other students should look into doing the same. In fact, this group apparently wasn't the only one that thought the idea of going on a nature-filled road trip during college would be fun. "We ran into a pack of Ohio State students in Sequoia; they were spending their STEP funds hiking the John Muir trail," Moore says, confirming the theory that Buckeyes are everywhere. When it comes to other students considering travelling during their college years, Moore is the epitome of reassuring. When explaining his run-in with the other group of OSU students, he adds, "As far as I know, they all made it back alive."
By Christina Szuch, H&S Student Staff Writer