Sunday, October 9, 2011

Wilderness Camp, Days 3-4

Day 3: Thursday, October 6

I'm not sure what time the rain stopped. The reason I'm not sure is because the dripping sounds continued even after the rain had ceased, and I almost certainly mistook this sound for rain whenever I woke up and turned over in my sleeping bag. It wasn't until I actually poked my head outside the gazebo just after 5 am that I realized the dripping sounds were coming from the trees and that the rain itself had stopped.

In fact, the first sight that greeted me was a ray of sunlight shining down between trees in the woods nearby. This would have been a beautiful sight on any morning, but it was so desired, so welcome on this morning that the sunlight seemed even more vibrant--truly a gift from God.

Everyone woke with high spirits that morning upon seeing the sunlight and realizing that the rain had stopped. We ate a cheerful breakfast and started hiking just after 8. The leaders set a brisk pace through the woods, but everyone kept the pace. Everyone was genki! At one point, we came to a ridge atop a rather steep slope and noticed that we had two options: Option #1 involved following the trees with white ribbons tied around the trunks, a gradual decline that looped around the ridge in a downward spiral. Option #2 involved following the blue ribbons, a sharp decline that seemed to dive right over the edge of the ridge and straight down the steep slope. The leaders polled the team and everyone seemed to be in favor of option #2. I looked at Kelsey and she shrugged. "Just be careful," she advised the kids as the team began filing down the slope.

I am not sure how much time we saved by taking the blue path, or if we actually saved any time: sure, it was a direct route down the mountainside, but by nature of the decline, we had to take it slow with lots of stops and starts. Whether or not it saved us time, it certainly added to the feeling of high adventure! We would half shuffle/half slide down the slope for 5-10 feet, stop against a tree trunk to steady ourselves and regain our balance before shuffling/sliding down to the next tree. We repeated this process over and over, hopping from tree to tree until finally we came to one last steep slope with our desired path running along the very bottom. Some kids bounded down this slope, some slid on their butts and some surfed with the loose dirt acting as a wave. We all arrived back on the path safely, though our hiking shoes were perhaps twice as dirty as they were when we'd started on the blue path.

A short while later, we arrived at a paved road, the first sign of civilization that we had seen since the first day. It was here that I received my worst (and only) injury of the trip as I skidded on a slick bit of pavement in a tunnel, and skinned my knee. Lame, lame, lame. I guess I should be thankful that I didn't take a spill on a steep mountain path, but if you're going to skin your knee while hiking, it's embarrassing to have it happen on a concrete sidewalk at the base of the mountain :P

We ate lunch near the Tama River and enjoyed a chance to soak up some sunlight and skip stones in the water. At this point, we were only 15 minutes or so from Okutama Bible Chalet, our final destination. However, we still had one more day of hiking, and so would be venturing into the hills on the other side of the river before ending at OBC.

In choosing our route the week before, we'd been told that at this point in the route, we'd have the choice of hiking or taking a cable car. When we informed the leaders for the day of the option, they quickly decided to take the cable car. This was a good choice, since we needed to get to our campsite as early as possible for the day's activity and despite our brisk pace in the morning, we were running late. The road up to the cable car was, in my own opinion, the most physically challenging part of the hike. I can handle the steep trails in the woods--the trails that feel more like a scramble than a hike--those are fine. However, the road up to the cable car was a kilometer straight of 15% incline. Unrelenting, constant, concrete uphill marching. The only point in the entire trip where I felt physically winded was at the very end of this stretch. We took the cable car up to Mitake-san--the ride took less than 10 minutes and saved us perhaps an hour of hiking.

The view from Mitake-san was incredible! Unfortunately, this was the point (really the only point) in the trip where I was somewhat disappointed with the kids (well, a few anyway). One of the leaders for the day was feeling hungry. It's Wilderness Camp... one can be forgiven feeling a certain level of hunger the whole time. That said--we'd had bigger portions of food than we did the year before, and we even had an extra set of snacks with us at that point due to not having taken a snack break during the rainy day before. Point being, we were still well-supplied for food. Anyway, this particular individual was in possession of the team wallet which was supposed to be for transportation expenses (such as the train, the bus and the cable car). When we got to the look-out at Mitake-san, there were small shops and places to buy food. The temptation was too much--this leader bought food for herself and several of her teammates using the transportation funds (about half of the team refused to let her buy them food, not wanting to compromise their Wilderness Camp experience). Though my co-leader and I reminded the team that we did in fact have extra snacks, the lure of the mountain-top shops was too great.

I'll admit I was a bit annoyed. I didn't show it at the time, not wanting to pull down the team's morale, but I felt like it was a selfish decision. However, I've since had time to think about it and I realized that there have been countless times in my own life where I've made selfish, bad decisions or given in to one temptation or another. The only person who has ever avoided temptation and selfishness completely was Christ himself... if I'd been in the desert for that long and someone offered me bread, I'd probably have taken it in a heart-beat--I'm that weak. What was the lesson for the day, anyway... integrity in leaders? What right did I have to be angry, having so many times failed tests of integrity myself? So, ultimately, I could forgive the bad choice... I do think that in future years, I'll need to make a point ahead of time to clarify in no uncertain terms that the money should only be for transportation, and that buying food simply isn't even an option. I believe in giving the kids decision-making power and leadership, but I also think that freedom involves some clear boundaries (no giving up, for example).

We arrived at our campsite, 日の出山 (Hinodeyama), at a few minutes till 4. The guy in the front of the pack scaled the final set of stairs quickly and moments after he disappeared from our line of vision, we heard what sounded like a bunch of people shouting for joy. It took maybe 2 seconds for us to recognize the familiar voices of another group of Juniors coming from the mountaintop. The kids in my group sprinted up the stairs with their packs still on and what followed was about 10 minutes of hugs, excited chatter and earnest "I missed you"s: truly a joyful reunion, and you'd have thought that these kids hadn't seen each other in years (as opposed to 3 days). Turns out the group at the top had camped out at the campsite we were now approaching the night before (after hiking late in the rain), slept in, done their activity for the day and were now finishing their debrief and getting ready to leave.

As we said our goodbyes to Team Wolfpack, as they called themselves (complete with a "team howl"), we had a chance to survey our surroundings. Without a doubt, this was the most beautiful place that we'd stayed on the entire trip: To the north, west and south, we had a view of the mountains and to the east, we had a panoramic view of Tokyo.

I gathered the kids and introduced our activity for the day: They would spread out and spend an extended period of time on their own. They could journal, read their Bibles/a laminated sheet of verses and quotes about integrity that had been prepared for them, and simply sit and think. I introduced the activity by reminding the kids that in today's society, they rarely have an opportunity to simply be by themselves--that even while they are alone, they're not really alone because they are plugged in to the outside world and their friends via the Internet and their phones. The kids accepted the challenge and spent several hours by themselves.

While they were doing their solo-time, Kelsey and I set up fly sheets around the gazebo and prepared our final dinner of the trip: Macaroni with tuna. The sun set and we were treated to a beautiful view of the Tokyo city-lights. This was the first thing that the kids noticed when we called them back in, too, and if the kids had been anxious or upset about spending time alone, those feelings evaporated as soon as they saw the view. Several kids even asked if they could keep the laminated sheets we'd given them, and after dinner (which we ate sitting on benches outside the gazebo, facing the city) we had a powerful debrief time. The kids talked about learning how much they took for granted in their lives, and appreciating the chance to sit and reflect on their lives. One girl even expressed gratitude for the rain from the previous day, as it had caused her to appreciate the sunny weather and beautiful views of this day even more. Several kids started to make plans to come back to Hinode later in the year to camp out for just a night, and one girl remarked that she wanted to take her own kids up to see this view someday.

Several of the kids settled down for the night outside, as the stars started to come out at about 9 pm. They went to bed happy and well-fed, feeling enriched and blessed by the day's experiences. It was a good day.

Day 4: Friday, October 7

I'll be brief with this final entry. The activity for the final day involved Kelsey and I leaving early, and the kids hiking the last leg of our journey on their own (I should note that we'd informed the days leaders about this the previous night). Of course, we weren't going to ditch the kids completely--we would hide out on a ridge just below the campsite, wait till the kids moved out and follow them at a safe distance. I woke up to find that a few of the kids were already awake, watching the stars and the city-lights, so we couldn't make a completely clean getaway. At the very least, all the kids thought that we'd truly left, and didn't realize that we were staying behind to follow them.

The name of the game for the next stretch of time was patience: waiting for all of the kids to wake up, waiting for them to eat breakfast, waiting for them to pack up... all of this took about two hours. Fortunately, we had a beautiful view of the sunrise from the ledge we were on--we also think we saw a flying squirrel just before sunrise! We saw something scale a tree just in front of us and moments later, a dark shadowy mass leaped from the tree and sailed down into the woods below.

At just before 7, we heard the kids moving down the trail. We went up to the campsite, picked up a few things that had been left behind (including my jacket, which had been hidden under someone's sleeping bag) and set out down the trail after the kids. The hike down to OBC took exactly 2 hours, to the minute. The most excitement came at a point when the kids left the road to take what they thought was a shortcut (several of the kids had worked at OBC during the summer and remembered that it was possible to hike up to a cell tower from behind the camp complex). Turns out it was the wrong cell tower--still it made for a fun detour, as the kids had to drop a good 10 feet from the woods down a bank to get back onto the main road. This involved dropping their packs, a few of which hit the ground with a large crash that initially startled Kelsey and myself ("What on EARTH are they doing?!" we wondered). In the time it took Kelsey and I to climb down the bank to the road below, the kids got a head-start that we never recovered.

The rest of the hike was spent along paved roads (for most of the time, just one long, winding mountain road) and though there were spots on the road where it doubled around and we could see nearly half a mile ahead, we never saw the kids in the distance. We worried that they might've tried another off-road shortcut and that we were way ahead of them (we weren't exactly taking it slow down the mountain), but it turns out they'd just been moving really, really fast. When I think about how fast of a pace Kelsey and I were setting, I can't help but wonder if the kids were almost jogging down the road. Between this point and the end, the only detail worth noting was the random crab that we found scuttling along the road, still a good distance from the base of the mountain. Very odd seeing a crab out of the context of the water-side...

We reached OBC at 9:00 am, just 6 minutes after the kids. We unpacked our bags, reunited with the other teams (we were the third team to arrive), and then hit the ofuro. After we'd cleaned up (which is a GREAT feeling after days of not showering), we debriefed one last time. The kids all agreed that this was a powerful and meaningful experience for them, despite the fact that it had been tough and stressful at times. As I listened to the kids share what they learned over the past few days and how they thought it would impact their everyday lives, it reinforced in my mind just what a positive and important learning experience wilderness camp truly is. We closed our meeting in prayer, dedicating the trip to God and thanking Him for the beauty we'd gotten to see and be a part of, and then went our separate ways. I returned home sore, exhausted and hungry, and it has taken me a few days to recover... however, I do not regret going for even a second. As long as I am at CAJ, I'll go on Wilderness Camp. I'm glad to be back in civilization, and definitely glad to be sleeping in my own bed again, but a small part of me is already counting down the days until next October, when I will have the opportunity to head out into the woods once again...

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