POV: You’re Trying to be Outdoorsy After Sitting Inside for a Year

Carolina Adventure Chronicles | Part One: SUP, Supper, & Sunset 

I’m nearing the end of my time at Carolina, and as such, I have made it my personal mission to do and experience everything that UNC has to offer. This means saying “yes” to more invitations and jumping on all the events and opportunities I passed on in prior years. 

After spending nearly 18 months cooped up inside my house, I felt particularly drawn to Campus Rec’s outdoor expedition programs through Carolina Adventures. These expeditions transport students to scenic locations around North Carolina and surrounding states to do activities like backpacking, climbing, and kayaking. I was lucky enough to attend the most recent trip and the first trip held since March 2020: SUP, Supper, & Sunset.

First things first, SUP is an abbreviation for Stand-Up Paddleboard. It’s like a surfboard, but larger, more buoyant, and generally more stable in waves. In other words, it’s one of these:

I grew up by the ocean, so water sports were definitely up there on the list of things I’d missed since coming to UNC. I’d only been paddle boarding a handful of times before, and while I’m generally more of a kayak person, any excuse to get out on the water sounded like a good time to me.

Details & Departure

A few days before the trip, I received an email with loads of details about what to expect, what to bring, and where to meet. I appreciated how clear and communicative the Carolina Adventures staff was, and they seemed more than happy to answer any questions I had. 

The suggested items to bring were pretty standard: mask, bathing suit, water shoes, towel, water bottle, and snacks. The actual paddleboarding would take place Saturday evening on Jordan Lake (about 30 minutes south of campus), but we were set to depart from the Carolina Outdoor Education Center (OEC). 

FYI: the OEC is a hidden gem, and if you haven’t been yet, you’re missing out! It’s only a 10-20 minute walk from campus and has hiking trails, a disc golf course, tennis and sand volleyball courts, a climbing wall, and even a ropes course with ziplines!

Ropes Course at the Outdoor Education Center (OEC)

I arrived at the OEC around 5:00 PM on Saturday. The sun was just beginning to sink in the sky, but the heat from the day still lingered. I couldn’t wait to get in the water. 

I walked down one of the steepest hills I’d ever seen and sat at a wooden picnic table overlooking some tennis courts. There, I met one of the trip leaders. To my surprise, she was the same year and major as me. It turns out that a lot of the employees at the OEC are undergraduate students, which made the experience feel all the more casual. 

The “Meeting Spot” next to the tennis courts

As more students began to filter in, our trip leader gave us some medical forms to fill out and water bottles to take with us on the trip. Once everyone had gathered — 10 students in total — we began introductions. The group was a mix of undergrad and grad students of all skill levels. Several people had never touched a paddleboard before; one person used to work as a paddleboard instructor. One thing I liked was that there was never any sense of judgment or expectation that you should know what you’re doing. We were all students, and at the end of the day, we were there to learn.

Another thing the Carolina Adventures staff encouraged was the idea of “Challenge by Choice”. We all have a comfort zone. There are activities and situations that fit within our comfort zone, those that push the boundaries of our comfort zone, and those that far exceed our comfort zone. Where these boundaries begin and end is highly variable and up to the individual to determine. “Challenge by Choice” means choosing to take steps outside your comfort zone at your own pace and by your own motivation. Doing so provides opportunities for growth and personal achievement.

Challenge by Choice Chart

We played a few icebreaker games as the trip leaders loaded the trailer. Then, we packed into the van and began driving to Jordan Lake — paddleboards in tow. 

FYI: Jordan Lake is huge — 14,000-acres huge! This reservoir is surrounded by numerous access points with over 1,000 campsites, 14 miles of hiking trails, boat launches, beaches, and swimming areas!

Paddleboard Prep & Pizza

Thirty minutes on the road felt more like 10, as I had some fun conversations with my fellow paddleboarders. The excitement emanating from everyone on the bus was palpable. 

Once we arrived at the Farrington Point boat launch at Jordan Lake, we filed out of the van and began to help the trip leaders prep the paddleboards. We untied the boards from the trailer and hoisted them down onto the ground. The trip leaders pumped air into them, and a few of the students volunteered to help secure the fins and ankle straps.

The intense heat from earlier in the day had abated, and the air felt pleasantly warm. We gathered in a circle under the tree canopy for the “supper” portion of the evening. The trip leaders unveiled two of THE LARGEST PIZZAS I had ever seen from none other than Benny Capella’s. Each slice was bigger than my head. It took two people to carry one box. If you’ve ever wondered what a 28” pizza looks like, let me put it into perspective for you:

After we finished up dinner, the trip leaders ran through some safety instructions and suited us up with paddles and personal flotation devices (PFDs, formerly known as life jackets). Then, we were ready to go.

Smooth Sailing & Sunset

The boards proved to be a bit cumbersome to carry, but the walk to the water’s edge was only about 25 yards. I slid the nose of my board into the water, attached my ankle strap, waded out a few feet, hopped on the board, and pushed off of the sandy bottom with my paddle. 

My first “Challenge by Choice” was standing up. I set my paddle down on the board, placed my feet shoulder-width apart in the middle of the board to give myself more stability, and stood up. For a few moments, I was sure I would go flying into the water. I wobbled and teetered and tottered until I found my center of balance and came to a rest. 

The group waited for everyone to get situated on their boards before paddling east toward a bridge. We chatted amongst ourselves as white egrets flew overhead and blue herons stood stoically by the shoreline. 

We crossed under the bridge, and the lake opened up into another expansive section with an island at the center. We paddled past the island, gliding through gentle waves as the setting sun softened the sky to a pastel blue.

We paused at an outcropping of trees and several of the students (myself included) jumped into the water for a swim. The water was surprisingly warm — even warmer than the air at that point. After splashing around for a while, someone in the group challenged all of us to a race. Call it my second “Challenge by Choice” of the day. 

We lined up. I lowered my stance on my paddleboard to increase my balance. At the word “Go!”, I surged forward, furiously paddling with two strokes on each side of my board. I charged ahead, and with no predetermined finish line in sight, I paddled until my arms begged me to stop. Behind me, I heard boisterous cheering and the occasional splash as someone from the group lost their balance and fell headlong into the water. 

The group started back toward the shore just as the eastern sky turned a milky lavender color. The full moon, a vibrant pink and the largest I had ever seen, was just peeking above the trees on the horizon. I stared in awe and tried to follow the barely perceptible track of its upward movement. By the time we rounded the corner at the bridge, the moon had fully revealed itself from behind the horizon. It cast a wavering spotlight on the lake water down below. The western half of the sky was an artwork all its own. The sun, brushing up against the treeline, set the sky ablaze with color. The surface of the water was illuminated in a brilliant golden glow, while everything to my front was silhouetted black against it. 

Sunset over Jordan Lake

We reached the shore just as night fell and packed up the paddleboards. Before heading out, we did some reflecting on our experiences: the roses, the buds, and the thorns. The most common roses were the scenery, meeting new people, and learning something new. The most common thorn was the bugs (note to self: pack bug spray). We returned to the Outdoor Education Center around 9:30 PM and said our goodbyes. 

Truthfully, I had an amazing time on this trip, and I would wholeheartedly recommend it to anyone at UNC. In fact, I enjoyed it so much that I signed up for several more trips this semester (Carolina Aventures series???). 

Signing up was easy at https://stayactive.unc.edu/ under Programs > Expeditions. Spots on each trip are limited, so only sign up if you are certain you will be able to go. Trips vary in their level of intensity and typically happen on weekends, although some trips happen over extended breaks. For example, Carolina Compass is a 4-day backpacking and rockclimbing expedition exclusive to first-year students that takes place over fall break. Be sure to read the details of each trip thoroughly before deciding, and don’t hesitate to reach out to staff with questions. 

These trips can be a fun activity to do with friends, but don’t be afraid to sign up by yourself. In fact, most people on the SUP trip had signed up by themselves. If you’re looking to step outside of your comfort zone and make new connections, I really recommend it. The casual environment and common interest (being outdoors!) make it really easy to get to know people. 

The friends we made along the way

Get outside, UNC! Your outdoor exploration checklist

“Wilderness is not a luxury but a necessity of the human spirit.” -Edward Abbey

The woods and water can be an integral part of your UNC experience -and you don’t have to go far to find them.

The triangle region is full of outdoor spaces to camp, hike, run, and paddle.

Ask any outdoor enthusiast and these spots will be on their list of adventures while at UNC. Explore them! We start with those closest to campus and swirl outward across the state.

Learn more about these spots – and then, go play outside! (pro tip: Don’t feel comfortable adventuring on your own? Check out Carolina Adventures Expeditions! They provide gear, guides and routes for some of these fantastic adventures.) Continue reading

Get outside! Top 22 Spaces to Play “Near” UNC

“Wilderness is not a luxury but a necessity of the human spirit.” -Edward Abbey

When was the last time you stepped outside for a walk in the woods, some fresh air, and natural vitamin D?

The woods and water can be an integral part of your UNC experience. The triangle region is full of outdoor spaces to camp, hike, run, and paddle.

Ask any outdoor enthusiast and these spots will be on their list of adventures while at UNC. Do you have suggestions for other spots? Additional info we should include about these? Pass along your thoughts in the comments.

Learn more about these spots – and then, go play outside!

  1. Battle Park – Hiking and trail running available. Located on the east side of campus and downhill from the Coker Arboretum. The park is named for Kemp Plummer Battle, president of UNC from 1876 to 1891. The park symbolizes the important connection between nature and art at UNC. Download a trail map.
  2. Mason Farm Biological Reserve – Hiking, trail running, and bird watching available. Located 2 miles (3 minutes by car) from UNC. It is south east of the Botanical Gardens and Totten Center. A permit and a key card for the gate must be obtained from the Totten Center for $5, but the gate is typically open during daylight hours. Bicycles or motorized vehicles, pets, and removal of wildlife are not allowed.
  3. Bolin Creek & Sewell School Trails – Mountain biking, hiking and trail running available. Located 7 miles or 15 minutes by car from UNC. A lovely place to enjoy the outdoors. Creek walks and fundraisers occur with the “Friends of Bolin Creek” group. Check them out at http://bolincreek.org/blog/.
  4. Duke Forest – Hiking, trail running, fishing, horseback riding and mountain biking available. Located 10 miles or 20 minutes by car from UNC. Duke Forest is used primarily for teaching and research laboratory but also included limited public recreation. Group activities must be approved in advance.
  5. Occoneechee Mountain State Natural Area – Hiking, trail running, fishing, camping and picknicking available. Located 15 miles or 25 minutes by car from UNC. The Occoneechee Mountain summit is the highest point in Orange Country with 190 acres of land and nearly 3 miles of trails. No fees are charges for the use of this park’s facilities. However, visitors must be 18 years or older to register as campers.
  6. William B. Umstead State Park – Boating, Fishing, Horseback Riding, Hiking, Trail Running, Camping, Picnicking, Cycling available. Located 20 miles or 25 minutes by car from UNC. Park includes shelters, campsites, canoes, and kayaks that can be reserved for a reasonable fee.
  7. Eno River State Park – Hiking, Trail running, Camping, Fishing, and Canoeing available. Located 20 miles or 30 minutes from UNC. A great place to rock hop up the lovely river. For facilities and fees: http://www.ncparks.gov/Visit/parks/enri/facilities.php. Reservations for camping are not required but recommended.
  8. Haw River – Fishing, Canoeing, Swimming, Horseback riding, and Paddling available. Located 25 miles or 30 minutes driving from NC. The Haw River has recently made an impressive reversal from a heavily industrial polluted river to a home for a variety of wildlife. Bonus – visit the Haw River Ballroom after a day of play for some live music.
  9. Falls Lake State Recreation Area – Boating, Hiking, Camping, Picnicking,Community Building, Swimming, and Cycling available. A great spot to kayak! Located 30 miles or 40 minutes  by car from UNC. Entrance Fee: Car = $5/day; Bus or Van = $10/day
    Campsite Rentals: $18/day
  10. Hanging Rock State Park – Boating, Fishing, Hiking, Picnicking, Camping, Swimming, and Climbing available. Located 200 miles or 2 hours by car from UNC. Rowboat/Canoe Rentals: $5 for the first hour and $3 for each additional hourCabin Rentals: Accommodates up to 6 people for $83/day; by reservation only and minimum two-night stay required. $14 per personCampsite Rentals: $18/day Swimming: $4/day
  11. Uwharrie National Forest – Camping (backcountry and car), Off-road vehicle use, Boating, Hunting, and Fishing available. Located 105 miles or 2 hours by car from UNC. The Uwharrie National Forest was purchased by the federal government in 1931 during the Great Depression and became popular after large gold discoveries in nearby mines. Badin Lake offers numerous recreation activities, including camping, hiking, fishing, boating, and hunting.
  12. Stone Mountain State Park – Camping, Trails, Education and Events, Exhibits and Historic Sites, Fishing, Picnicking, and Rock Climbing available. Located 140 miles or 2.5 hrs by car from UNC. Fishing (Special Catch and Release): $15/day per section. Campsite Rentals: $18/day
  13. Roanoke River – Canoeing, Camping (platforms; reservation required), Hiking, Fishing, Hunting and Paddling. Located 160 miles or 2.5 hours by car from UNC. A great place to paddle by day and camp by night on the water via wooden platforms. See the Roanoke River Brochure for more information.
  14. Grayson Highlands State Park – Camping, Hiking, Fishing, Boating, Hunting, and Horseback Trails available. Located 170 miles or 3 hours by car from UNC. Parking, admission and boat launching fees available. Cabins and lodges can also be reserved. Bonus: wild ponies!
  15. Grandfather Mountain State Park – Camping (backcountry and car) and Hiking available. Located 180 miles or 3 hours and 15 minutes by car from UNC. Grandfather Mountain is a landmark outdoor spot for North Carolina. Camping is allowed at 13 backpack camping sites along the trail system. Campers must leave their vehicles at the designated locations since no vehicle can be left overnight in the Grandfather Mountain attraction. Grandfather Mountain State Park offers more than 12 miles of trails. Most of these trails are challenging and therefore, hikers must use the trails’ ladder and cables in some of the steeper sections.There are no fees for hiking or camping permits, but hikers and campers must be able to produce a valid permit when on state park trails or campsites. To find out where to get a permit, visit: http://www.ncparks.gov/Visit/parks/grmo/permits.php
  16. Wilson Creek – Hiking, Camping (backcountry and car), Backpacking, Kayaking, Canoeing, Mountain biking, Horseback Riding, Tubing, Swimming, and Fishing available. Located 190 miles or 3.5 hours by car from UNC. Wilson Creek was once used as summer hunting grounds for the Cherokee Indians. Now, it serves as a wilderness area for numerous activities and events. Trails in the Wilson Creek area are rugged, but you can find some amazing spots to play in the water if you’re open to some adventure.
  17. Mount Rogers, Virginia – Camping (backcountry and car), Fishing and Hunting, Hiking, Horseback Riding, Mountain Biking, and Scenic Driving available. Located 190 miles or 4 hours by car from UNC.
  18. Linville Gorge Wilderness – Hiking, Camping (back country), Climbing, Mountain Biking, and Fishing available. 200 miles or 3 hours and 45 minutes by car from UNC. Known as the Grand Canyon of the east coast. Camping: A permit is required to camp overnight on Friday, Saturday, Sunday, and holidays between May 1st and October 31st with a 3 days and 2 nights maximum length of stay. To make reservations please call the Grandfather District Ranger at 828-652-4841 or 2144 to secure a permit.
  19. Cape Hatteras National Seashore – Offers Camping, Fishing, Swimming, Off-road vehicle use, Hunting, Shelling, Birding, Kayaking, Canoeing, Windsurfing, and Lighthouse tours. Located 215 miles or 4 hours by car from UNC. Vehicles are permitted on ocean beaches from 6 am to 10 pm, May 1st to September 15th. A night driving permit is required between 10 pm and 6 am. Cape Hatteras Lighthouse Climbing Fees Adults: $7 Children under 12: $3.50 Windsurfing equipment is available for rent.
  20. Middle Prong & Shining Rock – Hiking and Camping (backcountry) offered. Located 255 miles or 4 hours and 15 minutes by car from UNC. There are no developed campgrounds in the Middle Prong Wilderness and therefore, backcountry camping is allowed. No open fires are permitted.
  21. Panthertown Valley – Hiking, Fishing, Climbing and Camping (backcountry) offered. Located 275 miles or 4 hours from UNC. Panthertown Valley is great for hiking, as it features an array of threatened and endangered species and natural communities. Overnight camping and catch-and-release fishing are allowed in Panthertown, as long as regulations are followed to ensure the safety of the sensitive areas. Map available for $12.
  22. Great Smoky Mountains National Park – Camping (backcountry and car), Lodging, Hiking, Fishing, Picnicking, Wildlife viewing, and Auto touring available. Located 315 miles or 5 hours from UNC. The Smokies have a very biological diverse environment from big animals like bears, deer and elk, to microscopic organisms. There are about 1,500 bears that live in the park. Download a copy of the Smokies Trip Planner.

No More Pencils, No more Books…

… No more teacher’s dirty looks.

Remember the amazing energy and promise of the last day of the school back in Elementary School? Clamoring onto the bus, singing “no more teachers,” maybe throwing paper airplanes out the window (not that I ever did that or anything) and thinking about all the amazing things you’d do over the summer without all that darn homework to do? Well I’m not going to lie, I kind of feel like doing that now.

With classes wrapping up and the weather warming up, I’m starting to think about all the possibility and promise that summer offers. Despite the fact that summer break in college comes with some strings attached—summer jobs, internships and perhaps summer classes—for me it’s always entailed a sense of adventure, relaxation and promise. I’ll be working pretty hard this summer, however; I’ve already begun to plan some little adventure here and there that I never had time for during the school year. For example… laying by my pool (with sunscreen on of course), learning to grill a really great steak, finally going to Asheville and, hey, maybe I’ll make a few paper airplanes just for the heck of it.

So, on behalf of all of us here at Counseling and Wellness we’d like to congratulate you all on a year successfully completed here at Carolina, whether it’s your first or your last (woo class of 2012!). Enjoy your summer, have an adventure, or don’t, whatever you fancy. But, the bottom line is, take some time relax and enjoy—it’s your summer and you deserve it!

Here at Counseling and Wellness we’ll also be relaxing a bit, but we’ll still be blogging! Make sure to stay tune in for new blogs on Tuesdays and Thursdays. Have a suggestion for a topic you’d like to see? Submit it anonymously, using the anonymous submission box on the right hand side of the screen.