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I’m sad to see my time in Colorado end, but I am grateful for everything I gained in knowledge and friendships I hope to develop further. Despite mainly focusing academically on political science and cultural anthropology during my time at Duke, environmental science has always interested me. I was so thankful for the hands-on aspect of my ACE program. Coming into the experience, I was a bit skeptical of where exactly we would focus our effort outside of the locations of Gunnison and Durango themselves. Additionally, as someone who loves to get their hands dirty, I was uncertain how much we’d be interacting with the actual brown earthy substance.

Though I was pleasantly surprised with the amount of dirt, sweat, and passion that’d be required as I reminisce on our experience. For example, at Cold Harbour Institute, I physically dug my bare hands and feet into the soil, and broad-forked and planted peas with Mountain Roots in their environmentally stainable/regenerative garden. I think one of my favorite memories of the trip was the experience with Durango Trails, where we constructed and naturalized close to a quarter-mile of trail at the Horse GulchTrail System in Durango, CO. I love to mountain bike. I commonly use single-track trials similar to those we had the opportunity to build in Durango, so our experience trail building was not only an excellent way to learn how to make the things I love to ride on, but how to do so in a sustainable way that will preserve the surrounding nature.

I could speak about all the amazing things I enjoyed in Colorado, but honestly, every day was a blessing, and I am thankful to have met the people and seen the places I did. I feel like this experience offered many things I can take away in addition to the relationships. Most importantly, however, this experience registered a great lesson in living in the moment, being where your feet are, and showing appreciation for your surroundings.

“Most importantly, however, this experience registered a great lesson in living in the moment, being where your feet are, and showing appreciation for your surroundings.”

– Connor Drake, Duke Men’s Lacrosse

It feels odd saying a program focused on environmental science (if you will) could benefit things like my mental health and sense of perspective. But some of the lessons I learned from our Indigenous tour guide, Rickey Hayes, about appreciating the very ground we step on as he meticulously poured his water onto the dry dust beneath our feet, giving thanks to our Mother Earth and those who walked here before us, will stick with me forever. Indeed, the logistics of how these actions may influence your karmic future are up to debate. Still, I felt like experiencing Rickey’s routine first-hand gave me more gratitude and broadened my cultural horizons even though we were within our own national borders. We are so lucky to walk on the very ground we so quickly take for granted every day when it takes some individuals all of their might even to take a step.

Whether through knowledge, friendships, or even plain fun, our emphasis on living in the present and seeing everything at face value elevated my personal development. Our ACE team cultivated an environment where I could acquire new perspectives and see things in a new light. Mainly, I feel inspired about our ability to face and possibly reverse climate change which differs from the often “doom and gloom” undertone of many environmental articles or documentaries. Additionally, there were countless occasions where I listened to people speak so routinely of words and terms I had never heard of, and it taught me a lot about where the pursuit of passion could lead.

“ACE in Colorado equipped me with new experiences that were engaging and like nothing I could learn in a classroom.”

– Connor Drake, Duke Men’s Lacrosse

ACE in Colorado equipped me with new experiences that were engaging and like nothing I could learn in a classroom. Thus, I felt “no pressure” to be anyone but myself and take in everything as it came, which inspired me to continue to try to live my life this way. I’m so thankful for the members of my ACE team, our partner organization AMIGOS, and all of the members of the various organizations we worked with in Colorado. Without this experience, I feel like I may have limited myself from pushing the boundaries of my comfort zone and taking risks where my passions lie and I am forever grateful for this experience.

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