Week 7 – My Turn to Lead

This week we finally had kids back at camp, but not until Wednesday. I spent Monday driving back from Connecticut and my AB, and heard about the tragedy in Boston. On Friday night, we went out for dinner and actually had an opportunity to watch the news during much/a bit of the final stand-off. It is terrible that things like this happen, but seeing the goodness that comes out of some people in the midst of tragedy and chaos is astounding – such as the marathoners that ran two miles to a hospital (after the race) to donate blood and bystanders that did everything they could to help medical personnel. Plus, it is impressive to see what the FBI and BPD is able to do with the undoubtedly overwhelming quantity of video and photographs in such a short period of time. One could write on this kind of thing for hours, but my heart goes out to Boston and it makes me proud to be an American when I see those that do good.


On Tuesday, we had an adventure class from a nearby high school come to Camp to do the ropes course, Giant Swing, and Panther Pole for a few hours. I got to “lead”: explaining the safety equipment, taking the students through ground school (how to use their carabineers and how to do transfers up on the course), and then hook them into their first element on the course and finally zip them down the zip line, plus continue to talk them through their transfers between elements. Fortunately, there were only eight or nine up on the course at a time and we had their teacher around to help out, plus my second to do transfers as well. It’s still a lot of responsibility to be lead (it all comes down to you to make sure everyone is as safe as they can be) and there is a lot to pay attention to. It is a little bit stressful.


On Monday, half of the class had come and the teachers had put all of the girls in that session, so we had only guys. Because of this, I expected a lot of machismo and testosterone to push the guys to act overly confident and push themselves farther than they expected so they wouldn’t embarrass themselves in front of their classmates. However, the ropes course is a bigger equalizer than I realized, and there were a lot of terrified teenage boys up on the course, and still on the ground. My favorites, still, are those that are so visibly scared, yet somehow continue to push themselves across element after element. I mean, it is cool to see those that are confident up there, and very rewarding to get those completely scared ones across the minimum number of bridges, but those that are consistently saying how scared they are, but keep trying new elements is just awesome! I encountered one large challenge with this group of guys, and that was one very large high schooler. I was very very thankful their teacher (and football coach) was up on the course with me. This ~6’0” gentleman, twice as wide as I, got himself stuck in the middle of Weebily-Wobbily-Woozily (a single wire element) when he fell off and couldn’t pull himself back on to the wire. Usually, what one has to do to get back on an element, is place your feet on it, push with your legs, and pull on your leads and you’ll pop up. But, those with arm strength insufficient to steady out their body, which is more common when their body size is larger, tend to get stuck hanging. Also, a fear that exceeds healthy levels adds extra challenge to getting back up. Then they tire themselves out and get more panicked/concerned and there is no way they’re getting up without help. So, I had to try to help up this guy who is probably a hundred pounds larger than myself. Particularly challenging task when they’re so freaked out that they’ve forgotten how to stand up and pull with their arms. Luckily, the coach/teacher was there, and after a lot… I mean a LOT of work, pulling on his harness and leads, trying to counter-balance, pushing him closer to the platform (all standing on a single wire and trying to balance ourselves), we got him up. Oof. And that was in the first part of the day. But, even after that, he went down the zip-line, which was awesome. Still disappointing when we don’t get people to push themselves as much as we think they should.


Then, finally, on Wednesday, we got middle schoolers again! This was another large group – about 120 students, split into nine tribes. I got to run ropes for Wednesday and Thursday, so it was a very hectic few days for me. When you run ropes, you have to set up and take down the ropes course, as well, plus it usually takes longer to run everyone through than the time limit allows, so it is very hectic with sixth graders. They arrived around 1100h, and after getting them moved in to their cabins, we ate lunch and took the first group to get harnessed and ground schooled early because we needed to get four tribes through the course that afternoon, which is not enough time to accomplish that. So, it was a crazy five hours from 1230h to 1800h, harnessing, training, and running the four tribes. That night, I lead a night hike, which I can no longer call a night hike because it does not get dark until long after the hike ends. We had a lot of fun talking about bats and playing animal games. Then, I spent a night in a student cabin. In my cabin, there were at least four kids that could easily attend summer camp here, so it was a fun time going to the bathroom and such. One of them had written and illustrated his own version of the book of Dragons (think How to Train Your Dragon, great movie by the way), which he very strongly wanted to share with the group, so he read it out loud before bed.


The next morning I had to hurry up through breakfast to get back out to the ropes course to set up for the next day. Turtle lead the course for the four tribes on Wednesday, so I got to lead for all of Thursday. In the morning, we only had a single tribe, which made me very hopeful for some time to debrief and talk about their time on the course. Instead, I spent about half an hour on the platform with a single girl hoping that she would finally chose to go down the zip line, but eventually had to walk her back through the course. I was really disappointed that I could not get her to go down the zip line, but I shouldn’t be. We got her in a harness, up the ladder onto the course, across two elements, hooked into the zip line, and seated on the edge of the platform, which is way more than a lot of people can do and probably more than she expected she could. Not only that, we unhooked her once, so her friend could go down, and she volunteered to get hooked back into the line, which was huge! As it is very early in my high circuit exercise leading, it was a very important learning experience, that it is ok to not send someone down the zip line once they are hooked in. I just really felt that I had to get her down the zip line and I couldn’t. Maybe she’ll get another chance to zip line in the future, and she’ll remember this time, how much fun her friends had going down, and she’ll be able to, but it just was not her time to. Sigh.


In the afternoon, it got hot out! Up in the 80s, crazy, we had people getting sunburns. I lead again after lunch and got quite warm and little dehydrated, but that was a lot better than really having to pee while in a harness. There were a number of kids that did not make it up to the tree house throughout my time leading, but most of them at least gave it a try. There was that huge range of comfort levels there always seems to be – one girl I remember was having the best time going between elements, talking to the other students up there, and wanting to do everything; a boy who was originally quite scared to get on his first element and sat there for a long time, but eventually did it and had a great time, even asking to do more elements when we had to get him to the zip line; another girl who had to move very slowly across the fewest elements necessary, asking to tell a story while she went across the missing link bridge to distract herself from the height; and the plethora of kids who say “I can’t!” and then do it. There is absolutely a lesson to be learned from that. I continuously try to enforce a rule now, do not say “can’t” on the ropes course, and quite frankly it has a very good place in everyday life. After dinner, we had our campfire performance, which was a ton of fun, as always. The coolest part of it was that a few students eagerly volunteered to perform! They did three skits and one girl even sang a song with our own Songbird. Wonderful. I was in the cabin again Thursday night and they crashed pretty readily once the lights were out. I was way too hot for my sleeping bag (15F), though…


The next morning, a cold front had blown through and it was down in the 40s and quite damp. What a change, and only looking at getting colder through Saturday. After breakfast, I had a tribe for “Initiatives”, which are teambuilding exercises. I played Captain on Deck (like Simon Says, but way more fun), had them lower the Helium Hoop to the ground, made them get across a river of lava using Stepping Stones, pass a marble through PVC tubes, and finally recreate K’Nex structures in pairs where one person can see the structure and the other has to build it. It was a fun time. Then, after lunch, it was time for everyone to leave again. Those three days went by in a hurry, but it sure is fun. After waving goodbye at the gate, we got the cabins and the dining hall cleaned up, then had to move out of our house. So, several months ago, before it was definite that there would be four to eight people living in the house long term, the Camp manager promised the house to a women’s group for their one night here on camp (because they didn’t want to walk outside to the bathroom…). Because losing business is bad, we had to make it basically look like no one was currently living there by moving all of our stuff out or to the basement. Wee. So we spent the night down at the Camp beach with a dinner out, followed by a roaring campfire accompanied by music and stories into the night. The fire was absolutely necessary because, as I mentioned, it was only getting colder. Oh, and it got windier, too. 80 on Thursday down to 30 on Friday/Saturday… 30th parallel weather.


Saturday was planned to be a day of great fun, as our Camp was hosting a Get Outside (GO) day. Apparently, there is some organization based in New Mexico that we were coordinating this with, but, of course, with the expectation that April 20th would be, oh, I don’t know, warm. Wrong. It snowed. So, we gathered around our campfire (outside all day, thank you very much), waiting for the sun to come out. Thankfully, it did, and warmed up to a bearably comfortable temperature for playing. Two of the camp dogs were hanging out with us, and a bunch of current and past camp staffers and friends, but nobody else. We roasted hot dogs over the fire, played Cornhole and some games that a kid of one of the staffers made up using hula hoops and large sticks in the ground. Plus, the best part, we had a parachute! So we played with that just like you used to in elementary school. Awesome. We had a great time in spite of the unseasonable cold front. Plus, it was technically work, so we get Monday off!


Today was a day of relaxation. Slept in my own bed, again, and for a long time. Eventually pulled myself out of bed and went for a quick jog. Some other staffers showed up to hang out for the day and we all went Frolfing around camp. (Frolfing = Frisbee Golfing, we have a course mostly marked out around camp.) Then, for dinner, I will be making waffles using ’92 electric clam griddle with interchangeable plates that I found last weekend in Conneticut at a Tag sale. Here is to hoping the griddle works properly, I don’t burn the house down, and the waffles are delicious.

Addendum: They were delicious and the house is still standing.

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