A quick update from instructor Talley: What a few days it’s been! Students slowly trickled in from their flights in various states of exhaustion, all a little bewildered by the “midnight sun.” Fortunately, our first couple days together were largely days of rest. A few clinics (on subjects like tent setup and pack fitting) and light camp duties left students plenty of time for games and conversations. Circles of “pirate waiter”, “ninja”, and other classics quickly popped up around camp. Personally, I was thrilled to have Eli teach me how to throw a spiral pass!
All of our activity built to the traditional Yahoo dinner, albeit with an Alaskan twist. The salmon and reindeer sausage were a big hit, even if we did have to dash through a passing rainstorm to get seconds. We put that hefty meal to great use today during our day hike to Mt. Eklutna. The weather was extraordinary – sunny with a light breeze – which set the tone for lively talks and community building during a challenging six-hour summit hike. The trail led us uphill through dense foliage, then opened to sweeping views of the Chugach range, as well as a western view of the Knik Arm and Matanuska River. Spirits were high, and students worked together to set a standard for expedition behavior. I particularly enjoyed seeing Joey and Adrienne educate their peers about blisters. I assigned the task to them, and they nailed it! I’m also happy to report that every group was able to summit. We were thrilled to see a pair of bald eagles wheeling below us as we stood on the peak!
As I write, students are settling back into camp – peeling off sweaty socks, comparing dusty legs, and setting up for stir fry dinner. I’m excited to see how quickly this community is forming…and, even as I stretch my own sore muscles, am looking forward to tomorrow. I can’t believe we’ll spend four days backpacking within sight of Denali – and can’t wait to share our experiences with you!
And now a few words from Dock…
Today began with more “icebreaker” games, as we challenge students to learn everyone’s names before lunch. This is usually an easy task, as students know each other from the activities in the park and in the van from day 1. Students broke up into small group cooking classes at breakfast (where they learned to cook French toast) to help build a connection with instructors and feel comfortable in a small group setting, all while learning essential trip cooking skills. Preparing food together and sharing a meal is a great way to form a foundation for new friendships.
After breakfast, the three small groups went on a day hike to continue getting to know each other. These small groups, combined with an electronic-free environment, are key to building an intentional community.
It’s easy to build a community when you are isolated from the outside world. With no social media or school pressure and strong, kind leadership from our instructor team, we are able to share the values that promote being a contributing and valued member of a community. It takes everyone’s energy and commitment to complete the many tasks needed for the success of an Adventure Treks expedition (cooking, cleaning, setting up tents, sorting food, packing the trailer, inspecting vehicles, setting up stoves, collecting drinking water, keeping the site clean, etc.).
Before the first backpack starts tomorrow, we teach the proper way to do many of these tasks. We try to build a level of basic competency so students will feel comfortable enough to eventually see what needs to be done and take initiative to voluntarily help the group. Viewing the big picture is just one of the skills that we hope stays with our students long beyond the adventure. When covering new skills, we begin by teaching and modeling, and we follow with practice. Students gain understanding as our instructors pull back, coach, and delegate. It’s all about helping students gain maturity, responsibility, and leadership.
The students have now entered a world completely different from home. No running water, sleeping in a tent with two other people they just met, constant immersion in a community of teenagers, and (probably the biggest difference) no internet or phones. We hope you agree that this new environment forms the basis for an unforgettable growth experience.
Adaptation to this new way of life can be stressful at times, but please know that we emphasize fun. We play a ton of games, and the social aspect of the trip is paramount. We know our true competition is digital media, so we know we have to make AT as fun as video games to hold our students’ attention. The games we play are all face-to-face, but like they do when they play a video game, our students have entered a new world—one where they can choose to be a slightly different person than home, aka their best self. Because our instructors are “cooler” than parents, we hope our students will rise to other challenges more easily than at home!