For the past 40 years, the pre-orientation program LandSea has offered incoming first years a chance to meet new people, challenge themselves, and enrich their transition into Kalamazoo College. For many LandSea participants, one of the most daunting activities has been the Solo portion of the trip. During the Solo portion, participants spend 48 hours alone the wilderness with only a small plastic tarp, their sleeping bag, and a sleeping pad. The participants also have the option to fast for this period of time, to further focus on self-enlightenment.
“It tends to be the piece that’s the most anxiety producing element that we do on the trip,” explained Director of Outdoor Programs Jory Horner, “but afterwards its sometimes one of the most powerful experiences on the trip.”
Solo has been a component of LandSea ever since the beginning of the program in 1973. Originally, it was only a 24-hour experience. It changed to a two-day experience in the late 1970’s, and has stayed that way ever since.
Last year, however, with the introduction of service and reflection, there is a new option for those who may not feel comfortable being alone with nothing but their own thoughts and some plastic for two days. During service and reflection, participants who choose not to do Solo can instead, work on service projects around their campsite, located on Massawepie Lake, for two days. Or, participants can even chose to do one day of Solo and one day of service and reflection.
“I think it’s a huge improvement,” said Tommy Jackson ’15, who worked as Logistics Leader of LandSea last year, “I think that Solo can be really good and really important for some people … [But] there are a lot of people that, for whatever reason, shouldn’t be in that situation and need an alternative. And I think that service and reflection is really powerful too.”
Solo has always been “optional.” Jackson explained that one of the main tenets of LandSea is the idea of “challenge by choice.” If participants felt that they did not want to participate in Solo, they were never forced.
“The problem was that it was optional,” says Jackson, “but there was no real alternative. You could either go on Solo or you could sit quietly with your leaders while they stayed within earshot of all the people who were on Solo … now, it’s more of a realistic option.”
With about 20% of participants choosing to work on the service project, a lot of improvements were made to the campsite.
“Three full dump trucks of junk were hauled out of the forest,” Horner explained, “[We] managed to do stuff that had been on the base camp manager’s list for five years.” In addition, a number of campsites that had fallen into disrepair the last 20 years were fixed up, new trails were cut, and, at the end of the project, they had something to show for their work.
Because Service and Reflection was such a large success last year, LandSea coordinators are planning to try it again this year.
Annalise Robinson ’17, who has been both a participant and a leader on LandSea, remembers her time on Solo fondly, stating that although she had some troubles, “having completed it … I do think that it was one of the most beneficial parts of my LandSea experience.”
Robinson feels that the change is largely beneficial, however, she said “I think if I were to do LandSea again as a participant, I would probably go with the half Solo and half Service and Reflection option. For me, that would be the best of both worlds!”