For gym-goers at the University of Pennsylvania who have grown tired of the elliptical, the barbell and the treadmill, a remedy to fitness boredom is close at hand.
Tucked in an office in the Pottruck Health and Fitness Center, the Department of Recreation’s Outdoor Adventure Programs take members of the Penn community far beyond the boundaries of the gym, the campus or even Philadelphia.
Some activities even give participants the chance to dangle their feet high off the ground.
Open to any Penn student, faculty member or staff (though primarily utilized by undergraduates), Outdoor Adventure runs hiking, climbing and backpacking trips throughout the year in the Philadelphia area and beyond.
Yahya Abdul-Qaadir, assistant director of the program, has organized and led these trips for the last two years, bringing with him 15 years of experience in the recreation industry.
Recent excursions involved conquering the Pinnacle trail in Berks County and rock climbing in Bucks County’s Ralph Stover State Park.
Adrenaline rushes are also available close to home. Outdoor Adventure offers training sessions on the Pottruck Center’s climbing wall and twice-yearly intercollegiate climbing competitions.
For those interested in a true getaway, each semester features a longer backpacking trip of four to five days. Abdul-Qaadir said this summer’s trip will explore a new location, in upstate New York’s Adirondack Mountains.
Almost all organized activities are appropriate for beginners. Most climbing trips are preceded by a brief orientation so participants become familiar with equipment and techniques. Penn Rec also provides all specialized equipment.
“We have everything you need for the backpacking trip, from Gortex rain jackets to sleeping pads, and the same is true with the climbing trips,” Abdul-Qaadir said. “You literally just show up with a positive attitude and lunch and we provide the rest.”
All that preparation doesn’t mean that participants can’t expect surprises. During last summer’s backpacking trip at New Jersey’s Sunfish Pond, for instance, the Penn campers got some unsettling advice from fellow hikers.
“We were talking with an Outward Bound group we met on the trail and they told us, ‘Oh, by the way, hang your food tonight, there’s a bear hanging around,’” Abdul-Qaadir said.
Sure enough, that evening the group had some uninvited dinner guests: a mother bear and her cubs.
Despite the occasional wild-animal encounter, Abdul-Quaadir said spending time exercising in the outdoors can be a perfect antidote for the stresses of everyday life.
“We try to plan our hikes where there are few other people around so you get the chance to relax in nature,” he said. “There’s no better place to rejuvenate than out in the natural environment.”