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Brendan Rossi, an Ohio University graduate in environmental geography, sits for a portrait at Strouds Run State Park on Feb. 10. Rossi completed the Appalachian Trail in 2013.

Outdoor adventures can change people dramatically

Nina Adjanin spends months on mountain peaks, consuming about 7,000 calories a day, not taking showers and living without modern technology.

Despite those extreme conditions, Adjanin, a graduate teaching assistant in outdoor studies at Ohio University, leaves her extreme expeditions feeling calm.

“I don’t understand why people are so angry on some stuff,” Adjanin said. “When you’re on expedition, you don’t think about (anything). You just think about your life.”

At 35 years old, Adjanin has summited several of the tallest peaks in the world, including Denali, North America’s highest peak, in Alaska. While in Alaska, she saved the life of a mountaineer struck with altitude sickness, an illness that results from not having enough oxygen to the brain. Adjanin also has scaled Mount Everest and crossed the Atlantic Ocean in a sailboat with a crew of five others.

While some might not understand the force pulling people like Adjanin back to the wild time and time again, each explorer has their own reason for disconnecting.

Extreme Exploration

Adjanin is not alone in pursuing daunting endeavors. In fact, by May 2016, more than 7,000 people had successfully reached the top of Mount Everest since 1922 , according to The Washington Post.

An adventure of dangerous magnitude requires time, knowledge and often a lot of savings set aside for supplies and travel expenses.

However, the benefits of disconnecting from everyday life can be felt on a smaller level right here in Athens, Rob Warner, a graduate teaching assistant studying recreation and sport pedagogy, said.

Unknown to many people who live in southeast Ohio, the North Country Trail, which runs from New York to North Dakota, cuts right through Wayne National Forest, Tyler Call, an employee at the forest headquarters, said. The national scenic trail goes through the Marietta and Athens District of the Wayne, providing an opportunity to easily escape to Ohio’s only national forest.

Completing an extreme adventure doesn’t come without much preparation, persistence and perspiration. After visiting her youngest son on his Appalachian Trail hike, Karen Rossi is someone who can attest to how wilderness adventures can visibly change a person.

“He looked like he had grown up and matured a lot. He looked so much older ... my husband was most impressed with how bad he smelled,” Karen said.

Brendan Rossi, who graduated from OU in December 2016 with a degree in environmental geography, was just 19 when he completed the 2,190 mile Appalachian Trail. Although originally planning to do the whole trek solo, Brendan had a change of heart early on. When a single set of footsteps and nature’s conversation with itself are the only sounds heard for months, the presence of another human becomes much more valuable, Brendan said.

“One of the things I like about backpacking is that it’s so simple that important things become very obvious. So sitting alone in the rain, I realized, ‘Oh, I’m a social animal. I need to talk to people,’ ” Brendan said.

Soon after beginning his journey south, Brendan met a woman who went by her trail name, Sherpa. A trail name is an alternative name hikers often adopt during their journey that suits their personality, according to the Appalachian Trail Museum. Enjoying the company, Brendan, now self-named “Delta,” and his new companion hiked the majority of the trail together.

One of the best moments Brendan experienced on his journey was seeing the Milky Way without the distraction of buzzing city lights. Humans keep their eyes to the ground — perhaps because potential threats rarely came from the ground when man was evolving, Brendan said.

“I think people in general … don’t look up enough,” Brendan said. “I find comfort in looking out at that expanse, feeling insignificant ... it means whatever’s stressing me or bothering me is insignificant.”

Inspiration to Disconnect

In 2013, Brendan was a freshman at the University of Cincinnati who was unhappy with where he was and what he was studying — and he wanted to get out. He announced his plans to hike the Appalachian Trail to his family in April and headed to Mount Katahdin in Maine that July to begin his expedition.

“I remember I made the announcement on April Fool’s Day and so no one believed me. I went out extremely unprepared,” Brendan said.

Despite her initial doubts about her son’s journey, Karen said the five-month experience for Brendan was invaluable.

Brendan’s parents gave maps to relatives for them to put on their walls to follow Brendan’s progress. Karen said they were his “remote cheerleaders.”

“We think this was just as valuable as a formal education in determining who he was going to be and what he wanted to do,” Karen said.

A Tricky Transition

After 30 consecutive days of only staking out camp with one another, Delta and Sherpa were excited to share a campsite with a large group of hikers one holiday weekend, Brendan said. However, being disconnected can change what kind of interaction a person craves with others.

“We tried to join the fireside conversation, but we just couldn’t work our way in ... it was just the things that this group was talking about, we had no interest in anymore,” Brendan said. “It wasn’t really a conversation, they were kind of just filling silence with noise ... we kind of recognized that and retreated to our corner and went to bed.”

That moment changed things for Brendan, he said. Like many explorers before him, entering back into daily life after a long expedition can be a tricky transition.

Warner paddled the length of the Mississippi River in an open canoe. The 62-day voyage had a reliable routine, Warner said. Constantly moving and camping out somewhere different every night made returning to domestic life “wearing.”

“If you’re paddling, day after day, it’s easy to see that’s what’s frustrating you,” Warner said. “When you’re living in a town or in an urban setting, there are so many moving parts that you can’t necessarily pinpoint what’s causing the rub.”

The transition back to routine life was a bit different for Brendan. Arriving at Hartsfield–Jackson Atlanta International Airport to fly back to Columbus, he couldn’t wait to share what he experienced.

“I just sat there hoping someone would talk to me because I’d just accomplished this thing like two hours ago ... but I didn’t approach anyone,” Brendan said. “I think I’d lost the social skills to do that.”

While on the trail, Brendan had no headphones for music and a phone only for emergencies and photos. He only came into contact with facets of modern living whenever he shopped at a grocery store every ten days or so to stock up on supplies.

Shopping, which is often an errand about which many people wouldn’t think twice, is a chore Brendan now avoids whenever he can.

“When you’re used to looking at nothing and then looking at a shelf in a grocery store and finding what you need … just so many words, so overwhelming,” Brendan said.

The first few weeks of sleep are especially strange and difficult, Adjanin said. Used to sleeping on the ground and in a tent, she usually ends up moving to the floor of her bedroom after tossing and turning in bed, unable to feel normal.

Along with trying to get a decent night’s sleep, Adjanin said coming back to city life after months on the mountain takes away a little of that stability she felt in the wild.

“In a city, I don’t know who can hit me with car, because I don’t have control,” Adjanin said. “On mountains, if I know tomorrow will be warm day, I know I will not go overnight because there’s a chance of avalanche — I have control.”


Disclaimer: This article has been updated to account for a systematic glitch.

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