Prior to his arrival on campus as a first-year, Garrick Gu ’17 had not spent much time outdoors. Despite having grown up in Massachusetts, he had only hiked a small piece of the Appalachian Trail. It was not until his intermediate backpacking trip during First Days that he discovered his love for Williams Outdoor Orientation for Living as First Years (WOOLF).
Since returning from that trip, Gu has embarked on five more WOOLF adventures. He has gone on two training trips in addition to leading three groups of first-years. Although the program’s leaders are traditionally sophomores, the WOOLF directors have called Gu in as an alternate on two separate occasions.
“It is such a privilege to lead. The Williams Outing Club [WOC] wants to give the opportunity to as many people as possible, but when the call comes, I’m ready,” Gu said.
Gu decided to lead his first WOOLF trip sophomore year because of the sense of community that he felt on his first trip. In fact, he still makes an effort to stay in touch with his original WOOLF group.
“I have generations parties where I invite everyone I have ever been on a WOOLF trip with. There are usually about 60 people. As you move on with your life at [the College] it can be harder to stay close, but I definitely see another reunion on the horizon,” Gu said.
In addition to teaching many first-years about hiking and canoeing, Gu has learned a lot about himself as a leader.
“Being a leader is all about sacrificing your own comfort to make sure the WOOLFies are comfortable. You have to initiate some awkward social interaction at first and make sure everyone is included,” he said.
“I have also learned that sometimes you have to sleep off the tarp, grab the extra supplies, and bear the grunt of the work so that everyone else can have fun. You don’t need your WOOLFies to like you in order to have a good trip as long as they’re becoming friends and making connections.”
Although Gu has had to alter his leadership style to best fit the trip he is leading, he always keeps one overarching goal in mind: making sure everyone makes friends.
“Canoeing was much more chill. Advanced backpacking has a certain intensity. Regardless, I like when there is plenty of time to hang out and get to know everyone. I think that is what WOOLF is really about,” Gu said.
It would be easy to assume that Gu has an undying love for the outdoors, but in reality, his fondness is specifically for WOOLF. He has taken a hiking P.E. course, but does not spend much time backpacking, canoeing or rock climbing on his own.
Although Gu speaks so positively about his WOOLF experiences, he acknowledges that being a WOOLF leader comes with a huge amount of responsibility and challeneges along the way.
“This year I had my first [medical evacuation]. It was scary but it was something I was prepared for. It was probably inevitable for me due to the number of trips I have been on.”
Despite the scare, Gu emphasized the importance of moving on and making sure the rest of his WOOLFies had a good experience.
“It is easy to get caught up in the excitement and forget that you are responsible for the safety and comfort of 10 other people,” he said.
Even after the unfortunate situation, Gu was still able to make the trip fun. “On our last day we woke up two hours early and trundled down the path in order to scare another group. We walked five miles before dawn and arrived at the WOC cabin. There was a Swedish student in my group, so when we got there, he started wailing in Swedish and the rest of us shook the house. We left our trash outside the door for the other group to carry down and ran all the way back to Frosh Quad as fast as we could,” Gu said.
He also has loads of fun traditions from his other trips. On B20, the male leader has to jump in the river on the last day. On C31, there is a branch where everyone has to take a sunset picture. And, at any time possible, he tries to leave trash and other unwanted items with other WOOLF groups he runs into on the trails.
Aside from WOOLF, Gu is an involved member of the College community. He can be found TAing, presiding over the Chemistry Student Activities Committee or playing the bagpipes.
Gu is a senior, so his time with WOOLF is running out. Currently, he is tied for the most WOOLF trips one student has ever taken. When asked if he would lead a training trip in the spring to break the record, he replied, “I don’t know; we’ll have to see.”