Transition Trek 2015: At the Confluence of the Graduate Residency and Campus Programs
For the North Cascades Institute’s 14th cohort of Graduate M.Ed. students, it was a year marked with adventure, struggle, triumph and togetherness.
Our cohort is a very tight-knit, close community where we all share our various skills and talents with one another to make for a more comfortable and enjoyable living arrangement, and family for that matter. From Petra’s primitive skills to Kelly’s crafting projects and to Kevin’s rock climbing, we each bring something special to the group, sharing our lives, talents, hopes, dreams and abilities with one another to improve and enhance each other’s lives and to make the world a better place.
After a year of living in the North Cascades — a year that saw “fire and rain and sunny days that we thought would never end,” to quote James Taylor — it was time for our cohort to transition to the second year of the program at Huxley College of the Environment on the Western Washington University campus. (After a cohort does the residency program at the North Cascades Institutes’ Environmental Learning Center for a year, they “trek” down to Bellingham to finish the degree.) It seemed only fitting that leave our homes in the mountain for the city of Bellingham by traveling the river that connected us from the Environmental Learning Center to our new home on the Salish Sea: the mighty Skagit River. We realized that eventually our time at the Environmental Learning Center and campus portion in Bellingham would merge into one, and a river runs to it.
On Monday, September 20, seven members of cohort 14 piled into canoes to embark on a 60-mile paddle of the Skagit and a 30-mile bike tour through the Chuckanuts to our new home in Whatcom County. Like the salmon swimming upstream to pass along their wisdom to the next generation, we headed downstream, leaving the ELC to do the same. Along with the salmon swimming, osprey flew on high, hawks rode upon the thermals, great blue herons gracefully waded on the riverbanks and the calls of flickers pierced through the chilly autumn air symbolizing a new rhythm and cycle of growth.
We paddled on, down the wild and scenic Skagit, laughing, joking, smiling, talking and enjoying our time in the wild and in each other’s company. After paddling 40 miles on day one, set up camp for the night on a rocky island. Tired, hungry and happy, we made dinner and lit a campfire, our first since the fire ban went into effect early this summer. As the sun dipped behind the mountains, the fire glow illuminated our faces into the evening before we all retired to our tents.
We awoke the next morning to a damp fog engulfing the valley. I could not see the other side of the river as I exited my tent at 6:15 am. But as the morning progressed, the fog lifted and Sauk Mountain emerged through the broken patches of cloud gleaming in morning alpenglow. By the time we set out, the fog had all but lifted and we set out for day two of our epic transition journey. We were much less familiar with this stretch of the river. We passed the communities of Lyman and Hamilton finding bends and rapids in the river we had no idea existed. Beauty and excitement seemed to present itself around each bend in the river.
After another thirty beautiful river miles, we reached Sedro-Wooley where we pulled our canoes ashore and awaited the van and trailer to load the canoes and receive our bikes to begin the second leg of our journey. Just after 1 pm, the van arrived we were on our bikes heading down Old Highway 99 after a brief stop at Wooley Market for coffee and snacks.
The reality of the transition settled in that night as we set up camp. The previous evening we had been in the backcountry upon an island in the middle of the wild and scenic Skagit. On this evening we turned off the Highway into a KOA campground, where we paid a pretty penny for a site next to a pool and mini-golf course, the music of I-5 playing steady into the night. It was time to leave our quiet home and enter the hustle and bustle of city life. What better way to do it than canoeing, biking and camping together? With the support of wonderful people who care deeply about the well-being and happiness of one another, any transition, journey, challenge or risk is worth taking and made all the more worthwhile.
Upon rising for our final day of our trek, we were given a beautiful sun-filled morning with warm coffee and warm spirits. We hopped on our bikes and continued peddling down Old Highway 99 by 9 am. After 10 miles, we rode under I-5 and began peddling under Western Red Cedars along picturesque Lake Samish. Early in the afternoon we crossed into Bellingham and coasted into Fairhaven to our new home.
That night we enjoyed a fantastic dinner party full of fresh veggies and locally-caught salmon as we reminisced about the past year and dreamt of what the future may hold. We had a great year and we hold high hopes for the months to come, but on this particular evening we were in no place other than the Here and Now, enjoying our company, sharing food and laughing together.
As the Skagit flows from the mountains to the ocean, so did our journey. We don’t know where we will be in 10 months, a year, a decade and so on. Some of us may stay upon the coast, some of us might drift to the desert and some of us like the water molecules in the ocean may be taken upon the rays of sunshine and wind up back in the mountains.
One thing remains true for Cohort 14, no matter where we may be or end up, the Skagit, Salish Sea and North Cascades will remain like vital organs binding our student body together. We are a TEAM and, as in any team, Together Everyone Accomplishes More.
Editors Note: Mike is a current graduate student in the North Cascades Institutes’ fourteenth cohort (graduating class of 2016). He has written for Chattermarks about grizzly bears in his series “Grizzly Bears in the Pacific Northwest” (parts one, two, and three) and about wolves in his series “Howling to be Heard” (parts one, two, and three).