This week was very different from the previous week in so many ways. This week’s group was composed of 45 seventh graders from a private school a few hours away. The students were split into three tribes of 15 by their homerooms. This school sends their fifth through seventh graders away on a week-long trip right before their spring break. For the last five years, the seventh grade trip has changed location because they have not found a place that does quite what they want, so now it was our turn. The kids were different from last week’s group, partially due to the size of their group, being from a private school, and being a year older. Still, one sees a lot of the same tendencies among all middle schoolers…
The camp directors worked with the school’s administrators and teachers to try to design a program that would fit their needs and thus developed a week of preparation ending in an Adventure Race! For the weeks that I have been here and have known that we would be doing this, I have been looking forward to it greatly. The plan was for students to arrive on Monday, do some team building and survival instruction, learn a new outdoor adventure skill each day through the middle of the week, and have a race incorporating all of these new skills on Friday morning before leaving. Over Tuesday, Wednesday, and Thursday, they were to learn Mountain Biking, Canoeing, Orienteering, Bouldering, and fire building, as we instructors taught the same skills each day. We were pumped to be doing something different than the normal OE. I worked with “Mountain”* on these middle days to teach biking to the group.
*Everyone here at Camp has a “nature name”, a name of something from nature that starts with the same phonetic sound as their own name. I go by Albi (short for Albatross) and will refer to everyone at Camp by their nature names to make my life easier.
So, on Monday when they arrived (after accidently going to the corporation office first), we got their gear unloaded, fed them lunch, and moved them into their cabins. Then, they got to play some Rock, Paper, Scissors variation games and start building trust among their Tribes. We started building trust with a trust fall sequence – trust leans, “wind in the willows”, and “light as a feather”. Then, each Tribe went off with a few instructors to their “home in the woods” to learn some survival skills and begin constructing shelters that they would later get/have to sleep in. With shelters rather poorly constructed, even with the availability of tarps and twine, we returned to the dining hall for some more team building initiatives and dinner. After dinner, we took them, in their Tribes, on night hikes. Because they send these kids on outdoor adventure-type trips through-out Junior High/middle school, a lot of them had previously done the activities that we had planned to teach them. It was a little frustrating that we didn’t know that for planning, but it was nice to be able to go into more depth about these activities and knowledge we were teaching. The wintergreen mints that produce sparks (through Triboluminescence), were a big hit as always. After their hikes, it was time for snack, then bed.
On Tuesday, the group began their training for the Race. Mountain and I had a solid plan for introducing the kids to mountain biking, or so we thought. In the morning, we would fit the kids with bikes, teach them to adjust their seat, shift gears, use the brakes, signal turns, and such at camp (if they didn’t already know how, and give them a reminder if they did). After the introduction, we would head out to the flat Rails to Trails trail that ran through a nearby town to make sure they could ride for a couple miles, then bring them back to camp for lunch. After lunch, we would head out to the mountain biking trail in the neighboring park to do a few miles there. What we had not anticipated, was that some students would have challenge riding bikes on the flat surface of the Rails Trail and that many would be just terrified of mountain biking. The impression we had gotten was that the school had not been able to find a place that did enough adventure, so that told us that we should challenge the kids. However, there was a much wider range of abilities than we expected. Some kids were not challenged enough on the mountain trails we chose while others felt they had to walk their bikes the entire trail. Oof. On each day, there was at least one person who had not ridden a bike in a very long time and was barely comfortable on the Rail Trail.
On Tuesday afternoon, we went to a portion of the trail that lasted about two and a half miles, plus some road work to get back to the vans. This was actually not the portion that we had walked last weekend because it did not require extra transportation help. What we did not realize or remember about that portion of the trail was that a lot of it went along very steep cliffs/hills that would terrify the students riding. The good thing about it, though, was that the trail started out wide with some easy down hills and up hills that had some small roots crossing it for practice. We figured that the visual of a quick drop off right next to the trail was a little much for the students, so we tried returning to the trail we had walked for Wednesday’s group. However, that ride was significantly longer and one of the students, who was being a little cocky about his riding abilities, took a nasty spill off of the trail on a quick downhill. Plus, we had to go and fetch the vans after we got to the end of the trail. So, on Thursday, we returned to the location of the first trail we rode, but went about it in a different fashion, taking on different parts of it. Plus, we did not make everyone go on the mountain trail on the last day, which made it go much faster (nobody walking the whole way). If we were to get to take on this challenge again, we would be much more prepared to fulfill the task at hand.
So, what was going on everywhere else the whole week? Well, on the first day of Canoeing, the instructor and one of the teachers took a drip in the drink and we did not canoe after that. Apparently, our lake was a little too choppy and the teacher from the school was not an experienced paddler. Instead, they got to use the canoe time to go on an additional hike (to the orienteering hike) and learn to build GeoDomes. From what I heard, Orienteering and Bouldering went well through the whole week. The tribes were instructed in the use of a map and compass in the morning and got to find their way back to camp from a mysterious drop off point in the afternoon, then do a little bouldering on our walls.
On Tuesday night, we did more initiative challenges with the students, specifically communication structures. In teams, only one person could see the structure that needed to be built and another could only see the pieces that needed to be put together. For the first activity, they worked in pairs and in the second in groups of three. It was loud and very exciting and a whole lot of fun to watch. That night, after snack, I got to spend my night in the students’ cabin, which was a huge change from last week’s cabin experience. These kids were in and out of the shower house and ready for bed by 2130h as opposed to well after lights-out. So, they got an opportunity to “quietly” socialize in their cabin before I turned the lights out and told a story. We were supposed to spend the night in our shelters in the woods, but it was deemed “too cold”.
On Wednesday night, the students got to work in their tribes to learn fire building and skit presentation. Again, we were supposed to work in our homes in the woods, but it was too cold, so we hung out by fireplaces in some of the buildings. Additionally, we had foil packet dinners and s’mores! The tribe that “Songbird” and I worked with almost went about writing their own skit, but to the disappointment of my cruel inner self, did not.
Thursday night was campfire night! The staff put on a couple skits and all of the students got to perform the skits that they had worked on the previous night. It was delightful. The first tribe up performed a “movie production” skit in which a short scene is repeated several times in different styles. The second showed us their new pet “Centa” who could perform tricks, such as raising its legs one side at a time, wiggling, and jumping over an unsuspecting guest-star (me) who did not expect that “Centa” might have cups of water inside of it (“oh no, my Centa peed!”). Finally, the group I worked with performed the box skit in which someone hands another a box in a panic without disclosing the contents and many people try to figure out what is inside by tasting the mysterious liquid leaking from it. It turns out to be the owner’s new puppy.
Finally, Friday arrived with the Adventure Race. Excitement was abound, minus the general sense of exhaustion oozing from our students’ beings. The night before we had got everything set up – mountain biking course laid out, bouldering path taped, small activities prepared, etc. Some of the events of race were to be completed by portions of the tribe, while others would be completed by the whole tribe. First, five individuals from the tribe ran up to the climbing wall and had boulder/traverse it without falling off. As they individually returned to the starting area, they would tag one mountain biker from their tribe to ride our course around camp. Meanwhile, the third five from the tribe worked on completing Peteca and Tanagram challenges (initiatives). Once all of the mountain bikers from a tribe were done and the challenges were completed, the tribe could go off and start their fire-building challenge – build a fire that will burn through a string 12” in the air. The tribe I went with nailed it and got their fire lit and the string burnt through with just one match. Back to the starting area, the tribes had to complete a compass challenge, navigating to three different points. With the compass challenge done, they had to wait for the rest of the tribes to finish so they could complete a group challenge – a huge circle lap-sit. Throughout the race, one of our directors had us take pictures and videos of the whole event, which was a lot of fun. He will use them to make a presentation for the school.
Race complete, we went to the dining hall for the awards ceremony, Olympic style, where everyone got tree cookie medals (circles cut from branches) and a heart-warming and encouraging talk, followed by lunch. All in all, it was a really cool week. Plus, the feedback from the teachers and students was extremely positive, despite all of the stuff that went wrong throughout the week and we expect them back in the future! Then, the students departed and we got camp cleaned up – cabins, dining hall, race set up, and the staff house. With everything cleaned up, I started some dough for another loaf of whole wheat bread and eagerly awaited the arrival of my Adventure Buddy! She had Spring Break this past week and was willing to drive all of the way out to Ohio to visit me. My AB is wonderful. She arrived in the evening and after meeting the staff that were still around (most had gone over to the lodge), we went down to the camp beach to get our tent set up for the weekend. Our own “home in the woods” erected, we drove into town to get dinner at the same diner I went to about a week ago. The diner is rather amusingly decorated and we managed to come across a poster of naked baby to sit next to. They had fried frogs legs, so I obviously had to get some. Then, it was back to our home in the woods for the night.
Saturday was a day full of adventure! After waking up at 0645h because it was cold (right before sunrise being the coldest part of the day) and hustling back to Camp housing to get a morning nap in. When I got up, I finished my loaf of bread, which turned out even better than the last one I made – caught it at the right part of the rise and baked it a little farther. Around noon, a few group of people whose commonality was camp, joined up to go for a hike around the adjoining park. There were ten of us, including a couple directors, several counselors, two significant others, including my AB, and an awesome dog. The goal of the hike was to check out a third waterfall, that most of us were not aware of, for use on all day hikes in the summer. The day was just gorgeous, so it was a wonderful stroll through the woods with a little ice sliding and minor bouldering/scrambling. We found some really cool looking ice formations and fungi. Great way to spend a day. Back at camp, we wandered over to the lodge for dinner, hung out there for a while, and eventually moseyed on back to Camp for some chilling around the house.
Sunday was less adventuresome. My AB left for her home again and I went to WalMart with “Turtle” and “Songbird” to get foods for the next week as their will be no school group and a knife set for the staff house, which we so desperately needed. There are no school groups coming for the next three weeks actually, so it will be interesting to see how working 9-5 here goes. I will be sure to let you all know, though!