By Zach Manion, Contributing Writer
Lebanon, Ill. – On the surface, Christopher DiOrio seems no different the regular adjunct professor at McKendree University. Most faculty and students know him solely for his teaching. What most don’t know about DiOrio is his life before McKendree; a life full of simplicity and adventure.
DiOrio was born in Pittsburgh, Pa. and spent his adolescent years there. After graduating from Dickinson College in 1992, he moved to Washington D.C. From there, he went on to move eight more times, not including short moves back to Pittsburgh, before finally landing in St. Louis in 2013. “I was moving once a year. I would call my parents every so often and say I was moving and they would ask if I was in trouble or trying to evade the police,” DiOrio said.”
In his years prior to McKendree, DiOrio was an outdoor education instructor for activities such as rock climbing, canoeing and hiking. This profession took him all over the country, as he has camped in every state but Hawaii. Camped — as in sleeping in a tent.
During this time, DiOrio lived in a two person tent that was just seven feet long and included only the bare basics. DiOrio originally had a four person tent but traded it in for the smaller tent because it saved him from hauling extra weight around on his hikes: “It was home and it was cozy. There were pockets in the tent that I would put pictures in so it was like having photos on my wall,” he said.
DiOrio’s love for the outdoors began when his parents took him on camping trips as a kid. Although he was always interested in the outdoors, he didn’t think of it as a career until his first year out of college. He lived in Washington D.C. after graduating college but felt claustrophobic and was uncomfortable with the cities’ hustle and bustle. After witnessing three murders in D.C., DiOrio realized it was time to move on from the city.
Because he enjoyed teaching and loved the outdoors, a colleague connected him with an outdoor instructing job. DiOrio originally viewed this time as a holdover until he found his next path. As it turns out, this led to an unexpected but incredible journey for DiOrio.
During his time as an outdoor education instructor, DiOrio initially took to rock climbing. However, once he started teaching white water canoeing, it became his favorite, despite the activities’ extremely dangerous nature.
Over the course of his outdoor career, DiOrio has come across three dead bodies on separate canoeing trips. The first was during his time teaching outdoors in Idaho, the second was on a river in Pennsylvania and the third was during his time living in Wisconsin. After the third occurrence, DiOrio’s friends lost their desire to canoe with him. DiOrio was understanding: “I get it, I find dead bodies on canoeing trips, that’s what you should expect with me.”
DiOrio has also had a few close calls with drowning. The first incident happened when he was kayaking the Nantahala River. At the end of the river, a significant drop off occurs. The drop off is also accompanied by an overhanging bridge for people to congregate on. During a typical ride, one of DiOrio’s greatest fear came to realization: He was stuck in a hole near the end of the river: “The whole time I was like all these people are watching and I can’t get out. I wasn’t worried about getting out I was more worried about these people watching and laughing.”
DiOrio’s worse experience occurred during a ten-day rafting trip with a group of kids. During this trip, DiOrio, along with a group of eight kids in a raft, were hit by an unexpected ten foot drop in the river. Once they hit the drop, the raft folded, launching some of the kids from the raft and leaving DiOrio and a few others submerged. “I was floating backwards trying to do a head count as all these kids are being sucked under and one by one they started popping out [of the water].” When the last kid finally surfaced and was safe, he said to DiOrio, “That was fun, can we do it again?” DiOrio responded, “Dude you almost died, no we’re not going to do that again!” While the water can be a dangerous place, it gave DiOrio some of his greatest thrills.
When asked the unfair question of which place was his favorite to live, DiOrio said, “Each one has its own charm. When I lived in Asheville, North Carolina and we had two or three days at base, we would go into the town. Asheville was amazing at that point, it was just a small little hippie community with really great pizzas.”
Another place DiOrio holds in high regard is the town of Trout Creek, Montana. The town has a population of two hundred people and a gas station — that’s it. One of the best things about this little place is its view: “We set up base on a river and [could see] snow peak after snow peak. You would get up in the morning and that’s your view. That [made me think] I could live [there] forever.”
The term ‘Big Sky’ best describes Montana. ‘Big Sky’ is basically a vast area of sky that includes uninterrupted visibility for miles and miles. One of DiOrio’s favorite things to do in Montana was storm watch: “We would stay up at night and watch a storm blow in for an hour before it hits. That was incredible.”
DiOrio’s transition into the classroom was difficult. The first school he taught at assigned him to an apartment that was attached to a dorm. Because DiOrio was uncomfortable sleeping in the apartment, he elected to sleep in a tent that he set up outside his apartment during his first two weeks at the school.
Whether he is indoors or outdoors, DiOrio loves to teach, as education has been a part of his family for as long as he can recall. “At one point, I had counted twenty-six family members that were educators,” he said. “I grew up with educators. I grew up on a private school campus living in a dorm. All I knew was education.”
In addition to teaching, DiOrio also enjoyed coaching. During his high school teaching tenure in Pittsburgh, he coached soccer for four years, cross country for four years and was the head track coach for eight years. One of the aspects of coaching he enjoyed was the opportunity to see kids in a different environment.
“I loved teaching, but track season was my favorite time of the year. The students knew that and my colleagues and friends knew that. Not because I talked about it, but they could see that I was non-stop and energized twenty-four hours a day during track season.”
After his high school teaching career, DiOrio became an adjunct professor: “Being an adjunct is difficult because you have to work at different schools to make ends meet,” he said. “It’s [also] time consuming since you are going back and forth between what you are teaching. But if I didn’t enjoy it, I would’ve gotten out of it a long time ago.”
Although he enjoys being a professor, DiOrio misses working in the outdoors, specifically the adventures that came along with his job: “I try to do something (go on a trip) every year. Two weeks is nice, but that used to be my life for almost ten years.”
One of the main reasons he enjoyed the outdoors was the idea of freedom. “For eight years, everything I owned could fit in a Jeep Wrangler,” DiOrio said. “There are no time constraints. In the civilized world, you have a job and have to be there at a certain time. In the outdoors, there’s nothing tying you down. With a tent, you just pack up, move somewhere else and you have a new home. I don’t like the routine of this [indoor job]. I miss the lack of routine of the outdoors.”