What do road trips, Frontier and the Appalachian Trial have in common? Answer: junior Paul Sullivan’s gap year.

“I decided I wanted to take a gap year to hike the Appalachian Trial my freshman year of high school, initially because one of my sister’s friends was doing it, and he had a blast, so it seemed like a lot of fun,” said Sullivan, a Brunswick native. “As I progressed through high school, I was working hard, and I just wanted an experience that was different than schoolwork and academics.”

Sullivan would not reach the Appalachian Trial until the very end of his gap year. Instead, after his high school graduation, he began the first leg of his adventure with a two-month road trip with a friend.

“We did a huge loop—going out West we stayed North, so we went to Chicago and the Midwest, and we went through Yellowstone and Grand Teton, to Seattle, to Olympic National Park and then went down the California coast—Redwood, Yemini, San Francisco, L.A.—and then went diagonally back to Maine, covering the Southwest,” said Sullivan.

After his trip, Sullivan started working at Frontier. 

“Working was probably the toughest part because almost all of my friends had gone away to college and town was empty,” said Sullivan. “It was a lot of hanging out with my parents and repeating the same thing day in and day out.”

When March rolled around he was ready to begin the last leg: hiking the Appalachian Trail. He started the trip in Georgia and ended in his own backyard in Maine, a week before his pre-orientation trip. 

“It was weird—on the one hand it felt great because I just completed the trail, but part of me wanted to keep going,” Sullivan said. “I was sad that all the people I had met along the way were all dispersing.”

Finishing his gap year experience, he immediately went on his on his pre-orientation trip—biking to Popham Beach. Back on campus, he faced some difficulty transitioning to college life.

“As I look back on it, it was a very weird experience, but I think everyone is going through a weird experience [during] freshman fall—trying to get used to this new place, new home and new group of friends. I think I was pretty unhappy sitting inside, in a classroom because I had gotten used to being outside for most of the day,” said Sullivan. “I wasn’t super psyched with the structure of school and I also didn’t know exactly what I wanted to study—so I enjoyed my classes but I wasn’t passionate about anything in particular.”

That didn’t stop him from engaging in the Bowdoin community. That fall, Sullivan became involved with the Bowdoin Outing Club (BOC) and went through leadership training. He is still an active member of the BOC. In the winter, he takes advantage of the snow, trying to make it up to Sugarloaf once a week to ski.

“Getting outside is a big part of my life and a big part of how I stay balanced and calm in the whirlwind Bowdoin can be,” said Sullivan.
Sullivan would recommend the gap year experience to anyone interested.

“I think, overall, one of the most fun parts of the gap year was having the opportunity to pursue my interests and just relax and take a deep breath because that doesn’t happen in school,” said Sullivan. “Coming back to Bowdoin, things weren’t overwhelming to me because I had done something outside of school. It lends a nice perspective.

Editor's note: The headline originally stated the Sullivan is a member of the class of 2017. He is a member of the class of 2016.