It has been almost two weeks since I returned from Junior River Trip and as I promised in my post before I left, I’ll share a bit about my recent trip down the Green River in Utah.
In short, it was a wonderful trip that I will certainly remember for years to come. As I said in my last post, my own Junior River Trip made my high school experience and as a staff member it was a whole different adventure.
The pre-trip meetings are one thing, lots of preparation and learning but being on the river is a different animal. Unlike the majority of Junior River Trips, we had a small group, only 12 students compared to the typical 18. As a staff we knew it would be a bit different but it was successful nonetheless.
The first day was an early rise and a bus trip to Utah to meet the Green. The bus was obviously full of both tired and excited kids and staff as well. The journey brought back great memories from my trip five years ago and it was that first day where I began creating new memories of this trip.
When we arrived at the Green there was lots of preparation: unpacking, inflating boats, setting up camp, etc. Then it was a short hike, dinner, campfire and finally bed.
The next day we were on the river. Unlike your typical river trip which is generally all manpower, we barged together, all four boats, and used a motor to propel us down the 28-mile stretch of river. We didn’t use the motor for the entire day but it made for a quick trip and a relaxing first day. It was a great bonding experience for the entire group to be together and just enjoying the sun and companionship. There wasn’t any stress, no anxiety about the days to come and no worry about what we left behind in our day-to-day lives.
Being on the river is a great time to relax. Though you’re working to move a boat from point A to point B, cooking and packing and unpacking daily you’re away from the work emails, the traffic every morning and evening and the exhausting stimulus of daily life. Now don’t get me wrong, you are tired every night when you lay down to sleep, but it’s a different kind of tired.
When we arrived at camp on the first day it was all hands on deck to unload the boats, set up the kitchen and place the thundermugs. At every camp once everything is in place and sleeping sites have been found there’s program to bring the group together and to practice things that are meant to be a bit challenging. It’s this first night that individuals are tested and leaders begin to emerge.
As a program assistant I was an instructor, a judge and a spectator. I never thought, as a student on my own trip that the staff actually learned anything themselves. It was that first day that I realized, even as a chaperone so to speak, I was going to learn every day from these kids.
And I really shouldn’t call them kids. They are young adults about to enter their senior year of high school. I remember at that time I felt like I was still a kid, but I didn’t want to be called or treated like one. I realized that again on this trip.
Even though the rain threatened to come down on us that evening (and pretty much every other evening moving forward) it never came in full force and we were able to enjoy a campfire and then off to bed to sleep off the day.
The next day brought lots of paddling and adventure, but also challenges. (Would it be an educational trip without some challenges?) The biggest challenge of the day was a blindfolded activity that would scare most. We blindfolded each student and lead them around the shore with their boat captain in the lead. And then we loaded them on the boats and pushed off into the current of the river. The biggest challenge was figuring out how to paddle as one, and I can say, as that spectator, watching my boat group establish a method, paddle in unison and make it through a rapid blindfolded together was extremely impressive.
We challenged our two groups that day even more when we arrived at camp. For program we had three activities that progressively got harder and again the group excelled and I learned even a little bit more than that first night.
The following day was a short one on the river as we had not originally planned to be paddling. We arrived at our camp shortly before lunch and had time to kill before the group was off to face yet another challenge: a repel. The sun was high, the temperature was hot and we all decided to enjoy the cool of the river. The students played, learned how to properly use a throw bag and I, against my will, was tackled into the water (thanks Coach). It was a great relaxing time for the whole group, staff included and it ended in the most memorable meal of the trip, a real ham dinner complete with pineapple upside down cake. It was a great day that had a wonderfully sweet ending.
The following day was again a short paddling day, but we got to head off the river and a top the canyon wall to hike to a petroglyph site. The day finished at camp where we went off on another small hike that started the program for the biggest night for the students. They were about to be placed in their own singular campsite to spend the night solo. Solo night is an integral part of the trip as it amounts to the biggest challenge the students face and they have to do so alone.
When I look back on my own river trip experience I remember being worried about solo night and feeling like I wouldn’t make it through. I of course, did make it, and took a lot away from the experience. We ask all students to write a letter to themselves that will be sent out a year later. I saved my letter of course and thought I’d share an excerpt with you here.
It’s solo night, JRT 1. You’re alone in the canyon. The sun is setting just over a hill, but it’s still bouncing across the canyon behind you. Do you remember those sunsets? It’s really silent here too. All you can hear is the breeze in the willows and the water rushing in the river. This place is beautiful and even though you’ve been cold and wet and dare I say miserable, you love it here. It’s a place to be away from the stress of life, the hard times and even the people that you miss.
I do remember those sunsets and I remember feeling cold and wet and a little miserable but I did love it there. I loved being able to go back as well. Even though the staff remains together on solo night, I still felt a bit of what we hope the students experience: an understanding of how I play into the grand scheme of things and how I am living my life.
The next morning when we rounded up the students from their individual spots I saw a lot of mixed emotions. You could tell a couple students hadn’t slept well out on their own and others had thrived. It’s certainly a challenging experience, but it’s one of growth and self realization.
At breakfast you could tell everyone was happy to see each other. It was also our last day on the river. We packed up camp, loaded the boats and headed down the river to the take out point. It was both a happy day and also a sad day. We came together again as a group and actually barged up as two paddle boats. We sang, we laughed, and we played games. It was an unexpected mood lifter that got everyone’s spirits up.
Then we reached the take out point.
When we unloaded and said goodbye to the rafts we established camp for one last time on the Green. Campfire was a bit different as we had now spent six days together and were about to head back to our regular lives. We gave out awards, both serious and comical. We also reminisced about certain events and moments on the river. It wrapped up our week and we headed off to bed.
The following morning we were up early, packed and were ready to head home. We of course had to say goodbye to the river first. I remember this being a hard time on my river trip. I had made so many new connections and really didn’t want to head back to reality. It was different this time but only because I was paying more attention to what those around me were feeling.
We all had our ups and downs throughout the trip but the end is always the hardest. We sang our last song together, boarded the bus and headed home.
This river trip was different from my own in many ways. Instead of being a student experiencing something for the first time, I was a staff member reliving my own experience but also watching and learning from everyone around me. I was honored to have been asked to be a part of the trip and I took away a lot, not from being a staff member, but from spectating and learning from the students. It made me feel like a high schooler again and I made many great memories.
I hope to be invited again and make even more memories next year. I thank you Hozhooji, my ever persevering boat group for making my first JRT as a staff member a memorable one.