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March 10, 2015

Carly Belsito: Out of the Box

March 9, 2015

Carly Belsito is a junior from Ada, Michigan majoring in journalism. She is part of the College of Communications Arts and Sciences’ Media Sandbox Street Team who are working with The Disabled Traveler, a Michigan-based nonprofit that serves as a resource for travelers with physical or age-related difficulties. As part of the project, the team was in Zion and Bryce Canyon national parks during spring break to document these two parks and their accessibility features. The Street Team is part of a larger project, Out of the Box, created by 10 students from MSU studying journalism, advertising, design and video production.

We’ve been planning this trip since September. If I do some math, that’s like six months in advance. A long time to build up expectations of what could be the greatest trip, or the contrary. In my experience having big expectations tends to put a damper on the actual outcome, so I did my best to have none before we left. I think my nerves about how big we were thinking for this project really aided in that process, so I promise you that I did not think about the trip–besides my part of planning and logistics–until the morning we left.

The reality of us leaving was so dependent on the funds we raised that we could have easily had to scratch all of our plans in case we didn’t get the support that we did. I didn’t even let myself believe that we were actually going until I packed at 1:30 a.m. the night before (alarm was set to wake up at 4:30 a.m.).

People would ask me what I was doing for spring break and up until a week out I was still saying, “well, if we can pull it off I’ll be going to Utah to help this amazing nonprofit!” So THANK YOU everyone who helped make it happen. I can’t begin to tell you how appreciative the whole team and I are.

Driving 30 hours over a span of two days was of course exhausting, but I don’t think there could have been a better way to start off our trip. If you ever want to get to know someone well, road trip with them. This holds true for me from last year’s trip and this one.

You can spend six months planning a trip and seeing each other twice a week but boundaries aren’t pushed and comfort zones aren’t crossed until you’re sleeping on each other’s shoulders, screaming every word to Bohemian Rhapsody or playing an intense game of “what are the odds” (a grown-up game of Truth or Dare – very dangerous). You can’t get that on a two-hour plane ride.

We got into a rhythm that was so perfect it was almost comical. We had a routine of jamming out to music, eating everything in sight, everyone but the driver passing out with full bellies and then everyone waking up at the same exact time and restarting the cycle. Everyone was past the fear of being their weird selves around each other. By the time we got to our house in Utah we were already a family. Cheesy, I know, but it’s the truth.

The drive for me personally opened up my eyes to west side of the country. This might be obvious to everyone else but because I’d never been there before I was surprised by the scenery, which was beautiful and so perfectly desert-like and open.

I was also really intrigued by the culture. I had no idea the amount of Native American influence in New Mexico and Arizona. Again, bear with me if this is obvious to you but I was pretty amazed. We drove through at least 50 miles of a Native American reservation that was nothing but arid land and canyons.

I’ll never forget it because it was one of the most beautiful sunsets I’ve ever seen. There were times where the car would become completely silent because saying, “wow that’s beautiful” didn’t even come close to summing it up. You just had to take it in. Not having the drive would have made our first day in Utah a lot different. It’s so much more fun to share breathtaking moments like exploring Zion with people you love. Only three days in and everyone already has their own mold on the team.

Waking up in the morning knowing we were going to Zion, the place we have been dreaming about since September, made it so easy to get up. We all made our own breakfast in the kitchen and brewed some coffee and checked out, oh yeah, the sunrise over the MOUNTAINS in our backyard. So beautiful it’s stupid.

We drove about half an hour through mountains with bison and horses roaming open ranches. I couldn’t help but think how many movies need to be filmed here. I know I keep talking about how beautiful everything is, but getting to Zion was unreal. Our foreheads were glued to the van windows. The winding drive was so much fun (maybe not so much for the driver) and so loud. Loud because we couldn’t stop yelling at the mountains surrounding us, “WHY are you so cool?” I think if you asked me to tell you about the view I couldn’t give you a functioning sentence, just a bunch of jumbled adjectives along the lines of perfect, gorgeous, breathtaking, ridiculous, etc.

Everything felt so in place once we started working on what we came to do. I’m so confident that what we were doing with the Disabled Traveler is making a difference and it’s such a good feeling. There are small details that just can’t be picked up without photos and descriptions. Knowing that someone in a wheelchair or on crutches or who has an age-related disability can look at the Disabled Traveler and know exactly what they’re up against is fantastic. Everyone deserves to see this place and it’s amazing how overlooked accessibility is.

I think our first day at Zion really set the pace for what the rest of the trip will be. We came home from the park and brewed some coffee, sat together on the balcony of our house, snowy mountains surrounding us all, and just let the day soak in. I’m not sure what everyone else was thinking but I just couldn’t believe that I get a full week of this and these people. I’m beyond grateful for this experience and can’t wait for what the rest of the week will bring!

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