Op-ed: Outreach


The Canyonlands in Utah. Photo contributed by Reza Darvish.

Reza Darvish

Two weeks ago, I came back from the Utah Canyonlands in the southern deserts of Utah, with a group of 10 other people on a hiking trip that lasted one week. We lugged 50 lb. backpacks, climbed and descended canyons and navigated off-trail with our eyes, maps and persistence.

This is new for me; I was born and raised in Miami, Fla., where there are absolutely no hills, and much less any canyons. I am a city kid with no prior experience backpacking or climbing. On this trip, I transformed. I pushed boundaries I didn’t know I had, to become the rough-necked ruffian I now know myself to be today.

I am a college student; I was with nine other students from Whitman College and our instructor who has a long history with the National Outdoor Leadership School. We learn wilderness skills, environmental ethics, risk management, how to lead and withstand extended trips in the backcountry.

Climbing was my worst fear; I felt like a fish between boulders in a desert. I nudged myself in awkward spaces and scuffled my way through several more. Often my muscles became weak, I was dehydrated, ready to slip and fall into the rocky crevices below. At worst, it paralyzed me, but with the invaluable and undying support of those around me, I managed to push through.

Without them, I would not have been able to do it. That said, I care a lot about how I relate to those around me. I’m not the best at it. Part of it is my personality, or the beliefs I uphold, or the experiences I’ve had. My progress in any moment is hard to measure, and it changes over our lifetime. Yet, if I learned anything on this trip, it’s that this progress is guided by our ability to imagine the needs of other people. The power of this imagination is the initiative which will inspire us to act on behalf of others. This ability is the key to leadership. It strengthens our friendships, families, and communities. It’s what pulled me through the hardships of roughing it, helped me face fear and in the end, it’s what brought our group so close together.