Midsummer Adventure Treks Check-In

John Dockendorf24 Jul, 2019

I wrote this on a plane after opening our Colorado Explorer 2 trip. My son had just completed his first Adventure Treks trip (Colorado 1) with this same staff team the week before, so it was a true joy as a parent to take these instructors out to dinner as a small token of my appreciation for their investment in Charlie. I know they were able to reach my son in ways that I, as his dad, simply can’t on a daily basis.

I’m a very lucky parent. I actually visited Colorado 1 and met all the students who I now hear stories about. I know the instructors well and delight in their passion for educating children. I can understand why they are so cool in my son’s eyes. I got to hear the instructors’ stories about the trip, large and small. And I understand first-hand the intricate logistical details: I have hiked on that backpacking trail, paddled those rivers, and seen many of the sites, so I can frame my son’s version of events with reality.

Most parents, unless they are a former Adventure Treks instructor (and we do have several students now whose parents were instrumental instructors in our early days), can’t fully understand what their child has experienced. It’s even hard for many first-time students—especially our younger students trying to find their voices—to fully understand the intentionality behind their experience, or even articulate all they have observed and experienced.

I know the Adventure Treks experience has had a profound effect on my son (who, previously, had spent his summers at Camp Pinnacle). Much more than a fun summer diversion, as a result of his many physical and social accomplishments (contributing to a boost in self-confidence), I have noticed subtle changes in his mindset about the world.

Below are some of the narratives we are attempting to build:

  • I am capable of more than I ever thought possible. When the going gets tough, I can dig deep, work harder, and I will eventually succeed.
  • Together as a group, we can accomplish more than I could individually.
  • It feels good when I pitch in and help others, do more than my share, and even anticipate what needs to be done to help the community succeed.
  • Living in a close community is really fun, and I miss it.
  • Success is the result of contribution and hard work, and I like being held to high standards.
  • I can be a leader.
  • More creature comforts do not necessarily mean more happiness.
  • I don’t have to have electronics or social media to have fun. In fact, I can thrive without them.
  • I have had glimpses of my “best self.” I like who I see, and I will try to be that person more frequently.
  • People like me for who I am, not for a specific role I may play at home or school.
  • I can become true friends with people who are different from me.

It was so much fun to meet the Colorado Explorer 2 students—all of these middle-schoolers were at Adventure Treks for the first time, and all were a little nervous. Most came not knowing anyone, and I applaud their courage. They attempted a challenge very few of their peers would consider: life without electronics, sleeping in a tent, few showers, and daily physical challenges. This is very different than soccer camp or a family trip to Disney. This is real outdoors, real adventure, and real (albeit age-appropriate) challenge.

Perhaps because it takes a unique kid to accept the challenge of Adventure Treks, I was impressed with these 13- and 14-year-olds. They were kind, inclusive, excited, and eager. Within minutes, they were making friends, volunteering to help, and embracing our culture. I’m so excited for the fun, friendships, and growth that I know they’ll accomplish throughout their trip. It will be a life-altering experience in many ways that should exceed all of their expectations.

Several of our first-round trips have closed, with our second-round trips in their early stages, and I have been lucky to visit and meet many of our students. I have been excited about the communities our students have formed and how much our students seem to be taking away from the experience. The friendships one makes at Adventure Treks are unique. Some of this is because we begin with great students, and some of it is because of the 24/7 face-to-face exposure, absence of social media, and the mutual support they share for group challenges and camp tasks. These friendships are strengthened further by late-night tent conversations and our nightly evening circles.

My three daughters have all completed multiple AT experiences; my youngest daughter is on California Challenge (after having completed Yellowstone), and my middle daughter got home last night from Leadership Summit—her sixth and final AT trip. Though they all have close friends at home, Adventure Treks has produced their most cherished friendships. These are the people for whom they will drop all other obligations to get a chance to spend time with them for any reason.

I’ve enjoyed hearing Charlie’s stories about his new friends and his hopes for a reunion in the months ahead. I hope this is the beginning of friendships that last long beyond the summer.

Yes, I am the founder and executive director, but the role I like even more about Adventure Treks is being a parent and having AT as a major tool (really, mine and Jane’s secret weapon) in our toolbox as we strive to raise great kids in a complicated world.


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