Erica Behler falls backward into the arms of fellow freshmen during a recent Odyssey trust exercise.

WADHAMS -- Tucked away at the end of a dead-end road here is Twin Valleys, Plattsburgh State's Outdoor Education Center, where incoming freshmen take part in an adventure experience called Odyssey.

Erica Behler of Ithaca stood on a picnic table, girding up her courage to fall backwards into the arms of other students.

Her trust proved merited, and fear overcome, she quickly volunteered for more.

Behler's primary purpose for enrolling in Odyssey was "to meet a bunch of people and have fun."

The Plattsburgh Odyssey adventure-based program has several components in addition to building self-esteem. Students hike Adirondack peaks such as Noonmark, kayak on Lake Champlain, are challenged on a low ropes course and have free time to explore the local woods or swim in the pond at Twin Valleys.

Participants do not have to be experienced in the outdoors, and training is provided.

According to the Web page, "We hope participants are in good physical condition for their own and others' safety, but that's it."

Much of the week's activities revolve around getting to know others, as well as one's own strengths and weaknesses. In the informal woods setting, the students recollected their most embarrassing moments, an exercise to help with bonding and show their similarities even though they might come from diverse backgrounds.

Dave Manney helped a group through the low ropes exercises.

"They develop trust with these exercises and learn to work together as a team. The key is to learn about themselves and others."

In a game called Willows in the Wind, one student stood rigidly, eyes closed, and allowed herself to be pushed back and forth in a circle.

"I don't want any biscuits in the breeze "¦ rears sticking out," Dave chided them.

Marketing major Mark Lounsbury of Durham hoped to "experience new things, meet new people and spend some time in the woods."

To Jillian Bowen, an elementary-education major from Plattsburgh, bonding was important.

"I've met a lot of new friends. Our cabin stayed up until 2 in the morning just talking."

Another activity saw students on a teeter-totter, trying to keep the moving floor balanced on the fulcrum. Their mentor, who calls himself Griz, said "this involves communication, collaboration and problem-solving skills." Another group made an attempt to swing over a "peanut butter pit" by having members navigate the void utilizing a rope suspended from a tree. Some, including Connor Pollack of Buffalo, were willing to extend their horizons.

He showed his trust by swinging blindfolded.

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