Dave Simenson was sleeping when the trailer tire blew.
It was 10 p.m. Simenson and eleven other UW-Eau Claire students were just outside the Colorado border en route to Utah.
The truck slowed to a rest on the shoulder. Cars zipped by without stopping.
“I wake up and the truck is shaking a little bit and we pull over to find the tire blew off,” Simenson said. “Talk about a rude awakening.”
Luckily, Simenson and a couple other trip leaders armed with hiking headlamps had the flat fixed in 15-20 minutes, he said.
The group landed on the edge of Zion National park a day and a half later, two days into the eight-day trek.
Simenson and two others led the party into the main part of Zion Park for three days and spent another two in Moab, Utah.
Simenson said he has always liked southwest desert landscapes – a big switch from a white Wisconsin March this year.
Simenson said when the group watched the sun go down over Arches National Park in Utah, he knew the trip had been worth it.
“It was one of those moments you remember for a while,” Simenson said. “It’s crazy when you get so many views like that; you kind of forget how to react almost.”
Simenson works for the Environmental Adventure Center, planning and leading trips like the spring break venture to Utah, as well as outings to parks around Wisconsin.
The EAC offers trips most weekends when weather permits. Mountain biking, hiking, canoeing and climbing trips are common.
Dan Langlois, Assistant Director of Recreation at Eau Claire, said he has worked with the EAC since it was “a little cigar box” 30 years ago.
He said when the EAC started, intramurals and bowling were the only recreation offered on campus.
Students responded well to an adventure-centered spot on campus, Langlois said. Since then, the center has grown to include an archery range, canoe, kayak, bike and camping gear rentals.
The EAC also houses the Rod and Gun club along with the Hobnailers, an Eau Claire climbing club.
Langlois said EAC trips have come a long way since the days of handwritten itineraries for its first rafting trek on the St. Croix River.
“Getting out in the outdoors, we think that’s worthy in itself,” Langlois said. “Getting students fresh to class on Monday morning, they feel good having been out there.”
The EAC also provides gear and instruction for students going on class trips outdoors.
Eau Claire geography professor Gary Running said the geography department uses EAC equipment and guides on trips 4 or 5 times a semester.
“We’re geographers, we go outside,” Running said. “When I’m taking a class out I want to worry about teaching … I’ll tell them (the EAC) how many students are going and they take care of the rest. You can’t beat them.”
Kellie Frei started hoisting a bow as a member of 4H.
Her spark for shooting re-started in college she said, and now Frei is one of five EAC archery instructors.
The archery program has taken off in recent years, Frei said.
The EAC opens the archery range Monday through Friday from 4 to 7 p.m. Cost for a shoot is $1. Frei said people of all experience levels come to shoot arrows.
Frei also has gone on whitewater trips through EAC. Her first was a rafting trip down the Peshtigo river in northern Wisconsin – also her first time in a raft on rapids.
“None of us had really met before, so not only do you get to do something completely new, you meet a lot of new people,” Frei said. “It was not only exciting and scary, you had to really depend on the other people in your raft.”
Eau Claire senior Sam Worple led the EAC’s last two fall trips to the Porcupine Mountains. He said this year the group picked a new hiking route, navigating a trail that runs along Lake Superior.
Worple and 13 others packed two Chevy Suburbans on the first day of hiking.
He and the group hiked from the top of the mountain down to the edge of Lake Superior.
“It was pretty cool at the end of the day sitting on the shore of Lake Superior with 40 mph winds coming at you and ocean-size waves,” Worple said. “It’s a neat experience.”
Worple is also Vice President of the Rod and Gun Club.
Worple said the club goes hunting each weekend during the fall as well as a duck hunting trip to Arkansas.
The Club camps overnight Friday and goes hunting Saturday and Sunday.
Worple said the group usually makes it back to town in time for the Packer game.
It isn’t long, though, before the group is headed back out again.