PORTSMOUTH – Henrik Strand enrolled at Great Bay Community College in 2015 to study criminal justice and homeland security. Anna Muskopf signed up for classes in liberal arts at the same time, having moved to the Seacoast from Long Island, N.Y., just 10 days before the semester began.
They met in the Outdoor Adventure Klub and have been together since, their lives transformed by a common love of hiking and exploration, a sense of awe for the magnificence of nature and concern for the future of the planet. After two years at Great Bay, they transferred together to Unity College in Maine, where both will graduate in May with bachelor degrees. Unity teaches sustainability science, merging social science with natural science and encouraging students to transform their knowledge into practice.
Strand and Muskopf laid the foundation for their education at Great Bay. Strand shifted his focus from criminal justice to Parks and Forest Resources, his major at Unity. Muskopf is studying Adventure Therapy. This fall, they will fly to Australia and begin a year-long personal and professional adventure circumnavigating the continent along the coast and through the interior. They estimate they will cover between 17,000 and 25,000 miles in a Land Rover. Along the way, they will document their journey in the words and photographs of local people they meet along the way and who live in the some of the world’s most hostile and inspiring environments.
Their journey began at the Outdoor Adventure Klub at Great Bay. OAK is among 15 student clubs and organizations at Great Bay. Through club activities, students explore personal and professional interests. There are clubs for student veterans, creative writers, specific programs of study, STEM enthusiasts and history buffs. The clubs promote team building, leadership skills and community service and give students a jump on their careers.
The outdoor club checked all those boxes for Strand and Muskopf. Nearly every weekend, somewhere between four and 10 students packed their gear and trekked in to the White Mountains for hiking and camping, taking advantage of the proximity of the campus to some of the best outdoor adventure country in the Northeast.
Both said their experiences at Great Bay changed their lives in unexpected ways. They became a couple, and the friends they met through OAK remain friends today. “I had no idea about the area or anything here,” Muskopf said. “I started at Great Bay and decided to get involved with something I love and meet people who are interested in the same things.”
For Strand, the outdoor adventure club inspired him to change how he thought about the potential of his life and career and his ability to bring a personal passion into a satisfying career. “After spending a lot of time outdoors, I realized I wanted a career outside working in the woods,” Strand said. He did not receive a degree from Great Bay but was able to transfer his credits to Unity to specialize in forestry. Muskopf graduated with an associate degree in 2017, and both will graduate with bachelor degrees in four years from the time they first enrolled at Great Bay.
“I had an awesome experience at Great Bay,” Strand said. “I can’t recommend it highly enough. The teachers were amazing and super helpful. Both of us were working full time while we were at Great Bay, and the teachers were accommodating to that aspect of our lives.”
Muskopf shared similar experiences. “Even though we were there for a college degree, the teachers put our personal lives first. They understood, we are trying to get this degree, but people and family sometimes come first.”
Their adventure to Australia dovetails with their career goals. As an adventure therapist, Muskopf will work with adolescents with behavioral and emotional struggles, leading them on hiking and canoe trips and introducing them to wilderness experiences. With his degree in parks and forest resources, Strand hopes to work in land and resource management, identifying and taking inventories and managing timber.
The couple, who live in Thorndike, Maine, plan to depart in September and will spend a year in Australia, working and traveling. “Our initial plan was to graduate and get jobs in our fields,” Strand said. “But then we started thinking –no house payment, no kids. Why not do something a little more adventurous and out there? We are going to work when we need to and go explore a wicked awesome place.”
Strand and Muskopf will post about their Australian adventure on their website www.ahexpeditions.com.