Zach Lickteig kayaking

It was evening when freshman Zach Lickteig finally made it back to his residence hall. After slowly walking to his room, he tossed his bags and immediately flopped down on his bed and didn’t move; every muscle in his body ached. He could still smell the bay on his clothes as memories of the day flashed through his mind. They had left an imprint on him and he was grateful.

Lickteig led a kayaking trip to Coronado last semester with Great Escapes, PLNU’s outdoor leadership club, alongside a group from Outdoor Adventures, the outdoors club at Azusa Pacific University (APU). When he was first contacted about this opportunity to lead, after having gone on only a couple trips since joining Great Escapes, he jumped at the chance.

“This was an opportunity for me to experience something pretty rare for a freshman,” Lickteig said. “I was excited. I knew the two seniors who were also going to lead the trip, and thought I could learn from them. I wasn’t very nervous, at first.”

As the group started to arrive at the loading spot the morning of the trip, it struck Lickteig that he would be helping to lead an entire group of people who were older than him, and who probably knew more about kayaking than he did.

Still, he pushed past the nervousness and sought to find where his role best fit.

“It was overwhelming at first, but I realized I was just there to be open, assist others, and explain our plans throughout the day,” he shared. “And I got to meet people and get to know them. That was more important — being someone people could relate to, and making them feel comfortable.”

Later in the day, Lickteig was encouraged by one of the APU leaders, who told him he admired PLNU’s outdoors club — both the way it’s run and the variety of opportunities it offers students. Beyond building students’ leadership skills, Great Escapes seeks to connect students to nature, create unforgettable experiences, and provide a fun atmosphere for making friends.

“He was amazed at all the different things our guides knew how to do,” Lickteig said. “We go from surfing and kayaking to rock climbing, ice climbing, and skiing. It was cool to hear from someone else’s perspective that our leadership club really achieves what it strives to be.”

Some of the best moments Lickteig experienced on this trip were through the relationships he formed and the deep conversations he took part in.

“When you’re out there in the water, you can either sit in silence or keep talking,” he reflected. “I’ve always loved the outdoors because I think people are more open and vulnerable when they’re removed from comfort. People share what they really care about, what they’re passionate about. On this trip, it was awesome to hear from people about what they want to do with their lives.”

Lickteig was equally vulnerable in sharing his experiences and hopes, and that, as a freshman, he’s uncertain about his future plans. Through this, Lickteig realized that though he didn’t have the most knowledge or experience, he was able to bring a lot to the group just by being himself. And he also learned a lot from working with the other leaders.

“Leadership is something that can be used no matter what your future looks like; there will always be opportunities to step up and lead,” he affirmed. “One of the key things I took away was that, as a follower in a group, you can also learn leadership skills by assisting with smaller tasks. It takes a lot of work to lead — and it’s not something that’s done alone.”

Through his experiences on the trip, as well as the beautiful environment, Lickteig was reminded of our bigger, collective purpose. After spending the day as an integral part of the leadership club, he reflected on what’s needed to make experiences like this happen.

“Working to load and unload the boats, paddling around, and really pouring into people — it took a lot out of me that day,” he confessed. “But it made me appreciate all the work that goes into everything I’m given. It helped me get a sense of God’s huge plan for my life and all the work He’s put into everything.”

Lickteig has signed up to lead this semester’s spring break trip, and though he recognizes he’s still learning as a leader, he’s excited for the opportunities he has to work with others, grow, and have amazing experiences outdoors.

Zach Lickteig studies international development and is currently a research intern with the Center for Justice and Reconciliation. He has already begun applying the leadership skills he’s learned through Great Escapes to many other areas of his life.

Wendy is a former editor of the Viewpoint magazine and contributing freelance writer.