It’s an overcast afternoon, raining off and on, and much chillier than I’d expect in mid-July. Clouds are swirling around us, moving quickly to and fro on the strong breeze. Regardless of the weather, the beauty of this area, the Roan Highlands, is breathtaking. Our X-Craft group is made up of three instructors and ten 13-15 year olds, and on our backs we’re carrying everything we need for a three day journey on the Appalachian Trail. This crew is impressive, remaining positive despite being a bit soggy.
We round a bend in the trail and are greeted with a spectacular view of Hump Mountain in the distance, standing at 5587 feet. This area is a treeless, wide-open bald, affording a clear view of the trail ahead of us. Being able to see where we’re going is equal parts exciting and daunting, and something rarely experienced in the heavily wooded seasonal rainforests of the southern Appalachians. As the kids look toward the climb ahead of them, many of their faces drop. The ascent is tough – nearly a mile of steep terrain, which will undoubtedly be made more difficult by wind and drizzle. Head’s down, they push on, excited by the promise of a peanut butter and jelly lunch on the summit.
As we’re hiking later on, one of the campers mentions that the climb up Hump Mountain really wasn’t so bad; that it only looked intimidating from the bottom. Another camper states that she can’t believe we’ve already walked six miles today, and that after this trip running a couple miles at home every day won’t seem so hard. A couple others agree that hiking in the rain isn’t as miserable as they’d expected. As we debrief the day around a roaring fire hours later, they’ll say that they actually kind of enjoyed it.
These conversations were organic; not facilitated by instructors or forced in any way. On their own, our group’s perspective shifted. They realized that if they could do this (and do it well), that the difficult things they face at home aren’t necessarily as hard as they thought. Or, as a camper pointed out, maybe they are really hard, but they have the ability and confidence to succeed in tough situations.
Listening to our campers discuss perspective with their peers made me want to do cartwheels down the trail. It’s these exact conversations that have made me passionate about taking people into the wilderness on professional and personal trips alike. These are the things I’ve learned (and continue to learn) when I venture into the wild. Witnessing others discover them on their own is nothing short of magical.
Our Session 2 campers have returned to their respective homes now, but I have faith that many of the things they discovered about themselves over the past three weeks will stick with them well beyond these hot summer days. A new crew of young people has settled into this home on Hart Road, eager to learn and grow in the shadows of the wise, old mountains that surround us. Three weeks of magic await them, and hopefully they’ll return home with a fresh perspective of all they’re capable of.