I grew up very outdoorsy, hiking and backpacking with my family. We lived the city life in Washington, D.C., but on weekends took to the trails nearby. Family vacations let us escape the cars and tall buildings of downtown D.C., and embrace the towering Rocky Mountains in Colorado. All of that changed in 2020 and I suddenly found it difficult to leave the city to go hiking with friends and family. This coincided with my long awaited first year of college; I realized it wasn’t going to be the experience I was dreaming of. What was excitement, turned to fear. I was unsure about living on a college campus with the increased risk that daily, normal interactions pose in the time of COVID. With the pandemic and stress in full swing, I looked for any opportunity to be closer to the outdoors and continue my studies in a safe manner.
I found myself booking a flight to Arizona to spend my first semester as part of the newly formed program, A Place Beyond (APB), a wilderness campus for students taking remote classes. It provides academic support, professional mentorship, and optional workshops that cultivate social, emotional, and real-life skills. Living in a bubble with forty other students in the woods was not how I imagined my college experience, but I wouldn’t trade it for anything.
Walking around campus the first couple of weeks, I saw students hanging out in hammocks they brought from home. With A Place Beyond tucked into the Prescott National Forest, there are endless places to hammock, but I didn’t understand the hype. Soon thereafter, A Place Beyond created a hammock classroom in partnership with Eagles Nest Outfitters (ENO). Originally designed as a relaxing place to attend virtual classes and provide an alternative to learning indoors, it has turned out to be so much more. It gave me a chance to try hammocking for the first time, and now I am hooked. Hammocks have become a staple in my life. I love feeling the chilly breeze on my cheeks as I write an essay after breakfast in the morning and taking my classes with the birds and deer that casually fly and walk by.
Outside of classes, the ENO hammock classroom became a place to socialize between lectures. We talk and listen to music, call and catch up with family, or take quick breaks if you have video conference fatigue. It has given our instructor team a fun space to lead community sessions and has turned into an unexpected intentional place to unplug and take a break. It’s so calming to lay in a hammock, listening to the birds chirp.
I’ve noticed a huge improvement in my overall health, both mental and physical, since I started taking my classes outside. It has helped me clear my head and reconnect with nature. I came to APB feeling stressed with learning how to deal with schoolwork and starting my first semester of college during a pandemic. I left feeling like a new person with a clear headspace. I had always had this set image in my mind of what college was, I never imagined it would be taking classes and listening to lectures while outside in a hammock. I highly recommend giving it a try.
Article contributions by APB student, Carly HoganBruen.
Learn more about A Place Beyond at: www.aplacebeyond.com