The Hero’s Journey
Over 45 years ago, in 1973, Helen Waite led the first Eagle’s Nest Hante Adventure when she took a group of scrappy teenagers on a 10-day trek on the Appalachian Trail. Participants on that trip hiked 100 miles across ridgelines and valleys from Rock Gap to Clingman’s Dome, North Carolina. They lived simply, carrying everything they needed on their backs and creating a tight-knight community within their group as they hiked the spine of the Appalachians. Since that summer, Hante Adventures has taken participants on nearly every mile of that 2,181-mile footpath. We consider it to be a “Hero’s Journey” that challenges teens, connects them to each other and the group, and supports them as they achieve successes that will carry them forward as they meet future challenges.
When I first started working at Eagle’s Nest a framed photo of the first AT Trek hung just inside the door of our office. In it the participants are wearing big clunky hiking boots and thick socks and are gathered around a campfire, cooking dinner with their external frame backpacks nearby. They look a little disheveled and dirty, but so happy and confident. I wanted to be one of the teens in that photo as I imagined the adventure that they were on.
In the summers since I first saw that photo I’ve been able to witness the profound affect that Hante Adventures have on teens. I have seen it first hand as leader of Hante AT Trek, helping campers shoulder heavy packs and to “dig deep” when they feel that they can’t take another step. I’ve seen it in the joy on participants’ faces as they return home to camp to be celebrated for completing their “Hero’s Journey”. Countless teens, including my own, have told me that Hante was “life changing” for them. Many have even written college essays about the experience. Hante gives teens the opportunity to take on personal challenges and push themselves harder than they have before – be it learning how to keep hiking when they are tired or practicing how to resolve a conflict with a peer, or learning wilderness skills that help them build a deeper connection with the natural world.
Over the years I’ve saved many of the messages that Hante alums have sent to me. The following speaks to the value of this experience for teens as they navigate their way through middle and high school towards adulthood:
Sometimes the challenge is setting up a campsite in the dark, or even striking up a conversation with that one kid in the group who’s not quite as out-going as everyone else and needs a little extra help opening up to everybody. There are two things that all of these obstacles have in common: One – all of these obstacles are conquerable with the help of Eagle’s Nests spectacular instructors and your peers, and Two – there’s not a feeling in the world as satisfying as completing these challenges. They will make you grow as a person in ways you might not even realize.
I can say from personal experience that I’ve grown a lot on Hante. Hante teaches you to be held accountable for your own actions and the actions of your group members in ways that aren’t able to be taught in a classroom.
By Paige Lester-Niles