Archive for the ‘Camping’ Category
By the shores of Gitchi Gummee…
Four and a half years ago, we ran our first CAT kayak camping trip. We paddled on the south shore of Lake Superior, 6 miles from a campground on the mainland near Munising, Michigan to Trout Bay on Grand Island. For three young people, it was the first time camping out of a kayak, paddling on Lake Superior, building a fire, navigating on the water, getting an introduction to fog… The mosquitoes were worse than ANY of us had seen.
Every fall I try (not always successfully) to get away alone for a week. My first solo fall trip, in 2012, was the same itinerary as that first CAT kayak camping trip. I often try to take youth to my favorite paddling places – young people who were on that camping trip in 2014 have paddled with me on San Francisco Bay, on the Pacific and Sea of Cortez sides of Baja CA, in Scotland, Maine, and on Lakes Michigan and Superior.
We run programming almost every day during the summer, sometimes more than one. This summer, we worked with over 260 youth, delivering over 5,000 participant hours of programming. That’s a lot of hours of pulling gear, cleaning gear, repairing gear, putting gear away, keeping track of gear… It’s also a lot of hours of email, scheduling, program planning and program debriefing. When we’re not on the water or on the rock or on the trail, or dealing with the gear and logistics to be on the water or on the rock or on the trail, we’re visiting youth in prison or the hospital. We’re attending court dates and funerals; graduations and award ceremonies. We’re trouble shooting with young people who’ve lost their housing or are trying to figure out transportation to a job interview when they don’t have money for a bus pass or to keep their phone on. We’re listening to the tragedies in our young people’s lives, and celebrating the victories. Around the edges, we’re raising money, monitoring the cash flow, trying to return emails and phone calls.
It’s rewarding work – we’re lucky to have jobs that are meaningful and help make life better for at least one person. And, by the time the summer is over, I try to get away. Because it’s also demanding, exhausting work.
This year, I got back to Grand Island. It’s in the middle of the 120 mile Hiawatha Water Trail. I learned about the trail, and got the map, on that first solo trip in 2012. Then, it didn’t occur to me to paddle the full length – a 2 night solo trip to Trout Bay, with a water spout sighting to add excitement, was plenty daring and daunting! Over the years, I got curious about it.
A few of the spots that caught my breath…
About 2 weeks ago, I realized that there was a fortuitous, and relatively unlikely, weather window just when we were closing the office for a week as summer programming ended. We got back from a camping trip on Sunday – on Monday I went grocery shopping, did laundry, re-packed clothes and food, arranged a shuttle and logistics for both ends of the trip, and headed to the UP. For 5 days and 120 miles I paddled along towering dunes, multi colored cliffs, jumbled boulders, steep cobblestone beaches and wide sandy beaches. I paddled along red sandstone, black and gray granite, and yellow sand. I paddled through sandy water murky from eroded dunes, stunningly clear turquoise, green and dark blue water, steel and bronze colored water reflecting the hazy sky, tannin-stained water gold by shore and red where small rivers meet the Lake. I saw mink and a baby snapping turtle, and several bald eagles every day. I think, for the first time in my life, I heard wolves in the wild.
Lunch spots were as good as the camping spots…
The trip was well within my abilities, but challenging nevertheless. With a 2:00 pm start the first day (it’s a long shuttle to drive first…) and about 15 miles to my first campsite, I had to average a bit over 25 miles a day after that. I’ve paddled that daily mileage and more, but not on consecutive days. It took its toll – I was really tired at the end of every single day, and moving slow every morning. I had a good weather report – south winds would provide protection for the whole trip. Coupled with clear skies, my forecast would mean safety. But on Day 4 and 5, a “chance of showers and slight chance of thunder showers” crept into the forecast. I started listening to the forecast – marine and regular – every hour to see if it was changing. Both days, the wind unexpectedly turned to the north for a while. If it stayed north and built, my protected paddle would become exposed quickly, with limited landing or camping spots. Day 4 had enough places I could land and camp, and even end the trip if I needed to; Day 5 had precious few places to land, fewer that looked like I could camp, and almost no places I could end the trip instead of hunkering down and waiting. While these were gorgeous paddling days, the stress level was higher as I constantly re-formulated plans, re-checked the weather and watched the water and sky.
The north winds settled down both days, and my original itinerary proved more than possible. By Day 5, I was pleased to find myself ready to be thinking about CAT again, making plans for next year with enthusiasm instead of beleagueredly. The most exciting of those plans is that I won’t be around next season. I will be taking a sabbatical, and 2 long-term staff will be running the organization. You can find more information about Laura Statesir and Zorbari Nwidor coming soon. (Until then, you can check out their bios on our staff page.) I’m confident about leaving the organization in their hands; and I’m pleased that CAT is organizationally ready to run without me. When I return next fall, it should allow me to return in a different role, putting the time and energy needed into several projects we’ve been dreaming about for several years now. Laura and Zorbari’s jobs will be much easier if you can help us even out our cash flow a bit by becoming a monthly donor. We are 20% of the way to our goal of 10 new monthly donors before the end of 2018.
I’ve included some photos of my trip here. For more photos, check out the Google album.
(more photos here, where you can see them better… 🙂 )
After a VERY busy summer here at CAT, I had a chance to take a short solo camping trip last week in the Upper Peninsula of Michigan. It was a GREAT trip – utterly beautiful.
For me, getting into the wilderness centers me and grounds me. It gently, almost imperceptibly pushes aside all the things that don’t matter, and reminds me of who I am. It allows me to be fully present in the moment.
That respite, that pause, that chance for worry to fall away – it helps me get back to calm after a busy, hectic, exciting, fabulous summer. And so I am reminded, also, how important that respite, that pause, that chance for worry to fall away – how important that is for our young people.
Don’t get me wrong – there was plenty of excitement, too! A solo kayak camping trip is not something to be taken lightly. The weather changes just as dramatically whether you’re solo or with a group. When it comes down to it, the Lake is in charge.
You have to know and understand the risks. You have to know your own skills and limits. You have to respect the weather and the conditions. You have to be ready to change your plans, whether you want to or not. You may well be nervous, even scared, during parts of your trip.
I had several tricky judgement calls to make. For instance – one should not paddle with water spouts! On Day 2 I paddled around a point to find a water spout front and center. I got ready to turn around and hightail it back to land – but I paused because I was mesmerized by the beauty and the awe of the water and the spout. As I watched, the water spout and the rest of its cloud moved east quickly, there was clear sky behind it to the west, and I was traveling north. I kept paddling in calm waters and the water spout eventually disappeared.
Or how about this one? You should not paddle in conditions beyond your limit. Listen to the forecast and heed it. The night before I planned to paddle out, the forecast was calling for 4-7 foot waves the next day. I like to play in those conditions with friends on a sandy beach with an unloaded boat. I do NOT paddle in those conditions solo around cliffs with a loaded boat! The conditions didn’t materialize in my sheltered bay the next day but I was concerned about north winds and the north-facing point I needed to round in order to get home. I watched, and could see that the bay had waves less than a foot high – well within my limits as a solo paddler. I could see larger waves on the horizon, but it looked like my point was still in the lee of the rest of the island. And I could see that there was a safe place for me to go where I could see around the point. I paddled out, reminding myself that if conditions warranted I MUST go back and re-set camp to paddle out two days after my planned departure, when the winds were forecast to settle down again. I got to my observation spot of the point to find a few gentle 3 foot waves – at the edge of what I’m willing to do solo, and diminishing the farther around the point I could see. I paddled out that day.
So I ended up paddling solo with water spouts one day and in a 4-7 foot forecast the next. Without the background info, I would call bad judgment if I heard about someone doing that.
But it was fabulous, it was safe, and the combination of respite and honed observation or risk had remarkably rejuvenating effects. The combination of respite, pause, a chance for worry to fall away on the one hand; and excitement, risk, careful consideration of sensory stimulation sorted through a filter of what we know about our chosen activity – this combination can get our brain working well. It can get our brain making creative connections, without the overstimulation and inability to stop that comes with chronic trauma or with other constant, unending stimulation. I won’t go into the brain chemistry and morphology involved – it’s fascinating and deeply relevant for the work we do with Chicago youth, but I won’t do it justice. My brain certainly started working better. As did my heart and my soul.
I had lots of ideas about CAT programming, about a staff retreat out here, about all sorts of stuff. What I am left with is this:
We talk a lot about the importance of respite for our young people. Providing for respite is recognized as one of the necessary components of trauma-based interventions. I think that sometimes we forget what that really means, and why it’s so important. We get caught up in making sure we’re matching the right theory with the right population; that we’ve got an effective debrief; that we’re building life skills that can be measured in order to prove we’re doing quality work with important outcomes; that we can articulate why and how we do what we do. The list of important considerations goes on and on.
What I am left with after this trip is the visceral reminder of the importance of respite.
I am home now, the cook set and other gear is washed and put away, and I have returned to find fall waiting for me. It’s a season when we do a lot of reflection and planning. We want our young people to learn to assess the risk in their lives and develop skills for managing it. We want them to be able to think critically in the midst of nervousness or fear. We want them to make good decisions. We want a lot of things for our young people!
This fall I will remember that as we carefully plan interventions that allow our young people to assess risk, to think before they act, to communicate clearly, to solve problems effectively, to develop a personal confidence they hadn’t had before – I will remember that this active part of our programming must always be balanced with respite, pause, and a chance for the worries to fall away. At its best, our programming should gently, almost imperceptibly push aside all the things that don’t matter, and allow our young people to be fully present in the moment. It should remind them of who they are.
Wishing you all a great fall, full of challenge and respite!
–Andrea Knepper, LCSW
This week I want to tell you about “Rico,” a young man in the same gang prevention group as Humberto.
- He’s got a great sense of humor, that’s frequently slightly mocking of us, the CAT staff.
- He’s really smart.
- He’s not afraid to call us out when we say something or act in a way that’s not quite right. Which is not to say that our staff is inappropriate – but when we work every day with people who live in a world pretty different from us, we sometimes say things that are offesnsive when we have no intention of doing that. I think it takes a lot of courage and poise for a young person to call out an adult in a position of authority, and to do it appropriately and with humor.
- He’s willing to try almost anything; even when it makes him nervous.
- He’s got remarkable people skills.
- He’s a natural and graceful leader – I have much that I can learn from him.
- I love his enthusiasm for the technical pieces of sea kayaking – “Rico” and I are kindred spirits when it comes to paddling.
- how he helped one of the mentors with his program on our camping trip: She was terrified of heights, to the point of tears and hyperventilation. “Rico” went back down the trail, sat with her, talked with her, and then walked back up the trail slowly right in front of her so she could watch his feet, and make it up the trail.
- how he used his own experience to encourage his peers: On the first paddling program, he challenged me about whether the life jacket would work. When I told him it would float him, he eventually told me “I don’t believe you.” He was the first to capsize that day, and flailed around a lot in the water – until he realized he was standing… The next week I asked him to help a new paddler with his life jacket. “Rico” said “You have to make it tight. Otherwise if you fall in, it’s gonna float up here (indicating his forhead) and it’s not gonna help you. And you have to stay still. If you move around it’s gonna get in your way. You have to be still and it will work.”
- how he worked hard to get his roll: He was scared to put his face in the water; but ended the summer so close to a roll that all the help he needed was a slight push on the boat with one finger. (If you don’t know what a roll is – it’s when you sit in a kayak, turn it upside down, and then bring it right side up again while you’re in it. It’s not in fact difficult to do, but it can be very difficult to learn.)
- how he calls it as he sees it: I was a little bit surprised when he told me that at the beginning of the summer I “talked like a rich person” but that now I talked “more normal.” I was surprised again when I called out one of his peers for mocking us, thinking we weren’t getting it, during a serious discussion. “Rico” grinned and said “you’re starting to understand us.”
The whole group did a great job with these goals, and Michael and Jeremy were no exception. I especially appreciated their willingness to help that first afternoon. I had never kayaked before, and was learning some basic skills- paddle strokes, maneuvering, wet exits, and my favorite: the cowboy self-rescue. All 5 youth had experience paddling, so each helped me learn what I needed to know out on the water.
I especially remember Michael and Jeremy helping me learn the cowboy reentry. If you aren’t familiar, this self rescue has the paddler re-enter their boat by ‘swimming’ up onto the deck, scooting around until she’s straddling it, and then pulling herself forward until she can sit herself back into the cockpit. Not only did I need help learning the steps- which the brothers patiently led me through- I also needed help finding the motivation to jump into the chilly water. They were pretty convincing, and pretty funny, as they tried to come up with reasons for me to jump in. Alas, I took the cold plunge and didn’t regret it!
The rest of the weekend was challenging, fun, and pretty impressive. On the first night, we weathered a nasty storm, which blew over 2 tents, a pop- up, and had us all outside at 3am, reconfiguring sleeping arrangements. Our youth were pros, though, and dutifully helped come up with a plan to get everyone dry, warm, and back to sleep.
When we wrapped up the weekend of kayaking and climbing over pancakes and bacon on Sunday morning, we asked each of the youth what they would take away from this experience, with an emphasis on what they learned about leadership. Michael and Jeremy both chimed in with thoughts about always having a Plan B, having the skills to adapt to a new situation, and being able to help a group reach its goals.
As a clinician, I would say all 5 of these youth already had the skills they needed to make the trip a success. I think, though, what the trip really did for each, especially for the two young men, was give them a new experience in an emotionally safe environment, where they could practice those skills around a group that completely understood and believed in their ability to step up. They weren’t out there to prove to Andrea and me that they could be strong leaders, they were out there to prove it to themselves. And once they did, they were ready to go back home, with some pretty great stories to share, and fit those skills into their every day existence.
— Grace Sutherland, MSW
*names have been changed for confidentiality purposes