A River Trip to Remember!!

July 22nd Pictures

Our last Monday of the 4 Week session already… It never ceases to amaze me how fast a month can go by when its spent at camp speed and this year has been no exception. There is a change in the air this last week of camp, a feeling of urgency to start finishing projects, accept every trip offered, and a sense of savoring this wonderful opportunity presented to all of us.

My own last week started in the form of a throwback day for myself, harkening all the way back to the days when I was a canoeing counselor and existed on the lake and rivers almost exclusively. A group of paddlers were heading out at 7:30 this morning to the Nantahala River and somehow the stars aligned to the point of needing my presence; a well hidden charity that I seized with both hands! We took ten campers paddling a mixture of open tandem and solo canoes, and one bold kayaker who seemed unfazed to be surrounded by a bunch of open boats (there is always a friendly rivalry). The guys were prompt to the early and quiet breakfast before piling into the van to quickly return to sleep at various odd, painful-looking angles. Zach and I maintained their comatose state through a mixture of podcasts on history and current events, answering some half-hearted questions about the state of Germany in the 1960’s but otherwise getting the guys some more sleep before their big day.

Upon arriving at the river, the group had 15 minutes to unload the whole trailer, get set with personal gear, and have the van leave to set shuttle. They did it in 13 1/2 minutes and basically set the tone for the rest of the day. From the river talk on, the group was very attentive, curious, and serious in their approach to the day’s challenge. For nearly all the campers, this was the first time on this particular river, and the first time on a bigger, fast, cold run like this was about to be. Nervousness always helps to focus adolescents and after the first couple of ferries, and subsequent flips, the boats were making sure to ask questions, get information repeated, and form plans with their partners. I had nearly forgotten how much fun it can be to see a group start their day shaky, only to lose themselves in the difficulty of each task we counselors put before them. By lunch time, they were beginning to seek out harder routes and aim for smaller eddies, and as we approached the conclusion to the run, the Nantahala Falls, there was a confidence that had certainly not been there just a few hours before.

The Falls tend to be a passage for every camper as the whole group pulls over, walks down, and visually assesses the rather intimidating rapid before returning to their boats and negotiating the whole stretch one at a time, alone or with their partner as the only company. The scouting conversation lasted predictably longer than most, but when all questions had been answered several times through and there was nothing else to cover, the guys headed back in a rather quiet group, sweating what was to come. Having been there myself, I both understood and commiserated with what they were chewing over, but also knew they were ready and gave each a last minute check in before sending them downriver. By the time I reached the bottom of the Falls, the nerves I saw at the top were totally forgotten. Each boat had finished their run and were buzzing around the last stretch of river like super-excited bees, feeling that crazy rush of relief and adrenaline that comes with meeting a daunting task head on and emerging from the other side on top of the world. The mood carried down to the takeout, through the loading of the trailer which nearly flew together (young guys pushing me out of the way to get the boats tied down), and through a monster sized bag of GORP before every single head once again crashed for the two hours back home.

I am blinking away some sleep myself as I type this, but consider myself very fortunate to have gotten on their river trip today. Being there to see the culmination of three weeks of hard work, and then seeing the changes that can be wrought in someone in the space of an intense several hours always helps to put perspective on the work we do and yet another benefit of camp. Those ten guys today will remember that trip this whole upcoming year, and many of them will remember that first run down the falls forever. And that is just one trip out of this entire month! Enjoy the pictures and make sure to grill your guys as they return home in one short week. I know stories can be like pulling teeth, but perhaps showing them these pictures will both jog memories and focus their thoughts a little more!

Good night and see you tomorrow.

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