Top 100 Things I’ve Done – #32

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Work for an Adventure Camp

During my final semester of college, I had no idea what I wanted to do next. I was burned out from studying Quantum Mechanics all day, so I started searching for outdoor summer jobs. I made a few applications online and ended up getting offers for a couple different positions.

The first was as a white water rafting guide on the Kennebec River. I had been a guest with the rafting company the year before and .interested in a job there since, so I was pretty sure I would take the offer. Before I told them I’d spend my spring break at guide training, I got an email from Sara Johnson at Longacre Expeditions saying she’d like to do a phone interview with me.

Longacre is an adventure camp based out of Pennsylvania, that sends groups of teenagers to places far from home for the most adventurous and challenging summer ever. They do super outdoorsy stuff; like living in a tent, cooking your own food, biking, hiking, and climbing. Seeing as I had little experience working with kids and I’d never been camping in my life, I hadn’t really expected to hear back from them.

Sara was an explosion of friendliness and made me completely comfortable talking with her on the phone. I was honest and she sensed it. After talking for nearly an hour, she hired me on a “good feeling”. I’m glad Sara had a good feeling, because the job she gave me changed my life.

Not long after receiving my diploma, I cashed my graduation checks in and bought myself some shiny new camping gear. Then I packed it all up with some clothes in a massive duffle bag and boarded a flight to Portland, Oregon.

This would be my first trip out west and even for that I was excited. At the Portland airport, I was met by a guy and girl with clean and bright yellow shirts sporting the giant Longacre Expeditions logo. His long beard and her dirty feet made me pretty sure they knew a lot more about living in the woods than I did. We drove in a white van from the airport to a town called “Sisters”. Longacre had rented out an entire farm and house to be used as the northwest leader training camp and supply station.

After meeting everyone at the farm, I and the others who arrived that day were sent out to the barn to pick out a tent. It took me a bit longer to set mine up and get all my things sorted out. It was super hot and dry in Oregon that summer; the year they had the massive outbreak of wildfires. Every time I moved, dust kicked up around me and I thought I’d have to come up with a very good system for keeping my stuff clean.

As the first couple weeks of training passed, so did my memories of clean. Due to limited facilities showers were limited to a couple times per week. I had no choice but to get use to being dirty. I wore sandals everyday that summer and my skin stained nicely. I had a new perspective of cleanliness and hygiene being separable things. I could stink and have black feet, but still keep my hands and teeth clean.

At training we learned how to set up tents. Make sure the kids don’t step on the tent stakes, because they’ll bend. And make sure they don’t lose them either. We learned how to use the camping stoves. Make sure the kids don’t light the stoves without you. We learned how to fix bikes, tie knots, clean our gear and take cover in a lightening storm. I was becoming the outdoorsy type.

During the months leading up to the kids’ arrival, the leaders in training did mini-trips from the farm into the backcountry to practice their skills. I hiked to the top my first mountain; Mt St Helens and in the process learned first hand about dehydration. If you’re thirsty, it’s too late. We went rock climbing and I loved it so much that it became my favorite thing to do for the next couple of years.

Back at the farm all the leaders sat in a circle a few nights per week for structured feel good conversation. This was something Longacre required the kids do, so it was an experiential training for us. We’d do things like say something nice about the person sitting directly across from us; say something an anonymous person did that bothered us, describe how we felt about the day, etcetera. It was a little uncomfortable at first, but it brought the group together quickly.

After about a month, I’d gotten comfortable with living in a tent and life was simple again, just in time for the kids to arrive and bring with them new challenges. I was 22 and the sixteen kids in my group ranged from 14 to 17. I had two other co-leaders and we were the “Surf Oregon” group and we were to bike the coast from Washington to California, learn how to surf, snowboard at Mt Hood, go white water rafting, hiking in the backcountry and sand-boarding on the Oregon dunes.

I had to figure out how to be friends and an authority figure to kids five years younger than me. Which meant things like cutting back on swearing while still being cool, telling them what to do in suggestive ways and leading by example. Most of the kids at Longacre come from well off families. It’s kind of the flip of Outward Bound and the like, who take challenged and broke kids. Lots of these kids come from a place where they never have to do anything for themselves, they get whatever they want and have no responsibility for their things. My leader friend had one of Steven Spielberg’s boys. One of my favorite kid’s parents were both high profile doctors in Manhattan.

We take the kids out into the woods, make them sleep on the ground, look after their own stuff and cook their own meals. We wouldn’t let them shower, spend any of the money their parents gave them or give up when they’re tired of pedaling. We also put them through the same sit in a circle and talk time that the leaders did. At the beginning we had a group of whiney, spoiled brats, but by the end of the trip, we had brought gold out in each of them. I pushed the ones that wanted to give up not to quit and they thanked me for it. I took the kid’s shoes that left them out every night and he stopped losing them. We broke the cliques down and everyone became friends.

Watching the kids interact, helped me to reflect on how I’d changed since I was their age. Having just graduated from college, it was a god time to see that.

After the kids’ trip was over, I was back at the farm working as a supplier for the other groups. I had lots of free time that month, so I quickly made my way through the books I had brought but not touched yet. There was one book in particular that I threw in my bag because my uncle had insisted I read it. It was called “Rich Dad, Poor Dad” and I’d I left it for last, because frankly I wasn’t that interested in money. I was living in the woods with hippies, loving life and money was the evil thing that people like this had no interest in.

If I didn’t work for Longacre and have that comfy hammock hung between two giant pines and endless afternoons with nothing to do; I might never have changed my perspective on money. Reading that book ended up leading me to make more money than anyone else I knew my age in the next few years.

At the end of the summer, al the leaders had exit interviews. The top hippies sat us down and told us what they thought our strengths and weaknesses were. They thought I worked great with kids, which led me to try out teaching high school the following year. They told me I could lighten up on things needing to go a certain way. It was perfect timing to hear that, because it allowed me to see the band I was in had recently fallen apart for some of the same reasons. I was challenged to change for the better and feel that I have immensely.

In the summer of 2002 I learned new skills, learned that I work well with kids and like it and learned how to face up to my faults. I got interested in outdoor activities and became sensitive to the environment. Between that, the Oregon dirt that stained my feet, the kids who pushed back when pushed and having the time to read the book my Uncle gave me; working for Longacre Expeditions was undoubtedly one of the Top 100 Things I’ve Done.

One Thought on “Top 100 Things I’ve Done – #32”

  1. dominic Keska Says:

    kudos JM.

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