We just completed a wonderful – and tiring – 4-day backpacking trip with the new school, Wind, Water & Wisdom and several other homeschool families. Aged 11-15, these kids thrived in the woods, collecting millipedes, salamanders, frogs, bugs, and other fun critters. Camp was often chaotic, but everyone pitched in when needed, and our group began more efficient with each day we stayed in the woods.
All of our pre-trip nervousness and stress disappeared the moment we walked into the woods. It’s amazing how the forest can bring peace back in my life.
We stepped onto the Benton MacKaye Trail with excitement and awe, and soon arrived at our first night’s campsite at Peter’s Cove. The evening was filled with
…”hobo meals,” s’mores, and more.
Because few of our hikers had been on a backpacking trip before, we had a lot of teaching to do – how to best pack and adjust packs, how to set up tents, where to collect the best firewood, etc. But we never had to teach the love of nature to these kids. In the midst of J.S. and me trying to toss ropes for hanging food bags, I lodged our rock (tied to the rope) in the crook of the tree. Afraid that we had “donated” our rope to the tree, we called H.S. over, who scampered up the tree, untangled our rope, and then hung the rope from above!
Few of us slept well the first night (as is typical on backpacking trips), and Day Two was our longest day with the most elevation gain. Though the uphill was difficult, we collected wild blackberries, told stories, and took long breaks to climb trees. We made it to camp alongside the Jacks River, waded and bathed in its water, cooked a huge meal of pasta and sauce, and ran to our tents as the sky opened up and rain poured down on us.
The tents held, but the sky didn’t clear until after noon. When it did, we packed up and began the first of our 14 river crossings that day. Everyone completed the crossings masterfully, and we escaped the river without anyone washing downstream. We only got wet when we chose to!
That night, we celebrated H.S.’s 14th birthday with cheesecake and candles. R.D. also turned 14 the day after our trip.
On a trip such as this, the “lessons” of nature are not always evident. The kids (and adults) were so at home in the woods, that we encountered few difficult situations. Even in the rain and fog on Wednesday morning, everyone was upbeat and generally positive. However, a few moments stick out in my mind:
One young man’s mother had told me that he had a very difficult time on his last trip to the woods, so I was paying extra attention to his well-being. In the middle of the night, I looked out of my tent window and saw a light coming from the fire-ring. This young man wasn’t able to sleep. Instead of tossing and turning and waking up his tent-mates, he had coaxed our fire back to life and was sitting near it warming himself, deep in thought. I was impressed that the person I thought would need the most help on our trip was so self-sufficient. He and I talked for a few minutes around the fire, and then went back to our respective tents in the hopes of sleep.
Another young man, smaller than his peers, had trouble adjusting his own pack, much less picking it up and putting it on. He regularly asked me to carry his pack or at least remove some of its gear. I was confident he was not carrying too much weight, so I always responded, “We’re all a team on this trip, and that’s your part of our gear to carry.” Still, every time we stopped for a break, Josh or I had to lift his pack onto his pack and snap together his waist belt. Then, on the last day, on our last stop, I suggested to this young man that he get a head start on the rest of the group. His eyes lit up, he stood up with his pack, fastened his own waist belt, adjusted his shoulder straps, and set off hiking.
One young woman, in particular, was amazingly self-sufficient. She ate what was put before her, efficiently packed her own pack, and periodically chose to walk in the rear of the group, in solidarity with the slower hikers. When one participant’s pack was not fitting well, she was willing to trade packs, even though the new one was not as comfortable. She adjusted her straps and made it work. Even when she got blisters, once I showed her how to bandage herself, from then on, she doctored herself, sitting next to me as I wrapped other people’s blisters. This confidence and self-sufficiency comes naturally to her, but it is also a testament to her comfort in the wilderness. She was the 2nd youngest person on our trip!
I was privileged to lead a trip with such amazing kids. Though I’ve barely mentioned the parents who participated in this backpacking trip, I was impressed at their stamina, laid-back attitude, and gentleness with the children. Without their accompaniment, my job would have been much more difficult.
So, we exited the woods having built deeper community and grown more comfortable living outside of civilization. I can’t wait until our next excursion. What a wonderful group of monkeys!