Stories from the Field

Looking Back on Yosemite as an Alcoa Scholar Alum

Combined Shape Copy Created with Sketch.

My dad works for Alcoa in Bettendorf, Iowa, so that's originally how I found out about the Alcoa Scholars program. He came home one day and brought me the application and a pamphlet that explained what the program entailed. I had always loved the outdoors, but I didn't know a single thing about backpacking. I decided to give it a shot and I filled out the application to the best of my ability. About two months after submitting my application I received word that I was chosen to backpack in Yosemite National Park.

I remember feeling so excited, yet I had no idea what was in store for me and how my life would be affected by the trip.
Karly Lent, 2015 Alcoa Scholar

Leading up to the program, I think I was mostly excited to visit a new place and meet so many different people. However, the night before I left for the airport I could barely sleep. My mom was the one that took me to the airport that morning, and I cried immediately once we got there. Stepping into the airport I finally came to terms with the idea that I'd be spending days in the wilderness and didn't know a single thing about how to take care of myself out there. I realized that a lot of my excitement was also nerves in disguise. I got on the plane because my mom reminded me that it's OK to be nervous before, but that I had such an amazing opportunity waiting for me in California.
From the moment I was picked up at the airport by the NatureBridge team, I was shown that there was absolutely nothing to be worried about. In the car I met some of the other people I'd be backpacking with and I could tell that everyone else was a little nervous too, but ready to start the trip. Before we stepped foot into the backcountry, we spent three days learning more about what we'd encounter in the wilderness and we did several activities to learn more about our fellow backpackers. Once we finally hit the road for the backcountry on the fourth day, I felt ready.

My program leaders Andrew and Diem were the best ever. They were such great teachers and more importantly, they were so calm and patient which was something important to me. Whenever somebody needed a break, they were quick to accommodate. Whenever we had questions, they answered happily. There was one point in the week where I was feeling a little overwhelmed and exhausted, but Diem calmed me down and reminded me how proud she was that I had gotten that far. Without her I don't think I would have enjoyed the experience as much or even made it through.
The beauty in the backcountry of Yosemite was nothing I had ever seen before. I brought my camera with, but when I showed family and friends photos back home, they didn't even compare to the real-life beauty I saw in person. Something that I took away the most and something that I'm still very cognizant of today is how I keep the planet clean and how to preserve it. My leaders were so great about explaining why something isn't allowed or how to go to the bathroom even (there's no toilets in the backcountry in case you didn't know). One thing I learned that was surprising was that you're not even supposed to leave orange peels or food scraps behind. Although it's decomposable, it's not natural to the wildlife in the backcountry so it's not good for them to eat it. I always keep that in mind.
Overall, I have more respect for the environment from my Alcoa Scholars trip. Because I was completely immersed in nature, I truly got to know and understand the importance of preservation and my carbon footprint. We had to hold onto our trash for the week in our own plastic bags, so whatever trash you had, you had to hold onto for the rest of the trip. It made me more aware of my waste and how careless we can be sometimes. I try to relay the messages I learned to family and friends whenever I can, so that they can do their part in being a positive environmental steward. 
My advice to this year's scholars is to embrace every moment. Embrace packing at home. Embrace the relationships you'll create and stay in touch afterwards. Embrace everything you learn and take it home with you to spread that knowledge. There will be times when you're having a hard moment or when you wish you were at home laying in bed, but you'll never have an experience like this again. This program will change your life. It truly did mine and it's something I think about still today. I would do it over in a heartbeat. 

Check out these other