Essay of the Week: Hiking Through Hurricanes, Hornet’s Nests and Student Government

By Hallie Ryan

Through layers of fog, I vaguely see the solid white line and my bike’s front wheel turning. I taste sweat mixed with rain. With shaking hands, I keep to the right of the white line, avoiding the treacherous shoulder. Our group of 11 girls embarked on this 1000-mile journey four days ago, but on day two Hurricane Arthur unleashed its wrath on us. I am in the summer of my life; yet the joy and excitement I feel reminds me of spring days standing before an audience.

They have been my constants for many years: the spring campaign speeches trying to convince peers to elect me to serve them in student government positions and the summers of hiking, biking and camping with the the American Youth Foundation (AYF). Both have worked in concert to shape me and define my sense of community, I was also able to learn more about compound bows from the AYF.

I’ll never forget my first speech. My heart raced as I walked onto the middle school auditorium stage to address the entire student body for the first time. I lost my place a few times and occasionally forgot to lift my eyes from the paper. Despite some stutters, my friends gave me a thumbs up. I exited the stage with a little skip. I won the election– destined to continue this passion.

Each spring, I became less nervous, and spoke with more confidence. Each summer, I became less afraid of spiders, and encountered new tests to my sense of loyalty, leadership and community. Sometimes I was terrified. The wind hissed while the water splattered onto the terrain on our journey biking through Nova Scotia. Erica, my friend from the first summer, turned a corner and her wheel stumbled on the gravel. Suddenly she was on the concrete underneath her bike. I slid to a stop, hopped off my bike, grabbed the first aid kit and rushed to her side. “Are you ok?” Blood poured from her knees. I reassured her and myself that we would survive this bump in the road. Minutes later, we were pedaling again.

 Beyond rugged bike rides, there were quiet moments. The solitude of nature was soul-shaping, inspiring me to reflect on the impact I’ve had on my communities. Leadership and service require me to move through life mindful of being my best so when it is challenged, I can empower myself to work harder and stay positive.

Two years later, my efforts to live by the AYF motto, “My own self; At my very best; All the time,” guided me when I delivered my final campaign speech in the spring of my junior year. I had served as class vice president for three years and now sought to be president.

The election results came two days later. My name was not on the list. I was devastated.

In losing, I rediscovered the value of AYF. As I once survived walking through a hornet’s nest, I would move beyond this defeat. The loss confirmed that my commitment to community was the force that drove me–not the election or a title. When I saw James, the winner, I pushed disappointments aside and hugged him; a reflection of the values highlighted in The Odyssey–the 125-mile hike of endurance in AYF’s finale last summer. In the last two miles of our hike, another storm pounded us. By the time we reached the camp ground, the chorus began from some friends. “I can’t wait to go home,” and all its variations echoed. As we started to set up the tents, I drummed a rhythm with the tent stakes, and my friends joined in. Eventually, we discovered there was nothing to do but laugh and dance to the beats we created. Throughout the journey there were special moments like this that connected us all and made us an even closer community. I enjoyed every step up with my fellow hikers. At Katahdin’s peak, I reveled in hugging my peers.


Hallie Ryan, a graduate of Monclair Kimberlee Academy, will be a freshman at Colgate University in the fall.

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