On a brisk October day in Jicin, over a dozen AAU students trekked along the northern Bohemia countryside, searching for a hiking trail that was a half hour walk outside of the town. Chasing daylight, the group journeyed together, chatting, collecting fallen apples and bonding over the irony of a strenuous walk to an even more strenuous hike. The excursion was made worth it by the views awaiting the group at the summit of Czech Paradise, but arguably more so were the connections made along the way.

This memorable trip was made possible by the AAU Hiking Club, a new addition to AAU’s extracurricular activities. Among others, the club has shown great promise as an up-and-coming club on campus; with a balanced combination of full-time and study abroad student members, the club has quickly become a student favorite on AAU’s campus.

During this year’s August Orientation at which students could choose to join a variety of clubs, students Gabe McDonald, Jonathan Little and Nikola Igenti saw the opportunity to add a new organization to the list: an AAU hiking club.

The trio had many reasons for starting the hiking club, but they primarily saw it as a chance to draw students together in a new way.

“I wanted to develop friendships around the same things I was interested in and because I feel that being in the outdoors is great for opening up conversation,” explained McDonald. “I don’t just want to talk about hiking, but about life, religion, philosophy, people’s background and life experience. I wanted to get to know people on a deeper level and just talk about life.”

As a first-year AAU student from California, McDonald was determined to acclimate himself to the student culture in any way he could. He’s a member of the basketball and chess clubs but was interested in finding an outlet that fits his passion for the outdoors and also allowed for more interactions with AAU students.

“I think it has made me aware of the politics and structure of the school,” reflected McDonald. “I feel that I have met and developed relationships I normally wouldn’t have without the club.”

In that regard, McDonald has observed a difference with membership in the hiking club as compared to other AAU student organizations.

“I would say we have a significantly bigger study abroad group in our [club], but the division is probably 50/50 [ratio to full-time to study abroad student members],” said McDonald.

Enthusiasm for the club from both temporary and permanent students has resulted in a diverse group who all share a passion for travel, exploration and getting to know new people. According to the closed Facebook Page, “AAU Hiking Club” has generated 88 members, all with different nationalities and backgrounds and as many as 30 students have partaken in a single trip.

The page has allowed those invited members to see when and where upcoming hikes will take place and has allowed the three administrators to conduct polls to see what the groups’ consensus is on future trip plans.

Since its creation, the group has gone on three hikes: two in the Czech Republic to Velká Amerika (better known as Czech Grand Canyon in Karlstejn) and Český ráj (Czech Paradise) in northern Bohemia along with one to High Tatras in Slovakia. McDonald considered the latter the most ambitious trip yet, requiring an overnight train ride and a nine-hour hike to reach the mountain’s summit.

In light of impressive trip turnouts and the positive feedback they’ve received, the leaders are anxious to make improvements to the club for future groups. With plans to keep the club moving forward in the upcoming semesters, McDonald has already started developing trips to Bohemia-Switzerland and other local hikes.

“I would want to lay out destinations and post them earlier so people can plan for it in advance,” McDonald proposed in order to achieve greater club attendance on its forthcoming excursions.

In just a few months of existence, the hiking club has added a new dynamic to AAU’s student life and has drawn together an assortment of students with a shared passion for exploring the great outdoors. McDonald, Little and Igenti have led an array of students to remote and breathtaking trips and have made friendships in the process. And, as corny as it sounds, it really is more about the journey than the destination.

Photo Courtesy of AAU Hiking Club