Meet 3rd Year Expedition Leader, Melanie

By Anne Mead

What is your history with GRP?

This summer will be my third with GRP. I started out as an expedition leader for BRX and this will be my second summer leading WXP!

What are you currently doing?

I am currently working at a non-profit horse rescue and farm in Boone, North Carolina. We rescue and rehabilitate horses that have been abused or abandoned and train and care for them until they are ready for new homes. Lots of school groups come to learn about our horses and farm. I love it! When I am not working with horses I am substitute teaching and helping with the small farm that I live on. We grow lots of vegetables and flowers and we have goats, chickens, and ducks.

What’s your favorite thing to cook in the backcountry?

We made some SERIOUSLY delicious pizza in the earth oven during BRX, but my favorite thing to cook in the backcountry would have to be burritos. This also happens to be my favorite thing to cook at home. You can change them up, prep them ahead of time, or pack the ingredients to assemble on the trail. My favorite backcountry burrito consists of putting sliced hard cheese, refried beans, lots of veggies that wont spoil or smoosh easily (especially peppers and carrots) add some canned green chilies, and wrap in foil. Place the foil wrapped burrito in the coals of a fire if you want to melt the cheese and heat everything or eat it cold!

Best GRP memory?

There are so many! Each group of students brings a fresh set of laughs and stories, but last year on WXP while on a short “warmup” backpacking trip in Silverton, CO, we had some unexpected hiccups due to a lot of late, unexpected snow. We planned to camp in American Basin below a 14er called Handies peak and summit in the morning. When we looked into the basin, however, it was full of snow! There was no safe way to proceed, so we decided to set up camp where we were and do a long afternoon hike along the ridge. Within twenty minutes of the hike, however, we saw some ominous weather moving in and decided to head back to camp. Thank goodness we did, because some roaring wind and steady hail fall began the moment we got back to our tents. It was an afternoon spent hunkered down at about 13,000+ feet, eating snacks, playing cards, shouting messages from tent to tent, and the girls’ tent going a little stir crazy and singing every song that had been released in recent memory…very loud with lots of attempted harmonies. A feat unappreciated by the boy’s tent that was trying to nap. When the weather finally cleared up, we made dinner and told stories while watching one of the most beautiful sunsets I have ever seen. The colors were so surreal with breathtaking views of the San Juans in every direction. It was like the sky was on fire, or as if we were looking towards Mordor (lots of Lord of The Rings discussions on this WXP…). This aspect of the trip did not go as planned but we had so much fun with the situation we were in, and it resulted in some of the hardest laughter and deep appreciation of our surroundings of the whole trip.

Where did you go to school?

I graduated from Louisiana State University. My major was International Studies focusing on Environment and Development with a minor in Anthropology. Before this, I was a music student at Loyola New Orleans for a year and continue to study instrumental music personally.

What’s your favorite outdoor activity?

My favorite outdoor activity is a tie between snowboarding and backpacking. I think few things are as adrenaline inducing and fun as snowboarding, but spending days on end in the backcountry, sleeping in a tent and all the simplicity backpacking requires is also my idea of bliss!

Why do you do environmental education?

I do environmental education because I love the ability to share and facilitate the wonders and profound lessons that come with a connection to the natural world. There is an ever increasing disconnect between young people and nature, and environmental education is an effective, important, and fun way to bridge this gap and work towards having a well rounded, environmentally aware group of future leaders.

Why do you want to spend your summer with a bunch of teenagers?

Teenagers are at a time in their lives filled with growth and transition and thus incredibly interesting and full of personality. Spending my summers with them reminds me of the lessons I was learning at that time and continue to learn, helps me to understand the world from a different perspective, and they keep things goofy and dynamic. I love their energy level and willingness to try new and hard things.

Best outdoor adventure/trip?

My best outdoor adventure took place near the Arctic Circle in Finland. I was spending a semester studying in a little town called Jyvaskyla and had the opportunity to study boreal ecology at the Konnevesi Research Station much farther north (some of “Frozen Planet” was filmed here, just to set the scene). In our down time at the research station, we snow shoed and I learned to cross country ski. We planned a multi day hut to hut ski trip and I was fired up and a little terrified. Winter in the arctic circle is very, very dark and quite cold. I was a young college student from Louisiana and totally out of my element! We donned our packs and headlamps, however, and set out on the coolest trip of my life. We spent each day skiing in remote, pristine wilderness, surrounded by pine, spruce, and birch trees with a few hours of grey light to spot beautiful wildlife and spending each night in remote cabins or old barns, looking at the clearest night skies and watching the Northern Lights dance across the sky in an astonishing array of colors. This trip was a defining moment in my thirst for travel and outdoor adventure and the joy it brings!

What keeps you coming back to GRP?

There are many things that keep me coming back, but the piece of GRP that I keep with me the most during non-summer times is the ever present phrase of “Seek the joy of being alive”. This motto is a beautiful one to steer our decisions, and leading trips with GRP brings so much joy to my life and I get the pleasure of witnessing the joy it brings to expeditioner’s lives. When we seek and find something that makes so much sense, I think it is wise to hold on and enjoy it!

Something unique about you.

Something unique about me is that I have travelled in 17 countries and I am a recently graduated yoga teacher, a skill I hope to use as I continue to travel! I spent the last nine months studying and working towards this goal and it is one of my favorite ways to remain happy and healthy.