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Monthly Archives: February 2021

Out on the Trail

By Leah

We’ve reached the height of the season for dog sledding trips, and are now going out on an overnight trip about once a week. Just yesterday we got back from a three-day trip–we spent two nights at our established winter campsite, with five of us staff members, five clients, and 20 dogs.

            A trip like this takes a lot of work. Preparation began a few days in advance, with me packing out all of the food we would need. The day after all of the food was organized, I went with one of my bosses to drag the food into our campsite by snowmobile and to move dog sleds to the trailhead.  That evening, our five clients arrived–we settled them into our guest lodge, outfitted them with all of the warm clothes they would need, and told them to be ready to go at 8:30 in the morning.

            The next day we fed the dogs at 6:30 in the morning, then all of us staff ate a quick breakfast together and got moving: backpacks and skis and snowshoes and ropes and all sorts of extra equipment and parts had to be loaded into the trucks, and then the dogs were loaded, and we were off, driving to the trailhead.

            Once we’re at the trailhead, the dogs stay in the truck until the last minute. They’re always ready and raring to go, so as soon as they’re hooked up to the sleds you have to leave right away or else they’ll get frustrated. But there’s plenty of stuff that has to happen before the dogs can get hooked up: our ski guide set off with two of the clients (they need an early start since they can’t move as fast as the dog team), and the lines on the dog sleds were all laid out and prepared, and the qomatik was loaded with anything that there wasn’t room for in the three sleds, and then the qomatik was attached to the snowmobile by a tow bar, and finally we started unloading dogs from the truck. We divided the 20 dogs into three teams: an eight-dog team and two six-dog teams, each with a staff member mushing and a client inside the sled. Me and my fellow apprentice took turns mushing the last team and driving the snowmobile, which follows behind the last dog team. And we set off, winding down our trail onto the lake, and then into a cove where our campsite is.

            The campsite has several canvas wall tents that we leave erected all winter. Each tent has a bough floor and a wood stove. As soon as we got to camp, half of us tied the dogs up in camp and  gave each one of them a bed of hay while the other half went out onto the lake with an ice chisel and a sled full of empty pots to collect water.

          Once the dogs were all watered and the sleds and qomatik unpacked, we ate lunch together out on the ice. After that there were chores to be done: finding firewood and bringing it back to camp, and cutting up meat for the dogs, and fetching and boiling more water as needed, and collecting boughs to add to the tents, and chopping wood, and keeping stoves running, and finally making dinner. After dinner we did the dishes, and then we went down onto the lake for my favorite part of every overnight trip: the campfire.

            In a normal year, guests and staff would all eat together in the largest tent (the cook tent), passing around food, telling stories, getting to know each other. But with COVID, we can’t all be in one tent together–we have to eat separately. So every night, we make a campfire out on the lake. That’s where storytelling and socializing happens this year.

            The wind blows jets of smoke and sparks, causing us to engage in a perpetual dance around the fire as its direction changes. On this night, the stars were the best I’ve seen them here–they reminded me of my trip to Big Bend this fall; they were almost as bright.

            Thanks to the nature of the service that we provide and our rigorous safety policies, we have been able to keep taking folks on these amazing trips, even while COVID is still an incredibly dangerous threat to many people, businesses, and communities. It’s a pleasure to get to spend time meeting new people after months of isolation, and it’s so much fun to watch them experience the wonder of the dogs and the outdoors, and incredibly rewarding to know that I helped facilitate that experience.

            I’ll be here for about two more months–I’m so excited to spend more time with the dogs, and with amazing people out on the trail.

How Skiing Made Me a Better Person

By Christina

This month I began work as a lift operator at a ski resort in Utah.  I maintain the ramps that you ski on to load or unload the lift; manage the buttons that start, stop, and control the speed of the lift; and bump chairs on fixed-grip lifts, meaning I hold back the chair to slow it down for you on lifts where the chair remains at full speed in the loading zone.  My job is simple.  My life is really simple.  When work ends, I stop thinking about it.  There is no homework or work outside of work.  My headspace is free on my off time.  On my days off, I ski, and all of my energy and thought goes towards existing presently in those moments.  I love my job and I love what my job enables me to do: ski.  I am simply and purely happy.  I worry that this happiness is situational and that when I go back to a higher-stress, faster-paced, more real-world environment I will revert back to a more stressed, closed-off, success-oriented version of myself.  My environment here has changed me: I am less anxious and stressed, I live entirely in the present, and I have built stronger foundations for friendships and hobbies than ever before by prioritizing them.  My goal for this winter is to keep identifying the ways that my environment has changed me and solidify these changes into who I am so I can keep being this better version of myself no matter my environment.  I am still figuring out how to accomplish this goal, but I think the answers are consciousness and habit.  If I’m aware of how I’m acting and changing, I am in control and can consciously make choices that are in line with who I want to be.  Making those positive choices over and over again will make acting on those traits and values habit, which will make those traits and values a part of me with time.  My current environment is one of a kind: my colleagues are ski bums, our work attire is Under Armor, we ski on work breaks and days off, and I have boots and a helmet in my backpack instead of books.  I am living my dream, but the best part is the change in myself I am seeing when I’m doing what I love all the time.  I hope that these positive changes will stick and remind me of this winter for the rest of my life.

New Paths

By Kayla

The start of the new year – it’s always a mix of excitement and apprehension. I’m looking forward to what the year will bring, and can’t wait to make the most of my gap year.

Recently, I’ve revisited old interests that I hadn’t pursued before. In my family’s storage, I found an old guitar that I had bought at a flea market years ago. I had never learned to play, so I decided to add “learning to play guitar” to my gap year checklist. My first step was to buy guitar picks, and the next steps I took were watching YouTube tutorials and reading chord diagrams. Creating music is especially interesting to me because of my dance background. Music is always a guarantee when I take ballet class or perform on a stage. I immediately think of choreography when I hear music, so playing the guitar pushes me to focus on creating the music instead of just interpreting it. It’s interesting to be on a different side of an art form, and I plan to experiment merging my music and dance together. I’m excited to continue learning guitar and explore as many art forms as I can.

I’ve also started going on bike rides again. It’s been years since I biked regularly, as I was busy with homework and ballet classes. Since I’ve been at home for a while now, biking is a great way for me to get fresh air. I’ve been working on increasing my distance each ride, while enjoying the breeze and the nature surrounding the trail. Biking allows me to exercise safely outside during the pandemic, and to reflect on everything that’s happening. With a few more months of biking, I’ll be all ready to bike around Durham!

Exploring different activities is helping me to broaden my horizons, and I can’t wait to see what the rest of the year brings!

Small But Significant

By Sofia

If you’ve explored any number of posts on this blog, you’ll quickly realize that a gap year is time to dream big: travel the world, learn a new language, get an awesome internship, and try things you never imagined you would do.

But what can go unspoken, is the satisfaction from doing the little things. Those things you always told yourself you would do when you had extra time. Those things you never got around to doing in the shuffle and chaos of school, college applications, extracurriculars, and daily life.

Mine, in particular, was reading. Yes, I read a lot in high school, but I rarely read *just for fun*. My childhood habit of reading entire books in a night was gone. By the time I finished everything I needed to do in a day, I’d be longing to climb into bed, incapable of reading more than a few pages before being swept to sleep.

Since I finished my Outward Bound trip, I’ve been reading at least a book per week—a pace that would have been unfathomable a year ago. I’ve devoured 7 book series, hoards of nonfiction, and lately, I’ve been delving into some classics.

About a year ago, I was given a ton of vintage books by my grandpa. Think William Shakespeare, Jane Austen, Emily Bronte type classics. The kind of books that require more interpretation and deciphering than your average modern bestseller, at least for those of us who balk at the formality of 1700s English. The yellowed pages, creased spines, and worn covers made the books all that more attractive, drawing me in. What better way to read some of the most recognized literary works than in true vintage form? But I put them off, waiting out literary burnout from years of forced reading in English classes.

My point is that among the other interesting things I’ve accomplished this year, I’ve had time in my gap year to check some of these off my to-do list. I’m getting the chance to read masterpieces that my classes didn’t cover, and to genuinely enjoy them, instead of working my way through out of sheer obligation.

Developing My Application

By Shun

Happy New Year!

I hope that everyone is doing well amid the ongoing pandemic.

In the past few weeks, the situation in Japan has worsened severely, with many prefectures calling for a state of emergency. Although that’s made it difficult to meet with friends and explore various restaurants and cafes, it’s given me a significant amount of time to focus on programming my application.

With the application I am developing coming closer to completion, I have been contacting organizations in Japan and the United States to see if I can run trials at their facilities. It’s been especially difficult in Japan as I lack connections with schools and organizations. But last week, I was given the opportunity to trial with an organization in Ibaraki Prefecture.

This organization, known as Mokuyou Ichi Online (木曜市オンライン) takes orders for vegetables sold at a local farmers market and delivers them to people’s homes. My application was going to be used in the delivery portion of the operation, for two weeks (once a week).

At first, it was quite difficult for me to imagine a society in which vegetables were locally grown and locally distributed. Growing up in the suburbs of New York, I only knew of a society where people went to the grocery store to buy produce. However, I learned there were many people in Japan (like Ibaraki) who still depended on their crops for fresh produce.

As I made final preparations to the app to make sure it ran smoothly on the first day, a familiar sensation of nervous excitement grew within me. It was only a small trial with a few users, but I knew I wouldn’t be able to step in if something went wrong. What if it didn’t work? I pondered upon these questions continuously, but in the end, the excitement that came with seeing my app being used after months of development won over.

 In the end, the trial ended up running quite smoothly. There were no glaring issues, and the application itself received positive feedback from both the organization and the users. It was still a small trial, but a step towards a final product. I look forward to next week and the trials that are yet to come.



Shifting to the City

By Sammy

Four months flew by in a flash. Four months in the holy city of Jerusalem.

Though I’ve known we’d be moving to Tel Aviv the whole time, I didn’t acknowledge how immense a transition it would be. Two diverse cities, both melting pots of cultures and religions, yet at the same time, completely opposite. To be honest, the difference only really hit me when playing Spikeball on the Tel Aviv Beach. I turned in a circle, taking in the light blue water, pedestrians zooming by on scooters, and towering buildings amid a bustling city. Less than a few weeks prior, I was playing the same sport with the same people, but instead my view consisted of a hilly landscape, a shining golden dome, and the ancient Western Wall. How could both these cities be part of the same country?

Birthright proved to be the perfect transition. Leaving our rooms in Jerusalem, our homes for the last four months, we embarked on a week of touring the country. We trekked up and down the whole of Israel, hitting all the sites from Haifa in the North to Eilat in the deep South. Each city felt like its own country, with a unique population made up of its own milieu of immigrants. Our guide taught us an interesting concept: ask any Israeli where they were born, where they served in the army, and where their parents are from, and we could generally infer their political opinions. Each city has its own circumstances, immigrants, and perspectives. Somehow, Israel seemed a state of many countries. In Haifa, a much less religious area, Russian immigrants dominate neighborhoods of the city. In Eilat, some Israelis can see the borders of Egypt and Jordan from their windows. We even traveled to Sderot, where brave Israelis live just miles from the Gaza border. There, almost 40% of children have PTSD from the constant rocket attacks. Depending on one’s location, people have between fifteen and five seconds to find safety in a bomb shelter! Even the parks, where children play everyday, were lined with these shelters.



We walked as close as we could to the Gaza border wall, led by one of the locals. To my deep surprise, her words were not bitter. She called the Gazans her neighbors, telling us of the family friends she had across the wall from before Israel gave the land away. She gave us ceramics with symbols of peace to stick on the wall, despite the constant aggression with Gaza.


Birthright was cut short after a week however, due to the COVID-19 lockdown imposed by the Israel government. We found ourselves quickly whisked away to the city of Tel Aviv, where we were more likely to see skyscrapers than synagogues from our windows.

A new sense filled us: independence. We were cooking our own meals now (sometimes with disastrous results), and finding our own internships. After Spikeball on the beach and finding an internship at a high frequency trading start-up, I thought I grasped the fact that we were living in a real city. Then my friends and I had our phones and wallets stolen. In my private Jewish high school, we did not even have locks on our lockers. We left our stuff wherever, trusting in a moral Jewish community. Often, when people come to Israel, they assume that because most everyone shares the same religion, there is a mutual trust among Israeli citizens. That idea seems foolish now, but in the places I and others on my program grew up, “Jewish” felt like “trustworthy.” However, that clearly was not the case. We tracked my last phone location from Find IPhone to an obscure bush in a random park, finding our empty phone cases and wallets strewn about. Our cash was gone, but our cards and IDs were thankfully still there. We were living in a city now. I might not have realized it before, but all my life — and I’m sure others on my program feel the same way — I’ve felt that I’ve been protected by some sort of safety net. Throughout school, it’s easy to assume you have something to fall back on. You have your shared community, shared routine, and a simple justice system: break rules, you’re punished; excel, and you’re rewarded. You had a family to go back home to every night that could help you with any problem. I had a rough understanding of the concept of “the real world” before this trip — leaving school, making a life for yourself. However, I can’t say that I ever really understood it. With independence comes the hard truth that you’re responsible for everything in your life. Making sure you’re healthy, safe, and thriving. There’s no plan in place to ensure your success, and no clear and swift justice system to make bad things good again. This second semester is going to be a fabulous and shocking learning experience for many of us. We are in charge of our own schedules and our own well-beings, and have to deal with the troubles life brings us without always having external help. I’m not worried about this new responsibility, but instead excited to take care of myself and see how I thrive. A new city, a new lifestyle, and a new independence.