ISEP student Catherine M. is a student blogger and part of our new ISEP Voices program. She is a chemical engineering major from American University of Sharjah, and is currently studying abroad at Virginia Tech.
When spring finally arrives in the East Coast, you take advantage of it. So last week, I decided to go on a camping trip with Virginia Tech’s rock climbing and whitewater rafting clubs. I can safely say that it was the greatest decision I made since I started my study abroad journey!
How it all began
There will come a time in your study abroad period where you think you’ve done everything there is to do, especially if you’re studying in a small college town. But thankfully for me, I couldn’t be more wrong.
I noticed that an international friend of mine had posted several pictures of her rock climbing around Virginia so I asked her how she’d found and traveled to all these great places. She referred me to the school’s rock climbing club and told me about a camping trip they were having in a few days. I immediately emailed the club coordinator (who was coincidentally from my hometown, Dubai) and luckily for me, I got a spot on the trip at the last minute!
The day before
For a 21-year-old girl who’d lived in the Middle East her whole life, I didn’t have the slightest clue about camping and all the gear you need just to take on the great outdoors. I asked around and was directed to one of Virginia Tech’s recreational sports units: Venture Out. There they offered rentals for camping gear like sleeping bags, tents and camping backpacks, all for a reasonable price. After some thorough web-surfing, I packed my bag with the camping essentials and actually managed to ensure that I “travel light” for the first time in my life.
Venture Out at Virginia Tech
The day was off to an early start and we began our drive from Blacksburg, Virginia to Lansing, West Virginia at 6:30 a.m. Two hours later, we arrived at the campsite and were ready to set up our tents.
Setting up our tents at Cooter’s Cabins & Campin’
We then drove down to the New River Gorge Trails where my fitness was definitely put to the test. Once we parked the van, we hiked for what felt 100 miles, on possibly the most exhausting terrain I’d ever walked.
The New River Gorge Trails’ elaborate guidebook
The uphill (and downhill) hike to the climbing trails in the New River Gorge area
Soon after, we reached the first climbing spot and the excitement was enough to totally erase my exhaustion. I semi-climbed four different trails.
Image from Catherine's Instagram: Taking on one of the climbs
Climbing upwards wasn’t always the way – a little cat re-enactment was sometimes necessary
Climbing was definitely a fun but not entirely easy experience. Though you’re held by a rope, it’s hard to trust that there will be something to catch you if you fall. I probably wouldn’t have had the guts to go through with many of these climbs if it weren’t for the climbing crew’s occasional, “You’re killing it!” or, “Keep going!” – they definitely knew how to keep someone motivated.
My friend Marie nailing her climb
Humans weren’t the only climbers around – if you look hard enough, you’ll find a giant spiderweb to prove it!
By sunset, it was time to head back to the campsite. We set up a small bonfire, and we sat there for a few hours laughing, talking, eating and all the usual camping shenanigans!
Image from Catherine’s Instagram: Setting up the bonfire
I woke up feeling like a true hero – and I believe it was well deserved because I managed to get through a night of sleeping on an incline (and therefore slipping in the tent), as well as cuddling with a few cute bugs.
Image from Catherine’s Instagram: Waking up to pretty views
Our second day was all about rafting in the New River Gorge. After a two hour scenic drive, we reached the starting point, inflated the rafts, put on our wet suits and got ready to take on the river. I can safely say after hearing the basics from my raft guide, rafting was a lot easier than climbing. The only tricky parts were the river rapids where you could fall into the river and hit the rocks below, but that’s what helmets are for, right?
All in all, rafting for four hours down the beautiful River Gorge was more relaxing than anything, and I’d definitely do it all over again.
My friend Marie posing with the rafts
A view of the river from the starting point
After this, it was back to pretty Blacksburg, Virginia and it was time for the longest sleep I’d had in a while.
The Overall Experience
I started the trip thinking, “I’m definitely going to get hurt.” Though it did happen, I’m so glad I got a chance to do this. Growing up, I always wanted to go on outdoor adventures, but never thought it was possible in the Middle East. On my trip, I met another student at Virginia Tech from Dubai who told me all about some great campsites and climbing trails in the United Arab Emirates, which I definitely want to try out once I get back.
Now I have one new adventure and story to tell and two new hobbies, all thanks to this study abroad program. I couldn’t be more grateful.
Here’s to discovering yourself in new places!
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