On their hands and knees, Cal Poly’s Poly Escape students venture through a cave with nothing but wetsuits and headlamps. Although the cave is pitch dark and silent, they continue through with a thirst for adventure. This group of students originally began as 14 strangers, however their journey has brought them together to face the true essence of the wilderness.
Poly Escapes hosts 25-35 student run trips each quarter in different regions of California and Nevada. By participating in these trips, students are exposed to the great outdoors and a variety of new people with similar interests.
“Every trip I lead I have someone tell me that its changed their life or that it’s one of the coolest thing they have done,” Wade Meade, a kinesiology senior and Poly Escape leader, said. “To have someone tell me that I changed their life in the course of a weekend, you can’t really get better than that.”
Wade, who grew up in a California ski town, has always loved nature and being outdoors, but he claims that Poly Escapes has only made him love nature more. He said that it is extremely rewarding to be someone facilitating happiness and the enjoyment of nature. A lot of the time there is no need to say anything, because “nature is the star of the show” and “it’s what unities us and brings us all together.”
Due to the unpredictability of nature, Wade and several other students had interesting stories to share.
1.Death Valley National Park
(As told by Wade)
There was a trip that went to Death Valley and it took them a long time to get there. They got there at like 1:30 a.m. and they were super tired. The wind was strong and they didn’t realize how windy it was until they reached the visitor center in the middle of Death Valley. They opened the car door and it almost fell off the hinges. All this dirt and sand came blowing into the car. They shut the door and were like “Oh, I don’t really want to camp in that.’ So they got a hotel room and crammed 14 people in the room and they had a great time. It is stuff like that that ends up being a weird situation: body to body on the floor.”
As told by Jacob McKinney)
We were hiking on a snowy hill and there was some people at the bottom. There was an avalanche and we started to slide a bit. It wasn’t a full avalanche (we are calling it a “snow sluff”) and it partially buried a few people, which is very terrifying to have snow covering you. You are sort of trapped and cannot move your feet. Luckily, everyone was fine. One person was covered up to the waist and the other up to their chest. Everyone in the group grabbed shovels, and started to dig the participants out. It was a scary experience that makes you realize that you are at the mercy of nature.
3. Camaraderie at its Finest
(As told by Dina Saba, an english junior and a member of the frontline staff at Poly Escapes)
So on our van going back home, they played Fergie for the last half of the trip. My friend and I just went for it and were singing really loud and all the guys were like ‘Oh, what’s happening,’ but then they were like ‘ No, we like this now, this is good.’ They got use to it after a while. It was fun. It was camaraderie at its finest, I think. The boundaries are broken and you can just be yourself. It’s just interesting because you are smelly and you’re just a mess of a person but there are no social boundaries. Everything is broken. It is such a feeling that I don’t get to feel very often. I am so use to having a bathroom at my disposable, I go home and shower, and sleep on a nice bed (you can just be your true primitive self). You are just peeling back parts of your self and you are just a person. You can just goof off and not think about it twice. It is such a different feeling. It’s hard to describe, but you feel free.
These stories show the funny, the scary and the liberating feelings that Poly Escapes, with the help of nature, experience.
Jacob said that he loves to see the bonding that goes on within the trips. Even though the students might start off as strangers, they soon cultivate a close relationship.
“By the end of the trip, Sunday night, when we are driving home, we have all bonded,” he said. “We all have jokes and we all are a tight knit group that have shared a lot of lifelong memories.”