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A Week in the Woods: My Favorite Conference Table

By June 24, 2024No Comments

By Keli Berkman*

In March, I spent a week in the woods learning, growing, and eating a lot of peanut butter. I had the incredible opportunity to complete the Wilderness First Responder (WFR) course offered by Landmark Learning in Cullowhee, NC, thanks to the Office of Sustainability’s Professional Development Sponsorship Program. Over the course of 5 days and 5 nights, I mastered patient assessment, treatment, and rescue strategies for injuries and illness in the backcountry. As a professional in Outdoor Recreation, WFR is the pinnacle wilderness medical training. Even more, as a professional in Outdoor Recreation, a week in the woods is my favorite conference table.

Photography of Tallulah Gorge Overlook

The view of Tallulah Gorge from the overlook.

On a Sunday afternoon, I left the plains. The 4-hour drive passed quickly. No traffic in Atlanta? Yes, please! Shortly before 6 PM, I pulled into Clayton, GA. I saw a sign for a scenic overlook just before Tallulah Falls. So, naturally, I took the right and followed the road. I’ve hiked the gorge before. Seeing it from the cliff’s edge was new in its own way, and exactly what I needed to finish out the drive.

In our world of instant and constant connection, it is always humbling to find yourself out of cell service range. During that week, I savored every sip of coffee from a plastic mug because the nights were colder than I expected, and the days were long. In the moments walking up the hill to my tent at night or walking the stream at lunch, I reflected on where I spend my time each day and those I spend it with. Because, ultimately, who we spend our time with and how we cherish it are what matter most.

The training was an incredible experience. I met many people passionate about the outdoors. I also found a renewed confidence in my skills. It’s safe to say, I was energized to put the week to work. This course, that week, has opened new opportunities for Auburn Outdoors at Auburn University. Auburn Outdoors is an intentional and inclusive community that supports student success through a positive recreational experience at our four program areas: Outdoor Gear Rental Center, Bike Shop, Climbing Wall, and Outdoor Trips. Auburn Outdoors is student centered and student run!

Photography of stream in the Appalachian Mountains.

The stream I enjoyed walking while at training.

Our Outdoor Trips are led by students who have been trained in group dynamics and management, emergency action procedures, and Leave No Trace principles, as well as technical skills in mountain biking, climbing, and paddling. Auburn Outdoors leads trips locally to Chewacla and Montgomery Whitewater as well as regionally to Cheaha State Park and Cherokee Rock Village. Our goal is to expand our trip leader team’s skill set to lead trips nationally in the near future to places like Big Bend National Park.

As a result of our participation in the WFR curriculum, the professional team at Auburn Outdoors is working on building out a Wilderness and Remote First Aid curriculum that Student Trip Leaders will be able to take to equip them to respond to medical emergencies in remote areas. They, too, will master patient assessment, treatment, and rescue strategies for injuries and illness in the backcountry. As Auburn Outdoors increases the number of Trip Leaders with wilderness medicine knowledge, more trips and more diverse trip opportunities will open for Auburn students – like Big Bend!

If you haven’t walked into Auburn Outdoors, I invite you to learn more about the community at Auburn Outdoors, find a new place to get outside, or apply to become a Student Trip Leader. We look forward to helping you connect early and often to the outdoors at Auburn.

*Keli serves as an Assistant Director in Campus Recreation & Wellness, leading Auburn Outdoors, and is the recipient of the Sustainability Professional Development Sponsorship Award.