The Mountain Man Experience

While taking a break from their daily canoeing, part of the 11-person crew smiles for the camera, including (from left) Hayley Forsblom, Cierra Shelton, Katelyn Hicks, Bea Bourland, Kristopher Rogers, Abigail McNabb, and Patrick Zinn.

Bea Bourland, Contributing Writer

The Mountain Man Experience, the name sounds a bit scary doesn’t it? This last independent study, 11 students weren’t scared, and chose to spend a week in Arkansas to broaden their horizons and take this chance to experience something amazing. Canoeing down the Buffalo River in Arkansas was the planned trip for this semester, and with camping on gravel banks and staying at campsites in the middle of nowhere on the agenda, who wouldn’t be excited?

I happen to have been one of the students to take on the challenge, and that’s exactly what it was – a challenge. Going into this experience, I was understandably nervous, but also hopeful to make connections with the other students and come out having experienced something I’d never had the chance to before. The first night was rather easy, as we drove to a campsite and stayed on a nicely pruned lawn. Despite the near freezing temperatures overnight, we had s’mores and hotdogs, and everything was happy. Little did I know how hard the next few days would be on my mind and my body.

We spent these days jumping from primitive campsite to primitive campsite, canoeing ten miles a day between sites, with one night stowing us away on a gravel bank on the side of the river with no bathrooms and only spiders to offer us comfort. A lot of spiders. The cold continued into this night, leaving me shivering on the rocks. A friend and I started a little vlog with a GoPro on the first night, talking to everyone and getting their opinions on the trip. We continued filming into the next few days, getting interviews with the professors and students that were willing to talk while shooing away bugs and fighting the heat.

The canoeing itself was a lot harder than I expected, as I apparently wasn’t as physically prepared as I thought I was. Kris Rogers, my canoe-mate throughout this experience, and I found ourselves in the middle of the pack as we rowed tirelessly down the river. Between the wide open, flat areas of the river and the rapid-like turns, we were kept on our toes throughout with no time to think of anything else but going forward. As we went, we passed beautiful views of mountains and waves of trees in the distance. Courtesy of Dr. Jason Shaw, associate professor of Bilogy, we all learned many bird facts, and by the end I was able to identify a few by their colors.

Unfortunately, our trip came to a swift end with a rainstorm rolling in on the second to last day, sending us home on that Thursday rather than that Friday. Dr. Shaw and Dr. James Finck, professor of American History, assured us that camping in the cold rain was not a fun experience, and when it came to a vote, the majority of us agreed that we didn’t want to find out if they were correct or not.

Overall, the experience was a positive one, although it definitely tested my willpower a bit at times and made me feel grosser than I have in years. The views were gorgeous, and something I’d love to see again sometime soon. So, if the opportunity arises to go canoe the Buffalo river, I’d say go for it!


Bea Bourland is a second-year Biology and Environmental Science major at the University of Science and Arts of Oklahoma.