Senior Quest Perspective

Each year, two weeks prior to Community School’s graduation ceremony, the senior class heads into the backcountry on Senior Quest. This 11-day adventure is the capstone experience not only of the Outdoor Program, but also of a student’s Community School outdoor career. Senior Quest gives students the opportunity to reintegrate with their class after Senior Projects and share an extended wilderness experience together. Out in the canyons, on the river, and around the campfire, our soon-to-be graduates revel in their experience in the outdoors and share memories of their time at Community School. Annika Landis ’16, writes about her experience on Senior Quest.

My foot plunges into the cold, murky water, followed quickly by the rest of my body. My breath stops for an instant, the iciness of the pool capturing the warm air in my lungs before releasing it into the desert breeze. As I pull myself out of the water, a hand reaches down and helps me clamber onto a narrow stretch of dry land that separates us from the next pool. Despite being sopping wet, cold, and hungry, I am smiling. I look up and see the canyon walls, a smear of red, orange, and brown, extending almost 1,000 feet above me on either side. The canyon wren adds its voice, a high and sweet cry, to the symphony of silence and wind that weaves its melody through the twists and turns of the cliff walls. All I can think of is how grateful I am to be in such an amazing place, and I sense that my fellow ‘Death Eaters’ (the official name of the 2016 Death Hollow adventurers) are feeling something similar. There is a blissful moment when one enters the desert where time stops, stress dissipates, and utter contentment overwhelms the senses. Once you enter that moment it seems as though you could stay for eternity.

Our small group trekked happily into Death Hollow as individuals. Yet we emerged as a group bound forever by the invaluable experiences of the past six days, each one of us cherishing an eternal moment of companionship and solidarity, laughter and pain, calmness and fear.

I have never seen a place that inspires authenticity more so than the wilderness. Being relatively insignificant humbles you more than you thought was possible. The wilderness doesn’t care if you are the best athlete, academic, or socialite. The first section of Quest is a rare opportunity to be immersed in the present, to live each second feeling completely alive. More importantly, it provides a rare opportunity to appreciate each member of the group for who they are at their core and cherish the company of people you wish you had spent more time with.

When the class all comes together again in Moab, it is a time to remember the past and recognize the journey that brought each person to this point. Senior Quest is literally the last time you pack your backpack for Community School. But this time, it feels as if you are packing away memories rather than socks and long underwear. Like all prepared Cutthroats, you pack the ‘boulders’ first; Salmon River Trip, Coast, Junior Solo, Quest, etc. Then you fill in the empty spaces with the ‘pebbles’; your first rapid, the quiet sunset over the ocean, bagels and salami, jokes around the fire, the first time you felt completely at home in the wilderness. You stuff every crevasse with each small memory that ever contributed to the irreplaceable experiences of Community School. Soon your pack is almost too heavy with memories to lift, and heaving it onto your back hurts. Senior Quest is the most bittersweet of paradoxes because you are packing your backpack for a trip that will carry you into the unknown of “adulthood” all the while grappling with nostalgia. The memories of high school, all the things we think we will remember forever, will fade, replaced each year by newer, fresher experiences. The backpack will be repacked over and over. But one thing that will never fade is the knowledge that wherever each of us ends up, every once in awhile, the memory of a calming desert breeze drifting lazily over the slickrock will make our spirits soar once again.

We will momentarily be overcome with giddy excitement in remembrance of the youthful days we spent enthralled by the serenity of the wilderness and the intimacy of our friendships. If nothing else, I hope that as we all go our separate ways, we all remember to embrace the adventure that is life and to cherish wilderness as “a necessity of the human spirit.”