This year’s expedition began at 4:45 am. The students were clean, sleepy, and anxious; and were as big a group of individuals as you will ever see. Athletes and scholars, the popular and the outliers, the outdoorsy and the video gamers, new students and exchange students still learning English, all thrown together to voyage into the uncertain unknown. The bus ride was quiet, and the students mostly sat alone, listening to their music, anxious. We met the Outward Bound staff on time at 9 o’clock, next to the river near Moab, Utah. Immediately the staff had the students involved with introductions and trip details. There was no time for looking back, only forward; the group pushed off, Outward Bound, at about Noon.
The first two days of the trip are concerned with learning how to function as a unit. The water moves slowly, and the instructors have a chance to discuss the meaning of the trip to the students. As we float past the ancient landscape, they explain the metaphor of the river as it applies to the days of our short lives. Generations of families have lived in those secluded drainages, making due with what the environment supplied for them. We visited abandoned ruins, we learned about the geology of the canyons. We discussed our fears and hopes for the future. We determine that our actions and indeed our whole lives are made-up from the values we each bring to the moment. When we get to camp, there is much to do to ensure our well-being and our comfort. There are shelters to erect, food to prepare, the bathroom needs to be set. The students begin to need each other’s participation for the good of all. The Outward Bound formula is infectious. After two days in the sun, with perfectly timed soul searching added, the group is poised to enter the train of Big whitewater, the first rapid is so close you can hear it all night long, like a continuous freight train!
But wait! Before the departure, the instructors have something up their sleeve. At 4 am the next morning, we awake to row across the river in complete darkness to hike to a wonderful spot high above the river. A place the ancients held sacred. We arrive before sunrise, and are sitting in silence, stretching our limbs, waiting. The silence is deafening. With the support of an instructor, one final member of our group arrives, nearly beaten from the demanding, steep, hike. The student body clap and snap their fingers in tacit welcome and congratulation. The group leader reads to us. A passage from Chief Seattle. How can we possibly sell the wind in our hair? The glint on the water? The smell of the earth? The dust of our ancestors? Our hair is on end! Beams from the warming sun! Glorious, amazing, sunrise!
And later, the rapids. The teams form, away we go! The second rapid is so awesome that some forget to paddle, and we narrowly avert disaster! We are living large! Pure joy! Twenty six more rapids to go! This group is really feeling it now! Big drop one, two, three ( Satan’s Gut!) are finally past, we only lost one instructor, thrown out and pulled back in by a newly trained student.
Our final campsite is at the entrance to Dark Canyon, the beach we had hoped to spend the night on has been completely washed away by flash flooding in the nine days since the instructors have stayed there. We hike a couple of miles up to a waterfall, for a final heart circle discussion and supper in the wild. We return to the boats at midnight and sleep on the bottom of the flipped-over rafts, tied to the shore. Before dawn the instructors push off from shore and the students wake to the quiet of the water lapping the sides of the boats.
While floating on the overturned boats we eat a final breakfast together and prepare a graduation ceremony. We present to each other a pin as a reminder of our adventure and our commitment to each other. We have faced our dragons and we have prevailed! We have much to do when we get back to shore. We have to clean everything and pack it all into the trailers. We work in happiness. There is much joking. This group is tight! This is our senior class; and this group is ready to lead!
Again, we thank George Gardner Scholarship Fund for providing the opportunity that has enabled these young adults. It was an experience that will strengthen them for their entire lives.
Ridgway School teacher