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Cool Classes: Hiking

Joli Nay (left) and student Bella Manuel hike the Church Fork trail in Mill Creek Canyon.

Salt Lake Community College instructor Joli Nay hikes with students for eight weeks each summer. Dream job. Right? Looking at Nay at a trailhead on a summer’s day – t-shirt, sunglasses, shorts – you think, ‘Really? This gig pays money?’ It’s true. “It’s just fun,” she smiles. “I get paid to hike.”

Nay actually teaches several courses within the Exercise Science Department at SLCC. Skills? Bunches. She holds bachelor’s and master’s degrees in education, a master’s degree in exercise science, a bachelor’s degree in combined psychology, Spanish and communications and even a Fit Tech degree from SLCC. That’s a lot of academia. But hiking, worth one required credit within SLCC’s Lifelong Wellness program, gets her out of the classroom and into the woods.

There are no prerequisites. All skill levels are welcome. Hike at your own pace – you just have to go with at least one other person. “This is one of the few classes at SLCC where I encourage people to bring others,” says Nay.

Student Brielle Bowyer (left) and her mother Kelly Bowyer head toward Grandeur Peak.

The first to arrive at the Grandeur Peak hike in Millcreek Canyon are the Bowyer ladies, Brielle, 26, and her energetic mother Kelly, 58. At least since her daughter was born, Kelly gets up every morning at 3:30 a.m. to exercise before going to work for 10 hours as an office manager for a doctor. Why invite Mom? “Because she’s my best buddy,” Brielle says. “And she’s my hiking buddy.” They hike at least once a week during the summer anyway. “I love hiking so much,” she adds. “I figured, I’m going to be hiking anyway, I might as well get credit for it.” Brielle, a surgical tech who took a break from education to earn money for college, is back on track as a pre-med student at SLCC toward becoming a doctor.

The Bowyers, early to class, take off first from the Church Fork trailhead near a gushing waterfall as the teacher waits for the rest of the group to arrive. McKay Nielsen and Maddy Heitman – they want to hike faster than the rest of the group, 11 in all – are the next two to buddy up. Like everyone else in the class, they’re at least expected to just show up – attendance is a big part of the grade – and also complete “modules” outside of class. Homework involves taking pictures while on hikes and writing about the experiences.

Maddy Heitman (left) and McKay Nielsen buddy up for a hike.

“I get to learn all of these new trails that I’ll do again in the future with buddies,” says Nielsen, 24, of Farmington. He’s studying computer science at SLCC and envisions a career in cyber security. He and the other students are also encouraged to engage in trail maintenance and picking up trash as well as simply being kind and courteous to other hikers on the trail. After all, Nay says, they’re representing the college while hiking. She also talks with students about appreciating all of the enviable outdoor offerings in Utah.

Heitman, 19, has already traveled overseas quite a bit on faith-based missions and loves the outdoors, especially in her home state. “I love hiking, so, it’s an easy class to do over the summer,” she says. Heitman plans to graduate next spring from SLCC and pursue an undergraduate degree in sociology, but not before taking a gap year to do more humanitarian work.

A group of Joli Nay's hiking students stop to rest.

Pairs and groups stagger their starts and head up the mountain, followed by Nay and a few other students, including Bella Manuel and her one-year-old son, Ryker, on her back. Manuel, 21, of Taylorsville, is one of five family members, including Mom and Dad, currently going to college – a sister is headed to SLCC’s Fashion Institute.

Manuel is attacking her general education courses on her way to becoming an art teacher at a high school, where she hopes to pick up her passion again for softball as a coach (she played for colleges in Iowa and Ohio and, as a catcher, played in an NAIA World Series). She’s still getting back in shape after having a baby and, feeling the heat and altitude, has to turn back early for this hike. “It’s a good way to get outside with the little one,” she says, glancing over her shoulder while bouncing down the trail. “I hate turning back early, but I’m outside.” Back at the trailhead, just as she predicted, little Ryker was fast asleep.

Bella Manuel's hike back to the trailhead puts son Ryker in a relaxed state.

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