The official student newspaper of Vanderbilt University

The Vanderbilt Hustler

The official student newspaper of Vanderbilt University.
Since 1888
The official student newspaper of Vanderbilt University

The Vanderbilt Hustler

The official student newspaper of Vanderbilt University.
The official student newspaper of Vanderbilt University

The Vanderbilt Hustler

The official student newspaper of Vanderbilt University.

Getting funky in the forest with WilSkills

Explore nature’s groove on adventurous trips with Vanderbilt’s outdoors club.
The hiking group crossing Dripping Springs on the Mossy Ridge Trail toward the end of the hike on Jan. 28, 2024. (Photo courtesy of Eliza Lewis)

Their backpacks are Patagonia. Their shoes are Blundstones. Their water bottles, complete with stickers, are Nalgenes. They are… WilSkills

This group of unruly tree-huggers find themselves deep in caves, high on mountain peaks, hanging from a cliff face or canoeing in gorges on the weekends. Vanderbilt’s Wilderness Skills Club is for adventure-seekers and self-described spontaneous people. This spunky group of students, often sporting eclectic jewelry, nose piercings and shaggy haircuts, love to laugh, be outside and protect the outdoors together. 

When their headphones aren’t blasting an underground indie band, Wilskills members are ready to engage in a conversation about the outdoors with anyone who will listen. Every Wednesday at 7 p.m. CST in Featheringill 138 the club hosts a lecture about a chosen topic — whether that be how to engage in Leave No Trace, documentary film-making, recycling or first aid in the wilderness. Their presentations — which include lots of GIFs, memes, inconsistent colors and fonts, jokes, laughs and dance moves — are very unique and teach their members how to be better outdoorsmen. 

The club is completely student-run and includes both graduate and undergraduate students. Each week, they have a lecture, social event and trip. A full weekend trip is $40, which includes transportation, food and gear. Common destinations for these trips include Alabama, Georgia and Tennessee state parks. A day trip is either $5 or $10 depending on the activity. 

Mariah Grover and Laina Heacock are seniors and co-presidents of WilSkills. They described the people in WilSkills as “quirky” and “from all walks of life.” 

If a student attends enough trips, lectures and passes an exam, they become a WilSkills instructor, meaning they can guide trips.

Sophia Lindsay is a senior and instructor for WilSkills, and I found myself sitting next to them during the lecture. They were quick to ask my name when they noticed I was sitting by myself quietly and were happy to talk about the WilSkills community. 

“The people are fun, funky and exciting,” Lindsay said. 

Lindsay was so happy to hear that I had finally been accepted on a trip and encouraged me to come to more lectures. 

Eliza Lewis is a senior and an instructor. She was one of the leaders for the trip I attended to Percy Warner Park, which is just 20 minutes from campus. 

I knew the trip was going to be fun after I received a very interesting confirmation email telling me I had been chosen for the trip. Like the lecture I attended, the email had photos, GIFs and varying fonts and colors. The email detailed our itinerary, what to bring, where to meet, how to pay and what forms to sign. 

“Eat lunch along or right after the epic hike, become besties, have the time of our lives, you get the point. Drive allllll the wayyyyyy back to Vandyyyyyyy… cry not because it’s over, but because it happened. Give big HUGS,” the confirmation email stated.

The group met behind Branscomb at 9 a.m. CST on a very cloudy and chilly Sunday. After some small talk and introductions, we packed out with 10 of us in total. The email was a very accurate presentation of the vibes of the group. Yes, everyone had a different major, appearance and hometown, but we all shared a love for the outdoors. Each participant wanted to have the best time ever on our muddy five-mile hike.

We hiked the Mossy Ridge Trail, which would’ve been very nice without all the mud dirtying our shoes and pants. I have never hiked a trail with more mud in my life, which made the inclines and declines of the trail much more difficult. Some sections of the trail more closely resembled quicksand than mud, trying to rip our shoes off our feet. But even with the treacherous conditions — mud, rain and cold — I had an amazing experience. Each person wanted to get to know me, and I wanted to know them not just to better understand the organization but because they were interesting. I spent half of the hike talking in Spanish to an international student from Paraguay and the other half discussing thrifting, writing and hiking with various other participants. I talked to Lewis about travel, backpacking and her favorite WilSkills memories. 

“The people really make the club special… I’ve met people I never would’ve met otherwise,” Lewis said. “My favorite memories aren’t about what I was doing but who I was doing it with.” 

She talked about a rock climbing trip to Sand Rock, Ark., which is not her specialty, but the other trip members made it fun and memorable. I was experiencing the same feeling she was describing on the very trip we were on. Everyone on the hike was friendly, exuberant and ready to talk about anything during our less-than-ideal hike. The connections I found made the trip worthwhile. 

“Our mission is to make the outdoors accessible to people who have never been able to explore them before,” Lewis said. 

When we made it back to our van, we had a WilSkills delicacy for lunch: tortilla, hummus and Hot Cheetos. Lewis lit up when describing how much she enjoys this low-maintenance lunch. You’d be wrong if you’re thinking the Cheetos go on the side. They go in the tortilla with the hummus. I was scared to try it, but it was honestly better than I expected.

“The Cheetos provide a much-needed crunch to the wrap,” Lewis said, defending her favorite meal. 

It was difficult for us to eat since our hands were numb from the cold. After finishing the wraps, we were eager to get back in the van — even with the weird smell. 

Once inside, “More Than A Woman” by the Bee Gees was played. Everyone really got into it, dancing and singing along. We were happy to be out of the cold and rain. 

After getting dropped back off at Branscomb and going about the rest of my day, I felt weirdly empty. The people on the trip satisfied a need I didn’t know I had: getting out of my comfort zone. I spend a lot of time with the same people over and over again, so going on the WilSkills trip let my inner extrovert free. I connected with people I’d never met before and learned about their stories, all while being outside. 

I cannot recommend WilSkills enough. Even though it took me a whole semester to finally get on a trip, it was worth the wait. In addition, you get priority for trip selection if you go to the lecture, which I hadn’t done before. The members of WilSkills are eager to welcome you to their community, and once you’re in it will be hard to leave such a groovy group — they make you feel warm, even in the bitter cold.

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About the Contributor
Jacqueline Welsh
Jacqueline Welsh, Deputy Life Editor
Jacqueline Welsh (‘26) is from Washington, D.C., and is majoring in communication studies and minoring in creative writing in the College of Arts and Science. She is part of VOCE A Cappella, Studio V, WilSkills and Tap That! She loves going on hikes and reading. You can reach her at [email protected].
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Sophia L
5 months ago

Omg!! This was so beautifully written and so so so sweet!! Come back for another trip!!