Guide to the Freshman Expedition
Officially the Freshman Expedition is a “wilderness expedition in the Rocky Mountains”. This in itself is ambiguous, but at least discards the opinions of some who thought the school was taking people to Cordoba, a city in Argentina and calling it COR as just a shorthand. Similarly Wcclen, Kansas is thus thrown out as an option for related reasons.
However, expedition, is itself a quite ambiguous word, with some thinking it implies a race of some sort. The original meaning of the word is swiftness in doing something and it comes from the Latin expedire (from the foot), so this is somewhat reasonable. We were told though, by the Outdoor Leadership Program (OLP) at Wyoming Catholic College, however, to put the stress on the “out of the foot”, that is expedire of the word’s Latin origin. Such is in agreement with the school’s Latin focus and shows the Freshman Expedition instead as something arising from the feet. In other words, it’s a hiking trip.
“On COR, you hike. And hike. And hike,” says a former instructor for the course, Solomon Stivers, “Weeks of it! But it sure is real!”We were pretty sure that’s what it would be, as that’s what several other IIT executives and myself remember doing last year, but we thought it important to check as rumors were spreading on our social media platform FaceTruck that COR is now a “dance”, “cross country trucking experience”, or “music festival”.
How long is it?
Officially it's a “twenty-one” day trip as its so often referred to as just “the twenty-one-day trip“. However, we all know how such things go. Even to be kind, its quite a misnomer. “Maybe their definition of days is different from mine,” reported one junior from Indiana and a member of our staff here at IIT, James Green, “but it was really only twenty at best, and really only eighteen days of actual hiking,” or at least “for all the groups except mine!” he added smiling, as his group was lost for an extra day or two at the end of the trip and got back late, becoming the only group in the history of the school to have an actual twenty-one day trip.
What did they do instead? He continues, “Reading, arguing, plotting the death of Timmy…” Good uplifting pastimes we assume, but we’re still wondering why they call it a twenty-one day backpacking trip when much of the time is taken up by other pastimes and activities.
Where is it? (more specifically)
More specifically, some course materials say something about two mountain ranges, the Wind River Mountains and the Absaroka Mountains, but exactly which group is going where and where within that range you’re actually going is a little to complex for anyone other than Omnisciens (William Albers) or Theo Benz to understand and ultimately doesn’t matter, you’re still on the Earth, I think.
So we’re going to leave it at that.
How far do you go and how hard is it?
Well, the school told us when we went on COR that we’d go a hundred miles. It was actually one-hundred-thirty for my group, but that was because we went the wrong direction for fifteen miles. Be prepared to go a bit farther than they tell you on a good day, and a lot farther if you’re in the midst of a “Golden Lake Incident”, “Cheesecake Incident” or “Stealing Your Instructor’s Campsite Incident”. COR is intense. Well, I guess it’s also “in tents” because you sleep (sort of) in them, but it's most true that it’s an intense experience. The school admits as much, also adding that there is “potential for challenges” in the program, but says you only need to do a bit of exercise for a few years leading up to the program.
Some are fine with this, but with the average committal time to WCC now resting at a mean of two weeks before students arrive and three weeks before COR, most don’t have much time to really do even this. Thus, we suggest that if you have any intention at all of going to WCC in the future you begin preparing now with Thomas Sponseller’s five-year training plan Be COR Fit in Five Years or Less going on sale now with IIT Books.
Where are you going? (more specifically)
If you’re reading this, you’re probably out in the mountains right now. Well, I mean, in a manner of speaking. Not truly “in” the mountains, in the sense of being within the cone-shaped mounds or rock and dirt, but “among” the mountains more properly speaking.
But now that I said about how long and how far and how hard you have to go, you're probably still wondering where you’re going. Maybe your instructors told you, maybe they didn’t, but if it’s like how it was for me, none of the maps they showed me before the expedition made any sense.
It’s best to just not worry about it; go where your instructors tell you to, and then if you don’t understand where they’re telling you to go, you simply pick two directions randomly and flip a coin (or the Spot). How do you carry everything with you? Can you really fit it all into a backpack?
In the classical and famous answer of Professor Kyle Washut, WCC’s dean… Yein.
Yes and no. Everything the school says you absolutely need to survive can be fit into a backpack with only an hour spent packing each day. However, this means that you need to figure out how to get everything else you might want with you.
A tent, for example, makes a good jacket during the day for one person, though it does get a bit sweaty during the day and can’t be used at night, assuming you want to use it to sleep. Other people have carried it as a giant bandanna, but it’s a little too big for most people other than Anselm “Anslam” Terreri or maybe too be a little bit more inclusive, Angela VanHecke
We recommend loading the tent onto the cow, or Theo, obviously, along with your water-bottles and most of your food. Which I actually didn’t mention yet, so…
BRING A COW!
If you want to eat, have space to bring everything that you really need (and a few additional niceties), you can’t beat getting a cow. You’ll have to buy it yourself around Lander and arrange its transportation to the trailhead, but my WCCLE (Freshman Expedition) (sub-group of students within COR) couldn’t have gotten along without it. You simply pull it along on a rope for the duration of the expedition, load all your extra gear onto it, and cut off pieces every night for dinner. You have food, you have space, and most importantly – you have warm and fuzzy emotional support. Okay, I meant warm and horny, but it’s pretty much the same thing when you’re hundreds of miles away from civilization. We also used the cow to tow a small trailer with musical instruments and a full amplifier stereo system. It worked really well, even as the school dismissed the practicality of the idea on several counts (the cow dying when you cut into it, it being fast enough to keep with you, being smart enough to pull a trailer, etc.). To be fair, the cow we brought was half-dead, for most of the time, but as it was in the “running around wild” stage just after you kill it type of half-dead, it took most of our concentration to keep it on the path.
Again, you really should consider this, as the school doesn’t send you out with much food. “Each person gets rationed only a measly 7,000 calories a day,” our IIT staff scientist reported from a personal study of the expedition, “and it’s not enough, so bring the cow!”
Several other groups have tried similar things like carrying around a fish in a bowl as food (and emotional support) but we, again, think a cow is the best and most practical option.
We mentioned that you only get 7,000 calories of food per person per day, but while it's always a good idea to bring more food, what you do get is pretty good.
For one, the powerballs are real, and real-sized, unlike the small round objects sold at Crux, and you get spices on COR, unlike their nearly complete absence at Frassati. “Food’s pretty much the best part of COR,” says one Junior, “You have to spend a lot of time cooking it, with the small gas stoves you’re given, but oh, is it worth it!”
You carry enough food, in an “enough” determined again by the school, for a week, before meeting up with school officials or contractors who bring in resupplies on horseback to a predetermined rendezvous point. There you refill for the next week and then repeat again for the final week.
Along with our instruments and stereo system, my group attempted to bring a full enclosed pop-up shelter in the cow-pulled trailer. The school denied the request and also suggested that we not even bring a full tent, so we only brought rain-flies and tarps.
This was a surprise to most, and means you get a little more exposure to the elements than even most serious campers are used to. As our group did, however, you can always bring a full tent if you want to. Just remember to put it on the cow.
That’s a good question. The school gives you a long list of gear you need to have including multiple types and layers of clothes. You don’t need clothes.
We did bring them unfortunately, and it was a lot of extra weight. I don’t know about the women, but many of the men and I wore the same thing for all three weeks of the trip, washing it by just wearing it into a pond/stream into which we were swimming.
One instructor for a men’s group brought a full suit coat, dress-shirt and tie onto his trip. You don’t need to match this, of course, but it does mean then that other clothes are allowed. They’re just rare, and in his case, a little strange for the backcountry, maybe.
Just remember not to bring anything with cotton or the school will burn it and make you publicly renounce your dangerous decision to bring it along. Trust me, it was embarrassing.
Wearing aluminum foil to help defend yourself against conspirators attempting to perform mind control experiments with you while you’re on COR might sound tempting. However, that’s banned because aluminum foil might make people think too much of Weird Al Yankovich, who wrote a song about that very same idea that I and many of the staff here at IIT really have grown to love over the past year.
Since Weird Al makes people think of being weird, and the school wants to project a less weird, and maybe more wonk sort of ethos about the people from our school, it’s privately requested of any and all people who try to wear aluminum foil to simply leave it behind.
It’s depressing, and a little scary. At least until you realize that mind control experiments are so expensive and difficult to perform that the New World Order can only perform them in the mountains on about one person at a time. So, if there are about people in your class, you have a 98% chance of survival. That’s of course if the NWO hasn’t upgraded their equipment, but, be positive for a moment… sunshine! butterflies! rainbows!...
Who will you be with?
Well, it depends on the size of the class, but typically students are divided into six groups, three for men and three for women. These are called WCCLEs (“wikle”) for Wyoming Catholic College Leadership Expedition. While this is the official meaning, we theorize that it's really because of the ease of the entire group turning into an icicle that they chose this name to match the physicality of what can happen with a denominative approximation.
In our year each group had between eight to ten students accompanied by three instructors and a priest. One of the men’s WCCLEs was accompanied by a French seminarian for a week (who tragically died, according to rumors from the Evangelium Andreii – and may also have been secretly an English terrorist). Conversely, one of the women’s WCCLEs was accompanied by a Mexican sister while an older student, a sophomore who had not completed this expedition in her Freshman year, also joined one of the groups.
If your group performs well in its first two weeks, the instructors leave for the final week and you are left alone in the wild and its dangers. Don’t worry. If you want to avoid being left alone for this week, just try extra hard to make them not trust your WCCLE. It almost worked for us, but unfortunately, we were allowed to go alone.
Did I forget to mention: weather?
It gets cold. It gets hot. It rains. It dries. It snows. It…?
I was very surprised during COR last year when I woke up one night to icicles forming on my feet. I wasn’t in the WCCLE with “the goof” so my first impression, that someone was playing a trick, was wrong; it was actually cold outside. Or was it just because the tent rain fly we set up had blown away and my sleeping bag was soaked from a downpour? I’ll never really know, but at least know that it sometimes may seem cold.
Days are warm and bright though, with global warming of at least 50 degrees often observed from night to day. This climate change obviously has horrendous effects on everything, such as drying out your wet clothes and socks and melting the icicles on your feet, though we managed, barely, to survive this daily effect for weeks.
They’re not particularly part of the weather, but mosquitoes form an important consideration with relation to this topic. On COR, you learn how to become an expert serial killer/torturer of their kind in what is one of the expedition’s top goals. And this is out of necessity, as pacificist students would otherwise return from COR having lost several quarts of blood from the onslaught. (Ask us about Timmy if you want to hear more about this, he was, as is the case with most things, probably the hardest-hit victim). Don’t worry too much beforehand, as you’re taught how to become a certified card-carrying mosquito “license to kill” but I do recommend however, that you bring bug spray (at least one gallon per person per week and a sealed full body suit if you have one - or at least rent the headnet).
One further tangential concern to the subject of weather is water. Not water as in the falling stuff that shares in that substance, but water on the ground. While hiking, you often have to get across it. And unless you want to bring a boat with, that means getting your feet wet. Now that wouldn’t be too bad if you were just ambling around in town, as many do this for enjoyment in Lander on the weekends (or as a “procrastination adventure”). But when you have to be walking for miles and/or hours after you’ve crossed a stream with water up to your waist, you might just begin to feel like the school thought you were a fish. Don’t worry, it’s not because the particular gaiters they gave you are defective, but because they all are, and for some reason, the older students, your leaders, seem just like young children, and think you are the same; they like getting wet.
At present, IIT has found no way to avoid this problem after months of research other than giving up and just swimming, but some freshmen reportedly have decided not to wear shoes at all for their expedition in hopes of avoiding the infamous “sponge-Bob” feet and “squish…aaahhchh…squish” sound for hours.
We’ll see how COR goes for them before making our fully scientific declaration.
Finding your way?
As you're hiking on COR in an area without street signs, stoplights, or speed limits, knowing where to go takes a bit more work than usual. Yes, you have a map, and you’re shown what it looks like beforehand, but it’s not until you’re miles away from everything and have to use it, that they (the leaders/instructors) pretend to show you how to use them. To me it seemed like a ‘Cortez burning the ships' moment, but I didn’t mention my feeling, afraid that they’d burn the maps.
Each day of the expedition, however, two of you are chosen to lead the group for the next day. You’re told where to go and given the map, but that’s about it. For the most part, it works out…sometimes if you follow an invisible trail that’s where you want it to be. However, if there’s an obstacle of reality that doesn’t respect your feelings, you’re a bit of trouble. Similarly, if the place you want to be isn’t where you say it is, you might get an “incident” named after you. Let the other person lead for the day and take the grade hit for being less of an active leader while you say you’re leading something like the “bear calls”, the “jokes”, or are the “water-Nazi”. At least you don’t have the chance of failing by getting stuck in a swamp and having the instructors laugh at you if you hold back from the dangerous thing called active leadership. (Although this appeared to actually get said person a bonus with respect to the accident called a grade).
When you get lost, the best thing to do is pretend you aren’t. This really helped us, a lot, and we highly recommend it, along with ignoring compass readings (apparently compasses don’t work in Wyoming according to CNN). You’ll eventually get somewhere and have an even better story to tell, so getting lost (though you can decide whether or not you want to fully admit it is worth it…). You’ll carry a device called the Spot with you to report your position every night to school officials or to hot air, if it doesn’t work. If it’s the latter case, however, as happened with us, the Spot makes a very good coin flip substitute in deciding which way to go when you come to a fork on the trail. Trust me, until we tossed it off a cliff, the Spot was right 20% of the time. We checked its record once we returned to Lander.
Personally, I liked the pathfinding adventure of the COR expedition, even with my concern, although one student last year had a much more fiery opinion:
- "Basically you get thrown into the wilderness and have to try to survive the attacks of wandering militias. They throw you to the metaphorical wolves with their compassphobia, mapaphobia, and technologicalophia."
- Anonymous Junior on his experience in 2018
We have not fully corroborated this student’s claims, but I can at least agree to the presence of such “compassaphobia, mapaphobia, and technologiphobia in the expedition. Whether or not it's a good thing, depends on your personal goals.
Free time? Or what do you do?
As I mentioned earlier, a lot of things other than backpacking occur on the expedition. For one, you can talk with your other classmates. You can argue about Theology, Philosophy, who has the best outdoor gear, who knows the most other people in your class, and who’s going to be in the party crowd when you get back to Lander. You can even play games like “Bunny Bunny” or “Chicken Taco.” Just ask your instructors for suggestions and tips.
Other fun things to do include talking about food, talking about other frontcountry comforts, talking about food, and did I tell you? talking about food.
All in all as JohnJohn has said, “there’s a lot of things you could do if you get bored: there’s all sorts of options!”
Yes, every group is supposed to have a chaplain with them. Sometimes it gets complicated and sometimes you have to share and some of the details about Mass in the woods have to be figured out in the moment, like how to build an effective altar (tip: be prepared to donate your backpack). Just know that you should have Mass at least every Sunday and for about a week at least besides.
What if someone gets injured?
Rumor has it that two students died on the Freshman Expedition last year. This is unconfirmed, so don’t be too concerned, at least just yet. Students get evacuated from the expedition almost every year, but are taken care of, injuries happen and are treated, and life goes on…mostly. An IIT study found that going on the COR expedition is just as safe as driving one of our ice-trucks for the same amount of time.
And with every student taking a basic first-aid course before they embark, it's probably even safer just as bears are less dangerous than IIT’s ice-trucking competitor the Trans-Siberian-Orchestra-Express is to our brave drivers. Yes, bears are a thing, an overrated danger of course, but “officially manageable” if you scream all day about them to let them know you’re there, nearly electrocute yourself every night to keep your food away from their starving cubs and sanitize your breath, odor, and clothes to prevent them taking an interest in you.
Don’t worry, they teach you how to do all this before you set out.
And we’re still investigating the reports of two deaths, which first broke on CNN and have not been corroborated by any sources other than the Evangelium Andreii and Wyominad, which we suspect were written primarily in a mythological or allegorical sense to begin with.
Can you communicate with anyone else?
Well, they allow you to talk with the others in your group of students though it’s probably not as if they could stop you. If you meet up with other groups you’re not supposed to talk, but photographic evidence shows communication between groups happening last year
Once a week, when you meet up with school officials for resupply, you may exchange letters with your family or friends, although you must supply your own stamps. Contrary to my past opinion, the trees they grow on are not native to the Wyoming wilderness. So bring stamps or at least some means by which you can “borrow” or otherwise extract such items from another.
Cell-phones, obviously, are not allowed, although somehow the school justifies the use of a “satellite phone” for communication in more of an emergency setting. At present, we can’t find out how they’re justifying them in this case and not in others, unless it’s because the thing is simply as useless as a phone can be. You can’t get incoming calls with it, you’re not allowed to make personal calls, you can only call if humanity happens to have tossed a hunk of metal into space decades ago and that chunk happens to be above you, etc. You can, in theory, make external calls to the school emergency officials, Dr. Zimmer, and a government emergency hotline, but just like the Spot, the satellite phone was much more useful to our group as a paperweight and football. Until the instructors took it away, that is when we went on our own, and we had to use rocks for these purposes instead. How primitive! (And lest you worry too much, David is still recovering from when he was accidentally hit by the twenty-pound “football” substitute we were forced to use).
Communication by smoke signals isn’t officially banned, but it is kind of impractical for consistent usage on COR as we discovered. You can’t live-stream your status, save a draft message, or read anything more than one character at a time, a limit that’s far harder to deal with than Twitter’s. You can’t reasonably get other hikers you might encounter to be communication couriers for you, and even if you did, communication with them is discouraged, so the one hiker you see every three days – don’t even bother talking to him. (And he most definitely won’t let you use his phone “Rome-ing” minutes can be expensive, we hear)
Finally, for communication, there is the aforementioned Spot, but you can’t send anything other than a “drastic emergency help request”, “even more drastic emergency help request”, or “I’m peachy.” Our experts tried to rewire the Spot to overcome these restrictions but failed due to a lack of tools and electronic parts in the wilderness. It seems the Spot itself is actually built to be “tamper-resistant” we found later, so even if you are an expert at computers and need to use the Spot for some sort of situation where its three message choices aren’t right… Sorry man, nothing you can do.
And as our Spot never really worked at all, communication, or really a lack thereof, is probably the greatest risk factor for COR going forward as the same “spotty” (get it?) Spot system will be in use for this COR season. Bring yourself a homing pigeon then maybe, or a Ham Radio set for such a situation, all on the back of your cow. At least you might then have a chance at contacting civilization if for some reason you really need to do so. But what if something big happens in the frontcountry during COR? Something really big?
WCC has no contingency plans for what to say to or do with COR participants if some national event or tragedy occurs during the expedition. For example, if a nuclear war broke out, WCC wouldn’t officially tell any of its students until the next re-ration time, and maybe not even then. Need it be said that you are and will be quite isolated both physically and from the world on COR so don’t be too surprised if something big does happen when you are on it. We, for example, didn’t know anything about the death of John McCain, the breakout of war between Kirdustan and Kabulistan, or the discovery that Trump had once let an apple go to waste thirty years ago. Big news for sure, but with being gone from the world three weeks you just might end up missing something even bigger.
If you want to stay in the know on the most basic of levels you’ll need to study the signs/moods of other hikers you might encounter, know how to spot a nuclear fallout scene and practice watching the skies. While you, as I mentioned earlier, can’t use interactions with other hikers to directly communicate with the outside world, you can at least see just how much you should worry about what you’re going to be hearing about if you get back. If the hikers you encounter are smiling and cheerful, and look liberal, I’d be worried. Happy NOLS students, to take an extreme example, would imply something very wrong and strange is happening. On the other hand, for everyone else, a worried, frantic, or depressed appearance may imply something bad happened as well.
Don’t be overly worried if you see nothing but sadness in people, though. Hiking and backpacking are hard, and their emotions might just be personally caused. A sour greeting doesn’t necessarily mean a war has started, nor that it hasn’t… Only take this rule so far, and in combination, with other signs, you might happen to observe.
Like a mushroom cloud suddenly appearing in the sky. That almost always indicates a nuclear explosion, which is probably a bad thing for you. I agree that they do look cool and might make for a specifically poetic sunset. However, if it is a mushroom and not on a pizza – it’s bad per se. Just start running then if you see one of them.
In the clear Wyoming wilderness, you should see a lot of nature, and a lot of manmade things in the sky. Planes and satellites (the latter only at night) are sometimes seen and heard more often than wildlife. If you don’t see them though, there might be trouble, as in every satellite being destroyed or a catastrophe causing a shutdown of air travel.
What about other emergencies? A wildfire for instance?
Just remember that if you see a lot of smoke/flames in the sky to run. Wildfires can’t be fought well by individuals or even groups of students so your best is just to flee. Maybe it will give up and stop eventually (once it graduates from wildfire preschool), but at least try to stay away from any large columns of smoke and fire you might happen to see. It might be a new alien ship, but it’s even more likely to not be God leading you with a cloud and/or pillar of fire.
While the school has provided no official “hands-on” training for dealing with a wildfire during the time its COR students are in the backcountry, there is a contingency plan… we’re told. It’s either have everyone dunk themselves in the nearest water and ride it out, or have everyone outrun it. Or you could simply put the fire out yourself with your extra Nalgene water bottle. A wildfire happened right near some of the women’s groups last year, and they all survived. One of them did tell me though that they got some good training for running a marathon they planned to do over Christmas break by trying to outrun it, so maybe wildfires are a good thing, maybe!
Yellowstone, the aged supervolcano quite near to where the men are hiking on COR, is not considered a present threat to explode, as no mention of it doing so is present in any of the prophetic verses of the Evangelium Andreii so don’t worry about it.
What other crazy dangers are there out in the wild?
Owen Wister’s famous novel The Virginian does warn you rightly. Wyoming was and is the Wild West. Some of the areas where the men will be hiking were described by him as being “hangouts for outlaws” (and no its not another app version of Hangouts!)
While you might have read his book and be worried about such a thing being the case, simply know that it’s true and try not to worry about it. WCCLE 5 met up with some criminal gangs that are still operating out of the most isolated parts of this area of northwestern Wyoming, and nearly all of them escaped (Well, except Henry the French seminarian). They’re really a statistically insignificant concern next to alien abductions and wildfires, each of which brings far greater danger to COR and keep Dr. Zimmer awake at night. Rumors and accounts of hauntings and alien abductions in the US West are denied by school officials as being “in any way a risk” to the participants in COR, but after sightings of the creature known as “Bigfoot” and strange triangular and ovoid craft in the distance, we recognize that it’s much bigger threat than you currently think. With no military, wall, customs, or law preventing it, an alien race could simply swoop in and grab a whole WCCLE and no one will ever notice or care.
And from reports of students, it’s been corroborated that UFO sightings occur almost nightly demonstrating a real threat to your safety. At least gangs only attack you if you’re a “worthwhile” target, but Aliens, who knows what they’re even after? Try to be polite, but fight them off if they want you to go with them. It’s common sense; people who become alien snacks usually aren’t as happy and have lower job performance than other humans. These don’t have to be you. If you see or feel like you are or are soon to be attacked by aliens realize that you do have a right to fight back. You might get an F for killing one of your fellow classmates in regular classes, but there most definitely is no grade hit for fighting or killing alien beings from another galaxy. Throw your boots at them, shoot off your bear-spray, throw a stove at them, just don’t let them get you. But don’t worry, it seems no WCCLE has ever officially reported an alien sighting, (a disclaimer given because of the cost of the associated legal fees for such an event. Students typically have sightings about once every other night for the duration of COR)
Also keep up your spacecraft calls as well as your bear calls, doing your best to give all creatures a reason to identify you as dangerous and terrifying. However, Bigfoot may actually be friendly, something we’re still trying to determine with reference to his composition, but until we’re sure, stay clear of him. You will see him from time to time, but if you stay away from his sacred trees and don’t take his secret rocks (looking at you WCCLE 5!) that danger is manageable as well. Secretly, as the school itself never seems to mention Bigfoot(s), many believe their warnings of danger from bears are merely a cover for the danger Bigfoot(s) poses. While this guide may not be ultimately useful, hopefully, your major fears have been mitigated. If you survive, you will look back with pride and joy, and if you don’t survive at least you will have known what was coming. Unless it was aliens, of course, then you won’t know. At least, COR will be interesting, or you can pretend that it was interesting. Personally, I don’t care; it will be interesting watching you.