In response to pandemic travel restrictions, Northwestern sophomores Garrett Breiner and Jake Geil turned to the outdoors. “It was a feeling I will never forget,” Breiner said. From traveling across the country in an RV, to hiking 200 miles of the Appalachian Trail, hear them recount the most memorable experiences of each journey.
SHEENA TAN: From The Daily Northwestern, I’m Sheena Tan. This is NU Declassified, a podcast about how Wildcats thrive and survive on Northwestern’s campus. I’ve been taking classes at home for the past quarter, as so many of us are. But today, I met Garrett Breiner, a sophomore at Northwestern University who decided to do things… a little bit differently, swapping at-home instruction for an 80-day RV trip.
SHEENA TAN: Garrett, take me back to where you were before your trip began. How did you end up on the road?
GARRETT BREINER: Basically I was visiting a friend, and we got the email, as everyone else did, that nobody could live on campus. We had been talking before about like, maybe it, you know, would be fun, if we can’t be on campus, to go on a RV trip. They kicked us off campus [on] Friday? The next Friday we were on a flight to California to get his dad’s RV.
SHEENA TAN: Did you have any expectations?
GARRETT BREINER: We sort of had it mapped out. And we actually — this is a cool thing about our trip — we never used navigation assistance, so we just looked up maps of places. I just got a suitcase and packed up the day before and left.
SHEENA TAN: Garrett and his friend, Daniel Mares, set off from Daniel’s dad’s house in California… with no real plans. They would simply go, he said, until they ran out of money.
GARRETT BREINER: So we went to Santa Barbara. We would basically do classes on the beach, cook in the RV and go out into the city at night and see what we could see. So that was our first stop. Then we went north to a bunch of other beach towns. We went to San Luis Obispo. And there, we met this Australian couple, and they told us about this place called Pirate’s Cove. At night, it’s like this hippie sort of commune place where everybody parks their RVs. And in the daytime, it’s also like a beach area. It’s actually a nude beach, too. That was a cool part of the trip. Then we went north to Big Sur, which is this really pretty place that overlooks the water. And then we go through Idaho, into Montana. The one really cool thing about being out West is like, the mountains dictate everything. So you’ll be on the west side of the mountains, and it’ll be super humid and wet and stuff, and then you’ll go to the east side and then it’ll be like, the high desert.
SHEENA TAN: Utah was one of Garrett’s favorite stops.
GARRETT BREINER: We went to this really cool place called the Nine Mile Canyon. And one really quick, weird thing that we saw there, they had all these weird petroglyphs. And then on one of the rocks, they had “GB”, the initials GB on a rock, with “1935,” and then right next to it they had “Danny M,” which is my friend’s, Daniel Mares, my friend’s name. So it’s GB and then right next to it Daniel Mares. Which was really weird, because we didn’t write it, so we were like, “Oh my God, maybe we traveled back in time and wrote that.”
SHEENA TAN: Now, Garrett and Danny are back on campus, adjusting to a less spontaneous schedule. But Garrett says he won’t forget how it felt, being able to live completely in the moment.
GARRETT BREINER: The most memorable thing, I would say, would be the feeling of being able to go everywhere — anywhere. Being able to travel wherever, and go wherever you want to go was a feeling that I will probably never forget. So, I’d say maybe that. Because there’s a lot of things out there. And you just gotta look for them.
SHEENA TAN: Northwestern sophomore Jake Geil also took quarantine as an opportunity to travel. This past summer, he took to the opposite side of the country. His destination? The Appalachian trail.
JAKE GEIL: My uncle, actually, he did a whole thru-hike of the Appalachian Trail. So the whole Appalachian Trail, it starts in Georgia and runs about 2000 miles up to Maine. So growing up, I had heard stories from him about what the trail was like, and just about the incredible experiences that he had. And then both my friend and I, we both had summer internships, summer plans fall through due to COVID. And the two of us talked it out, and we decided that now would be the time to try something like hiking part of the Appalachian Trail. Neither of us had ever done something like this before. It was super, super outside of our comfort zone, which is one of the reasons why we definitely really wanted to try it. We figured that now would be the time to try something that might push us a little bit more.
SHEENA TAN: The trip was 200 miles. For perspective, that’s about the length of 3,520 football fields. The exhaustion hit Jake a lot harder than he expected.
JAKE GEIL: The first day in particular, I remember we started hiking very, very late in the day, which we also quickly learned is like, there’s a reason why hikers normally start in the morning. So we started hiking at like 2 p.m. and very quickly it started getting very, very steep. It also was calling for storms that day and we kind of just ignored the forecast. So we’re kind of operating blind and then it started getting dark and it started storming and the trail started getting steeper and steeper and steeper. We had assumed that we would be able to just hike until we got tired. And that there would be plenty of flat places where we could pitch our tents. Eventually we found this tiny, tiny spot on the side of the mountain and we cleared (tree) limbs, tree branches, rocks as much as we could. And we just threw up our tents and immediately fell asleep.
SHEENA TAN: Jake and Rishin woke up every morning at around 8 a.m, to prepare for the day.
JAKE GEIL: We would stretch every morning to try to get ready. And we would also, we had this routine where every morning where we would lie down and do like a “words of affirmation” type thing, where we would try to convince ourselves that today was going to be a great day and that it was going to be nothing but positives, and that everything would look in our favor.
SHEENA TAN: Jake and Rishin would hike until lunch, and then again until dinner, when they would set up camp.
JAKE GEIL: The night before, we would try to plan out how far we wanted to get every day. And depending on what the elevation was looking like for the section that we were planning for the day, that would normally designate how far we would hike before we would settle down and eat lunch. And we would normally hike between 9 a.m. and normally about 5 or 6 p.m. or so, so yeah we would spend most of the day hiking and then at around 6 p.m. whenever we decided to set up camp, we would get ready for dinner, and then normally from like 7 p.m. until 9 p.m. or so, we would either read or write in our journal(s), because like I said there was no cell service, so those were pretty much our two options in terms of entertainment. And then normally whenever it would start to get dark that’s normally when we would just go to bed. And then 7 a.m. the next morning, the day would start again.
SHEENA TAN: What will you remember most about your trip?
JAKE GEIL: There was this one mountain range called the Bigelows (Mount Bigelow). So the day that we were hiking the Bigelows, we started hiking a little bit later in the day than we usually do. And I very, very vividly remember getting to the peak, and I still don’t think I’ve ever seen a view quite like it. I think it was about 4,200 feet up. And it was in a pretty remote section. It was all just trees and mountains and lakes and rivers. And because we got there a little bit later in the day than we had initially intended, we got there sort of just as the sun was starting to set. We spent probably like three hours on that summit. And we weren’t even talking — we were just sitting there like kind of in silence, just trying to take everything in. That was definitely a moment that still stands out to me.
SHEENA TAN: If you were to pick one piece of advice for someone who might want to do something similar, what would it be?
JAKE GEIL: Just go for it. Do it. There’s really no way that you can be fully prepared going into it where you know exactly what to expect. And in some ways that’s kind of cool — going into it anticipating that you’re going to have to learn new things, I feel like it allows for you to learn new things in a much better capacity, to not let the minute details get in the way of you just kind of going for it and trying new things.
SHEENA TAN: From The Daily Northwestern, I’m Sheena Tan. Thanks for listening to another episode of NU Declassified. This episode was reported and produced by me. The audio editor of The Daily Northwestern is Madison Smith, the digital managing editor is Haley Fuller, and the editor in chief is Sneha Dey.
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