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Early last summer, I had to escape. The concrete forests that are Washington, D.C., Philadelphia and New York had begun to suffocate me to the point of exasperation. After a long year of classes and meetings, of suits and subways, I took the first opportunity I had to breathe fresh air. I went camping.

In the Pocono Mountains of northeast Pennsylvania, I swapped my couch for a tree stump. I traded my television for a campfire. And I shifted my focus from Facebook to my friends’ actual faces.

Camping was exactly what I needed — and many Penn students should realize the same thing.

Typically, bugs, rain and poison ivy wouldn’t appear in an urban college student’s relaxing evening. As a skinny kid who never played anything more than flag football, I’m hardly Bear Grylls — so roughing it only goes so far for a guy like me. I enjoy my iPhone, laptop and microwave as much as the next guy. And certainly, I am in agreement with Stephen Colbert’s assessment that bears are America’s number-one threat.

Yet, once in a while, I have to go into the woods.

The reasons for making such a trek are often different for each person. Some people do it to get out of the bustling city. But then again, raccoons care as much about your personal space as a crazy guy on SEPTA. Some do it to prove something and then wind up on a home video running from a squirrel.

Whatever the reason, the impact of a weekend out of society can be truly remarkable. Indeed, it can be exciting, refreshing and deeply passionate. Camping with friends engenders a sense of camaraderie and adventure that our generation has forgotten — particularly in a competitive environment like Penn.

The hassle of finding a car, plotting a route and paying for supplies can make this escape feel like another chore. Fortunately, Penn has great programs dedicated to effortlessly freeing us from the occasional doldrums of urban life, such as the PennQuest pre-orientation program, Pottruck’s “Outdoor Adventure” program and the Penn Outdoors club.

According to its website, Penn Outdoors “exists to provide Penn community members with the resources, equipment, transportation and contacts they need to enjoy the outdoors.”

Somebody find me an Easy Button because that was easy.

The group takes trips nearly every weekend, and activities include everything from apple picking to skydiving, according to College senior Rebecca Reicherter, the Penn Outdoors president.

“Every time I go on a trip,” Reicherter told me, “I hear students say something like, ‘Wow, this is exactly what I needed. It feels really great to get away for a while!’”

Modern America — and our Ivy League representation of it — is far removed from the natural world in which our grandparents and great-grandparents lived.

Machines cook our food and brew our coffee. They cool us down and warm us up. They link us to our friends faster than we can blink. And despite most of us having no clue how they actually work, computers are trusted with every aspect of our lives.

But we still need to escape sometimes.

This doesn’t mean I’m saying pull a Christopher McCandless from Into the Wild and abandon civilization. But in moderation, camping and hiking can restore a desperately needed sense of self-reliance and freedom. And a view of unspoiled rolling hills and winding rivers doesn’t hurt either.

Walt Whitman was hardly an urban opponent. He wrote poetry praising Manhattan and the sense of unity civilization begets. But he always, as we should, stepped back to appreciate the great outdoors.

“After you have exhausted what there is in business, politics, conviviality, and so on, — have found that none of these finally satisfy, or permanently wear — what remains?” he pondered. “Nature remains.”

Colin Kavanaugh is a College senior from Tulsa, Okla. His e-mail address is The Sooner, The Better appears on Mondays.

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