Saturday, October 8, 2011

Wilderness Camp, Day 2

A little bit of background first: When I went on Wilderness Camp last year, it rained for perhaps an hour and a half on the very first day as we started hiking. When I say rain, I mean sprinkling lightly. The rest of the trip was sunny and clear--beautiful weather and a total rarity for Wilderness Camp (two years ago, a typhoon forced groups to return from the mountains a day early). I sensed that we'd been blessed with unusually good weather, that we were lucky. This year, I found out just how lucky we were on...

Day 2: Wednesday, Oct. 5

The rain started at about 4 in the morning--I awoke to the first drops splatting against the taut plastic of the fly sheet above me. Early in the day, the rain wasn't bad--it was light, barely more than a mist. Moreover, the fly sheets had done their jobs and kept all of us and our sleeping bags dry. It took a while for everyone to wake up, and I was impressed at the ability of the kids to sleep in, even on a cold, rainy morning in the middle of the woods. When we'd finally packed up, eaten breakfast and put on our rain-gear, we wondered just how long the rain would last.

The leaders for the day were fairly careful in checking the map, responding to the advice of the previous day's leaders during the debrief the night before. We started hiking just before 9, and it took us well over an hour to reach the peak at 969m, where we'd intended to camp the night before. Although this had been a beautiful campsite last year, it was horribly muddy and the panoramic view of the surrounding mountains was totally obscured by the fog. As we took a break sitting in the gazebo that my group had slept in last year, it occurred to me that we would have been less protected from the rain had we camped out here, and would likely have started the day wet and miserable. We may not have camped out at the place we intended the previous night, but as I told the leaders, it had turned out to be the right place for us.

The rest of the day had its share of ups and downs and I mean that both in the literal and figurative senses of the expression: we would descend one peak only to scale another. Steep uphills followed by steep downhills. It was the same exact hike that my group had done last year, but it seemed so much longer, so much more tedious this year. The hiking was exhausting, not only because of the physical challenge, but also because of the extreme mental energy that we had to invest in not slipping on the muddy paths and wet roots and rocks. So, while we moved, we tired easily. Breaks provided little respite--when we stopped moving, we chilled easily, as the torrential rain continued to drive down upon us harder and harder as the day wore on.

I recalled a particularly steep and beautiful mountain ridge from the previous year and to encourage the kids, informed them that we weren't far off from the ridge, and that the campsite the leaders had chosen wasn't far beyond that. Big mistake. You see, my memory was of a leisurely hike on a sunny day, and the whole thing had seemed so much faster. What I thought would take 10 minutes wound up taking over an hour, and I am sure the kids tired of hearing me predict "it's just ahead" every time we came to a steep uphill climb.

We finally reached our campsite in the mid-afternoon. Soaked, exhausted, sore... It was at this point that I was particularly proud of the kids because despite the miserable conditions, there was little complaining. One guy said during dinner that he wished he'd ditched Wilderness Camp, and that he'd go home early if he could. However, nobody else took the bait, and even he adopted a stoic attitude. Even in the toughest moments of the trip, with two more days to go, the kids remembered and held to their contract. Over dinner, we distracted ourselves from the cold and damp by sharing both scary and funny stories. We debriefed over hot cocoa, and talked about the importance of follower-ship in becoming a servant-leader. The kids talked extensively about the need for trust between a leader and a follower and connected this back to their own experience as a class at school, and their class' tendency to mistrust teachers. In my Humanities and English classes several weeks before, this question of respect for teachers had come up in an open-forum discussion about class identity and that evening during our debrief, the discussion received the follow-up it deserved. The kids identified the need to trust the leaders in their life as crucial--just as they had needed to watch the footsteps and trust the person immediately ahead of them on the slippery trails earlier in the day. We also talked about the importance of dialogue with the leader, helping them to improve in their ability to lead through constructive criticism as opposed to complaints and wondered together how the students could apply this lesson to dealing with teachers who they did not trust.

As we settled down for the night, we all prayed fervently for the rain to clear up (though the forecast had predicted rain for Thursday as well). It was a tough day, but a character-building day.

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