Sept 25, 2020 | By Kristen Richards | Photo by Bibi Powers

Only a month into my four years at Colorado College, I learned to live vicariously through the CC website and the incredible Block Break pictures they advertise. The pictures — students silhouetted against huge red rocks, climbing mountains, paddling through canyons, camping around a fire — are almost impossible to avoid.

I have looked forward to Block Break trips and outdoor adventures at CC since first applying, and it was somewhat of a shock to learn that many of the trips I was looking forward to weren’t happening because of the pandemic. It was obviously a smart decision and I respect CC for not putting their students at risk, but it nonetheless felt disappointing.

On Wednesday afternoon after the end of Block 1, the South Hall parking lot was full of masked parents helping roll carts of belongings from the dorm to mostly out-of-state cars. I listened to the roll of heavy carts along the sidewalk from my first-floor room. The lot stayed crowded through Sunday, with students reluctantly moving out after only a month of college life. The feeling in the dorm — quiet and subdued — was puzzling, and I wondered what the campus would have felt like last year, or the year before that.

‘What do Wednesday afternoons of fourth week usually feel like?’ I asked myself. ‘Is this supposed to feel normal?’

I truly believe that CC is doing their best to find some aspect of normalcy in all the craziness (even if CC caused some of this chaos). The school offered an astounding number of activities for students during the first Block Break — opportunities to get involved and meet others both online and in-person. There was a walking tour of downtown, a mountain biking trip to Garden of the Gods, a voter registration, outdoor Qigong, and a variety of online meetups. Though this Block Break was obviously different than most pre-pandemic, there were definitely opportunities to do something different and try new things.

I found out about the Outdoor Education Block Break camping trip while South Hall was still in quarantine, and anxious to get outside, I signed up right away. Outdoor Education ran two different coronavirus-safe trips to Cheyenne Mountain State Park, each with eight students and two trip leaders. Both trips filled up quickly, only reassuring my assumption that other students were also wanting to go out and explore. It was a last hurrah for students returning home, an opportunity to meet new people for those staying on campus, and somewhere in between for students moving off campus to live locally. I attended the Wednesday through Friday trip and I can honestly say that although I’ve now only been on one Outdoor Education camping trip, I am thoroughly impressed by their ability to organize and plan everything from tents to dinner in a way that is both safe and enjoyable. 

Though we wore masks at all times when we were awake and slept in individual bivy tents that resemble small collapsible coffins, there were moments on the trip where I sensed some aspect of “normalcy” — a world that was not dissolving from the pandemic, climate change, and political horror.

We hiked through smoky trails and watched the stars peek out from clouds, above the blinking red and white lights of the city. We watched cars rush down the highway lit by little beams of light, and in those moments, I was full of gratitude to be in the mountains.

I was reminded on those two nights that nature provided a kind of escape from the pandemic. It was still ever present in the obsessive amount of hand sanitizer and the mask seemingly permanently attached to me, but nature was a place where there was the opportunity to hike and explore and also stay safe. 

I hope that we — the first-years students — will be able to experience CC and all of its opportunities like the past incoming classes have, but for now, I am grateful for what we can do. This Block Break provided a perfect example of ways in which we can enjoy ourselves and step out of our comfort zones to try new things — like an activity you never thought was possible on Zoom! I am optimistic that CC will continue to work hard to plan activities for the class of 2024, and I hope that we will continue to be engaged members of the CC community, on campus or not. 

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