Communing with nature a way to decompress for MHS students

Alex Lisa | Staff Writer

To senior Elric Nijakowski, the wilderness isn’t just a place to camp out, it’s his second home.

Hiking and camping take a lot of dedication, whether it is in the form of time or physical exertion. Not to be confused with summer camp activities, these students have to learn to ration food, pace mile-long expeditions, and tackle trails that take days to complete. It becomes difficult to schedule those week-long trips once the school year begins, but autumn is the prime season for hiking and camping according to sources like ReserveAmerica and the Old Farmer’s Almanac.

Senior Elric Nijakowski, who has been hiking trails like the Appalachian Trail for five years, said that he seizes every opportunity he can get, even amidst the busy school schedule.

“Every break or extended weekend, I’m looking at whether I have enough time to get out there,” Nijakowski said. “I’ve come late into school a couple of times, or left early, but I’ve tried to be pretty adamant about not missing a full day of school. It gets stressful, trying to fit homework in around it, but [I don’t care].”


Nijakowski displays what a normal camping setup looks like for him. He carries everything he needs, including a foldable tent, pots for cooking, and even rope for climbing.


Senior Jaydon Kaufold, who has been hiking for most of his life, said additional complications come up because he tends to go with his family and friends.

“There are a couple intermittent trips throughout the year, and then we have one big one every year,” Kaufold said. “It’s like a family reunion, so we get our whole family and set up tents and hammocks and all that. It’s been a tradition for about 37 years, so I’ve been doing it my whole life.”

Kaufold said the tradition started before he was born. The family was prompted to get together for the first time after the death of Kaufold’s great grandfather, and have been coming back ever since.

“Originally it started because my grandpa’s dad passed away, so they got the whole family together and went camping; that was when my dad was ten years old,” Kaufold said. “Every year since then the whole family goes. It’s chaotic, like, thirty people all coming and we don’t camp out in cabins or anything, we all build our own campsite in the middle of nowhere.”

Kaufold’s experiences through the years have helped him to build skills of which he can be personally proud.

“I know how to start a fire, I know how to build shelter, I know how to find clean water and make food the right way so that you don’t get sick,” Kaufold said. “I think I could survive on my own for a while if I needed to. I’ve almost had to a few times; I’ve definitely gotten lost more than once and had to find my way back.”

Along with skills he can brag about, Nijakowski said he has racked up a lot of stories over the course of his years.

“There was this thing called the ‘$20 Challenge’ where you have nothing but the clothes that you wear and you go to the Dollar store with $20, and buy what you need to survive one night in the forest,” Nijakowski said. “I thought that was too weak, so my friends and I did it with $10. All we ate was hotdogs, we drank a gallon of water, we bought a lighter and then some paper towels to start the fire, and we bought a plastic tablecloth as our shelter. It was so much fun.”

Nijakowski enjoys the unexpected and challenging himself, which he said plays a large role in why he has such a passion for the outdoors.

“I love that there’s no technology; you have no idea what nature is going to throw at you,” Nijakowski said. “There are really few people who get to see nature [like I do], in the thick of it. And I still don’t know what I’m going to get.”

His history of hardore hiking has also prepared Nijakowski for his future, since he is enlisted in the army.

“The most serious hiking I’ve done was 22 miles in a day, with a 30-40 lb. pack on my back,” Nijakowski said. “I’ve done some trails that are five to six days. When I went to basic training, you hike everywhere. There were a lot of people who couldn’t carry their own weight; It’s physical work for a long period of time, so if you haven’t been doing it, it takes a lot of getting used to.”

Nijakowski said he knows camping isn’t for everyone; however, he also thinks that doing it just once can have a lasting impact on everyone.

“I find it a challenge, to try and go without necessities,” Nijakowski said. “It’s given me such a different outlook. Like in basic training, I just sat there with my rifle and stared at the woods all night. I didn’t get to sleep, but it was fun because I was staring at the woods. You have a deeper appreciation. If you really want to experience nature, just get out there with yourself and a tarp.”

Click below to enlarge and view in slideshow mode.

Photos by Tanner Pearson.