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8th Grade Class Trip to Utah

This year the 8th grade spent two weeks canoeing down the Green River in Utah for their class trip. For all of the students - and Ms. Harris - it was an unforgettable experience.

By Jodi Harris

Tuesday, March 21

We arrived in early evening, and our guides Misha and Lynne met us at the train station.

After introductions, we set right to work. The outfitters had mispacked the tent stakes, so students had to sharpen sticks to use. This was one theme of the expedition— Often something just needs to be done, even if you’re tired. Without stakes, there would be no tents. That’s all there was to it. So we made stakes.

Wednesday, August 22

What should have been the first day on the river turned out to be very windy, so Misha decided we should not start that day, since it would be frustrating trying to learn to paddle in strong headwinds, and extremely demoralizing if the wind flipped anyone’s canoe into the 34 degrees water. (This would prove very prudent, as we’d learn later.) So we learned paddle strokes on land— Jstroke, sweep, pry, draw and cross draw. After our trips on the Little Miami, students were surprised to learn of all the complexities involved in steering and paddling well.

We also made spoons that we would eat all our breakfasts and dinners with.

Thursday, August 23

Our first day on the river! It had been a cold night ,(Another theme of the trip— temps were generally 10-20 degrees below average for this time of year) so we talked about ways to stay warm at night, some as simple as actually zipping your sleeping bag all the way up, and tucking shirts in, and even snuggling way down into your sleeping bag. Eventually, we launched into the river to begin our journey. We wanted to make up some miles since we lost one day of paddling, so we set an ambitious goal to paddle 20 miles to our first campsite. And we made it! Misha said the students did really well; it takes other eighth grade groups two days to get that far.

Friday, August 24

We set another ambitious goal to paddle another 20 miles, but decided to stop after 12 miles, at a very special spot. It is called Trin Alcove Bend.

Just before we reached our campsite, we saw a swamped canoe on the shore, along with a hastily abandoned camp. We found a dry bag a little ways off, with a cell phone, a man’s wallet, and a dozen packs of cigarettes. Misha and Lynne recognize the picture on the drivers license as a man they had met at the canoe outfitters. It was a party of two older men who began their journey on that windy day. Misha and Lynne used the satellite communication device to notify the authorities, and we were left wondering what had happened and what we could do.

This shorter day of paddling left time to hike up to the top of the canyon for incredible views. The incredible immensity and majesty of the landscape left the students thrilled and amazed. At dinner someone who had been quite homesick said that if every day would be like this, she would have a great time!

Saturday, August 25

After breakfast, a crew of students volunteered to help rescue the swamped canoe and gear, to make it easier for authorities to recover. It was strenuous work and required a lot of cooperation, but we were able to leave the canoe and gear in an accessible place. We speculated that the most likely explanation was a medical emergency requiring evaluation.

Then we paddled 14 miles to camp at the beginning of Bowknot Bend, a six-mile loop in the river.

Sunday, August 26

After a quick pre-breakfast snack, we hiked up to the saddle of the Bowknot Bend; from here we could see two sections of the river flowing in opposite directions. More unbridled joy for the students to run and explore this incredible place. There was a registry at the top, where our scribe Raven made an entry into the logbook.

Our paddle today ended in a surprise snow squall. Fat flakes fell and forced everyone to unpack and set up a camp with some urgency. It was a mucky half a mile into Horseshoe Canyon. Once camp was made, students could climb and explore with a sense of giddy relief and exhilaration.

Monday, August 27

This morning marked the halfway point of our journey. We paddled 18 miles to a camp near a cabin hideout used by Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid and an ancient Pueblan granary on a bluff high above the river. The sense of isolation and the vast views from there were mind blowing!

Tuesday, August 28 & 29

We paddled this day to Deadhorse Canyon, accessed via a beautiful little green rivulet. We had made up our lost time and were on schedule, so we could enjoy a layover day here. This was my favorite campsite, nestled into the canyon surrounded by beautiful cliffs.

On this layover day we were able to do a little laundry and bathe.

Then we hiked to see ancient petroglyphs.

Then we gave the students a challenge: taking snacks and water, they would break into small groups and hike several miles to circumnavigate a large rock formation called Turks Head (shown in the background) and find their way back to camp.

Back at camp, students had time for journaling. Having had several discussions about this trip as a rite of passage, I asked them to write a letter to their future self about what they learned about life and themselves on this trip and want to remind themselves not to forget.

In the middle of night, strong winds gusted and nearly blew over one of the student tents. We adults stayed in our tents, and were ready to help if asked, or if the students’ voices sounded distressed. But the students in the collapsing tent reacted quickly, and some students from other tents went to help, and they all managed the crisis on their own with strength and grace!

Thursday, August 30

This was the hardest day of paddling. A cold rain mixed with snow started soon after we got on the river. We were soon all soaked and cold. But back to that theme of the trip, there was no way out but through. We had to keep paddling to prevent hypothermia, and to get where we needed to go. We could not hit any restart button or wait for anyone else to bail us out of this situation.

Our destination was Jasper Canyon, and amazingly once we got there, the skies cleared, and it warmed up. It was another beautiful canyon, with a spring and clear creek, and more ancient ruins.

That evening meeting we discussed perseverance and grit, and how getting through situations like this is incredibly helpful when facing crises later in life. And then we prepared students for their solo! The students elected Bella and Parker to be their leaders, and we went over navigation and all the jobs that would need to be done in the morning. Then we adults left them to make their plans.

Friday, August 31

This was our last day of paddling, 10 miles to the confluence with the Colorado River, and then another 2 miles on the Colorado to our destination — Spanish Bottoms. We adults left at first light, needing our headlamps to pack up and leave. Tatum and I went ahead, and Misha and Lynne hid away in a little inlet to follow behind out of sight, but available in case of any dire emergencies. Obviously I don’t have pictures of the students on their solo, but they sounded proud, and even triumphant, when they told us about it afterwards.

It was funny that most days, we had to keep reminding the students not to get too far spread out. But on their solo, they stayed close together.

At the end of our paddling, we cleaned all the canoes and gear and got organized for our pick up the next morning. But then we had time to hike 1000 feet above the river to the most amazing place yet. It was called the Dollhouse and it is in the Maze region of Canyonlands National Park.

Saturday, April 1

Today was Finn‘s birthday, and incredibly Tatum and I had found a balloon the day before. Misha and Lynne sang a Russian birthday song to him. Along with an “innovative” Nutella marshmallow pudding pie birthday cake creation, I’m sure it was a memorable birthday for Finn.

We loaded the jet boat and were transported up the Colorado river a very chilly, windy 50 miles to Moab, where we got into vans to be driven another 60 miles to Green River State Park. We found out from the outfitters what had happened to the two men in the swamped canoe. They had launched on that first very windy day. Their canoe swamped, they recovered, but then it swamped again. One of the men was getting very hypothermic, and they radioed for a helicopter rescue. He had to be treated at a hospital for hypothermia, but they were both fine and were very grateful for the work we had done for them.

More cleaning and re-organizing and showers and evening meetings ended our last day there. Misha and Lynne were very very impressed with this group of students. They have lead literally hundreds of groups of young adolescents, and remarked many times about what a kind, cooperative, hard-working, respectful group of young people we have here.

The next morning we got up at dawn to pack up and walk back to the train station, working silently so we would not disturb other sleeping campers. We got to the train station in plenty of time, and circled up for our last morning verse and breakfast together.

I feel like this trip was everything I wanted it to be for the students. There were some struggles, surely, some home sickness, lots of hard work, some cold nights and days. But there were also lots of laughs and heartfelt conversations and songs. There was an exhilarating sense of joy and freedom, exploring vast, awe-inspiring places. There was a powerful warm sense of community and relying on ourselves and each other. As I told them in our final evening meeting, I hope this trip will help them to go through their life saying yes to opportunities and possibilities, even when they are scared, even when they will be uncomfortable, even when they don’t know exactly what’s in store. And to build a community to support themselves and improve the world. I was overjoyed to hear some students singing a song we learned on the trip, as we rode through the stunning Rocky Mountains.

Here are the words:

Learn to live your life with all your heart, and all your soul, and all your mind, and love all humankind as you would love yourself.

And love the life you live, with all your heart, and all your soul and mind and let your light shine.

We’ve got all our lives to live, we’ve got all our hearts to give, we’ve got love inside our souls and we can change the world with love.

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