Bearden students push outside their comfort zones on weekend trip to Tremont Institute


Tim Vacek

Bearden students work to get a fire started during a recent field trip to the Great Smoky Mountains Institute at Tremont.

Editor’s note: Though The Bark generally has a strict policy of prohibiting its reporters from writing stories about activities or organizations in which they are involved, we decided to make an exception on this story. The trip to Tremont was designed to facilitate introspective moments from students; thus, we asked staff writer Valerie Kinson, who went on the trip, to reflect on her own experience in addition to conducting interviews with other students.

As someone who would prefer to stay inside and watch movies on the weekend rather than spend that time outside on a hike, I was hesitant when Bearden science teacher Mrs. Tonya Henke invited me to attend a hiking trip in the Smokies with other students from her environmental science classes.

I took the interest flyer anyway, since – with this being my last year of high school – I thought I might come around to the idea of getting outside more and spending time with a few of my friends who were planning to go. 

After careful thought, I decided that this could be an opportunity to help me get out of my comfort zone and connect to a place I would probably miss when I graduate. I then filled out the forms and submitted the down payment with anticipation for the weeks to come. Little did I know how far this trip would really push me past my boundaries of comfort. 

“At first, being without internet and my normal life was an adjustment,” senior Chloe Ayo said. “By the end of the trip, I had no desire to be on my phone. Our plans were to spend time outside with each other which was refreshing.” 

Frequently during the planned activities, the staff at the Great Smoky Mountains Institute at Tremont gave students time to separate themselves from the rest of the group and immerse themselves in the wilderness surrounding them.

“I remembered the beauty of being outside and just existing,” Ayo said.  

One activity involved the students joining a hiking group of their choice (smaller challenge or bigger challenge) with planned stops along the way.

“I would’ve missed out on a great chance to make new friends, identify trees I didn’t even know existed, start [camp]fires, and learn more about the great outdoors had I not been open to all the hiking [involved],” junior Elijah Preyer said. “It helped me appreciate what I have right outside my home.” 

The second day of the trip was devoted almost entirely to hiking, which the Tremont staff had informed us may be both on and off the trail. For me, bushwhacking was definitely not up my alley, and neither was hiking truthfully, but after enjoying the “solo hike” activity (one by one, a member of a hiking group would follow the trail at a pace at which they weren’t able to see the person in front of or behind them), I ended up having a more positive outlook on hiking when it was just by myself. 

For other students, the more physically demanding activities were considered most memorable. 

“My favorite part of the trip was bushwhacking on our last hike,” Ayo said. “It was really overwhelming, but everyone worked together to make it through, even off-trail. I realized that I spent a lot of my time out of touch with reality and am [now] more aware of how I spend my time.”