Landmark Volunteers: Beyond Civilization MAG

By Madeline W., Pittsburgh, PA

Two years ago I applied to a merit-based volunteer program called Landmark Volunteers. The application process included writing an essay, submitting my grades and getting a teacher recommendation. I waited for what felt like months before finally receiving a letter. I ripped it open and read "Congratulations, you have been accepted to the Adirondack Mountains trail crew." I skipped as fast as I could to my room to pack for the two-week trip.

Here is what I packed:

1 can of biodegradable bug spray

16 outfits (just in case I got dirty)

16 pairs of underwear

2 jackets

1 16-ounce bottle of biodegradable shampoo

1 16-ounce bottle of biodegradable conditioner

1 16-ounce bottle of biodegradable all-purpose soap

1 travel-size stick of deodorant

3 pairs of shoes (sandals, tennis shoes, hiking boots)

10 pairs of socks

I arrived at base camp with my oversized back pack and large duffel bag in my arms. It was an exhausting ordeal to get there from the airport. I was tired, excited and a bit frightened all at the same time. I talked with a woman wearing a sleeveless dress that looked homemade. I could not help noticing her armpits that exploded with hair as she checked my bag to make sure I had packed what I needed. She smiled when she saw the shampoo and conditioner. Pulling them from my bag, she told me that I would not need them - the biodegradable soap would suffice as shampoo if I chose to bathe. If I chose to bathe, what was that supposed to mean?

She dug deeper into my bag and found my innocent deodorant. To my amazement, she tossed this aside, too. I was not going to need that either, she reasoned. I was to hike and do trail work for two weeks, yet it was not necessary to bring shampoo or deodorant? This was getting weirder by the minute.

The next victim was my underwear. She tossed aside all but three pairs and nonchalantly remarked that she was not wearing any, but the ones she had just taken off had been worn for a week. By then, I was convinced this lady was insane. I glanced at the miniature bags around me and then stared at my whopper of a bag. It was then that I realized this experience was going to be unlike any I had ever had.

I was still recovering from the initial shock of being able to bring only three pairs of underwear when we began our eight-mile hike to the site. Never before had I thought I was going to die. I cannot put into words the exhaustion and pain I endured that day.

Then came the black flies. I am blessed with Irish blood, which seems to attract mosquitoes, but instead of just drinking blood, black flies feed on tiny patches of flesh, leaving open wounds. And they were everywhere.

The trail work was difficult. We built log bridges from scratch and buried them into the ground. The work was a productive way to vent my frustration with the flies, who gathered in swarms as we worked. Our most notable event was not our introduction to the black flies, but to a bear, who stole our food during a lunch break. That is an interesting story in itself.

Once I came back to civilization - and took a two-hour shower - I realized what a stronger, more complete person I had become. Even though the two weeks I spent in the Adirondacks were the most miserable I'd ever known, I was thankful for the volunteer opportunity to experience the most positively altering period of my life.

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i love this so much!


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