Participant's Guide to Activities
A unique feature of the S.O.L.A.R. club is that our activities and classes are led by volunteers who want to share their knowledge, experience and love of the outdoors with others. This gives our members access to trips that are far more affordable than those run by outfitters, and helps members develop and practice skills by taking an active role in trip duties rather than relying on paid staff. At the same time, S.O.L.A.R. Activity Coordinators are not professionals, and represent a variety of experience levels, styles, and objectives.
Most of the activities that are announced through S.O.L.A.R. are not very technical or difficult to do. There are plenty of opportunities for car camping trips, day trips or just evenings of fun with other S.O.L.A.R. members. Be aware that there are also activities on the calendar that require you to have a certain skill set. For those activities, you will want to think about the following.
Most people choose a trip based on the destination and the time frame involved. It is just as important to make sure the trip itself, and its coordinator(s), are suited to your own objectives, style, and level of experience. Some trips are relatively easy and laid back, while others are challenging and difficult. Choosing a trip that is too difficult, or does not suit one's style or skill level, can result in frustration and regret, or in extreme cases, can lead to injury or put the entire group at risk. Choosing an appropriate trip can lead to a rewarding experience and fond memories, and benefits everyone else going on that trip.
So how do you choose an appropriate trip?
Most importantly, ask questions and do research.
An Activity Coordinator should provide :
• Trip itinerary
• Qualifications, background, or experience required of the participants
• Possible challenges and/or risks of the activity
• Cost per participant (member and non-member) and what the cost includes
• Maximum number of participants
• Any foreseen expenses that the participant is responsible for
If some of this information is not provided, it is your responsibility to get it from the Activity Coordinator. If you think that you are up to the challenge of the trip, then there are still other questions that you might want to consider asking the Activity Coordinator:
• What is the background of the activity coordinator? In particular, what trips have they led, what relevant classes (e.g., Wilderness First Aid, Intermediate Backpacking, Land Navigation) has he/she taken? Have they gone on trips similar to the one being led?
• If the activity coordinator has led other trips, check with people who went on those trips to learn about their experiences. The activity coordinator should be willing to provide you with names.
• What skills or level of training is required? A trip of 40 miles through mountains or canyons requires far more training than 40 miles over flat terrain. High elevations present another challenge; some people get altitude sickness at 8000 feet, and almost anyone has increased difficulty hiking at altitudes above 10,000 feet. Anything that requires carrying extra weight will also make the trip more difficult. For example, hiking through a desert with little or no water requires carrying extra water, which weighs 2.2 pounds per liter. Hiking through bear country may involve carrying a 3 pound bear canister. Weather is also a factor. Hikers in mountain ranges such as the Rockies, Cascades, or Sierra Nevada may encounter sub-freezing temperatures and snow, even in summer, so winter camping experience such as the Enjoying Michigan Winters class would be helpful for such trips.
• What is the activity coordinator's style? Some leaders operate by consensus, encouraging everyone to participate in trip planning, while others prefer to lay out exactly what is expected. Find out as much as you can about the leader's style. This will also give you some idea of how they will handle an unexpected situation or an emergency. There is no "right" or "wrong" style in leading a trip; what's important is that it suits your own expectations.
• What are the backup/safety plans for the trip? Are there planned bailout points in case of emergency? Will there be a group first aid kit and if so, what does it include? Will there be radios carried by any members of the trip for safety? Be sure that you feel comfortable with the safety plans for the trip.
• Is there a chance that the trip may not happen?
• What is the cancellation policy for this trip?
• Is there other information that is important to you in order for you to participant in this activity? Ask the Coordinator all your questions until you are comfortable that you will enjoy yourself on the activity.
• NEVER allow yourself to be talked into anything you are not comfortable with. If, for example, the trip involves hiking along a 3000 foot ledge and you are afraid of heights, then the trip may not be suitable for you. There is no shame in admitting you are not up to something; every human being has strengths and weaknesses.
• ALWAYS communicate any problems that come up either before or during the trip. Blisters, dehydration, pulled muscles, or exhaustion can be dealt with more easily with early warning. Allowing problems to fester just makes them worse and puts the entire team at risk. You have the choice of which trips to sign up for. Also note that the Activity Coordinator also has the choice of who may go on the trip. If the Activity Coordinator asks you not to go on the trip, ask them why they feel the trip is not suitable for you and what things you could do in order to go on a trip like this one in the future.