Tuesday, July 19, 2011

This one time, in Lake Tahoe...

It actually began on the Saturday, with biking around Lake Tahoe.
The older group started in the morning, and everything went smoothly. After lunch, the younger group was supposed to arrive, but they showed up more than an hour late- several with faces or shorts covered in the icecream they had been eating earlier.
As they were getting set up on their bikes, one of the students muttered "I'm not sure about this, I haven't ridden a bike in a really long time." A quick test-run proved this to be true and he was so uneasy that it seemed the best option would be for him to ride tandem with one of the leaders.
As he was getting set-up on the extra-long bike, I announced to a few other students that I had never ridden tandem and it looked really fun and I wanted to try it some time.
Five minutes later, another student started off for his test-run and promptly crashed into a nearly stationary bicycle- blaming the other person, of course. He tried again, but it was clear he could not even make it down a slight hill on his own. The third and last student to set off refused to put his feet on the pedals, but kept them extended so they would catch him each time he lost his balance and began to tip over- which was pretty much the entire time. Three students needed to ride tandem, and there were only two leaders.
I got to ride a tandem bicycle!
It was a really good work out- as I had to pedal for two and balance a long bike with a wiggly little boy at the back. He was not happy to have to ride with someone else and decided to 'get back at me', as he said, by kicking the pedals off sync while I was pedalling. He said that he wanted to make us crash.
A little while later, he got into the spirit of things and wanted to help pedal and wanted us to ride faster and race the other students. He became so enthusiastic that he demanded we go faster down hill and began whipping his handlebars back and forth in frustration- the same handlebars that were connected to my seat; causing me to be jerked to the right and then jerked to the left, all while trying not to crash the long bike as we sped downhill. I quickly brought the entire bike to a halt, we lost the race, but soon my young partner was using the word 'please' and not doing anything else that might result in us crashing.
After our experience with the biking, we decided that this group may need a little extra help when backpacking the next day. We grabbed some food for lunch, and packed a few extra items and hit the trail wtih the younger group.
The student that I had been biking with the previous day believed that he had th heaviest pack (one of the leaders' packs weighed about 60 pounds or more- the heaviest student backpack was 15 pounds) and did not want to hike. He would stop, he would scream, he would run ahead and then slow down. I went to switch up with the other staff who was hiking with him, so he wouldn't lose his mind. When I met up with them, the student was crying. Yes, literally crying/moaning/wailing/big tears/exaggerated breaths and all. Other hikers came upon us and passed seven smiling, joking, singing-even rapping- students, and then finally, the last who was crying as if he were being tormented. However, when he cried, he continued to hike. When he stopped crying, he also stopped walking and would sit down- and he was very hard to get back on his feet again after he sat. So he cried and hiked.
A while later, I was the staff walking with him again. He had since stopped crying, but complained of feeling tired (probably more from crying than any other activity) and then began to complain about his dad- how dare his father make him come to this camp and miss the opening of the newest Harry Potter film? Curses toward his father flew out of his mouth- he continued to get more and more angry. And then, his anger turned towards the mountain and he would declare all of the ways he would destroy the mountain- dynamite his favored method. However, the angrier he became the more he would stomp- and the faster his pace. Through his anger he hiked further and faster than he had all day. Soon, we were at the highest point and I paused him, told him to look around. He grudgingly admitted that this was the first time he had hiked a mountain, and maybe, he was a little, just a little, proud of himself.
The seven other students, who had not been model students throughout this trip, during this hike transformed into encouraging, positive students- always praising and offering to help the slower, angry student. Each one of them said something positive to him and clapped when he came into camp. While it made not have been a shining day for him, I was able to see alot of maturity and progress in the other students during the hike.
We were not prepared for the 5 mile hike to take 6 and a half hours. It was well past dinner time and I had no more food. My staff partner opted to spend the night in the woods, eating his stash of almonds as dinner. I chose to hike out.
So, starting at 9:00 pm, I started my five-mile hike out of the Desolation Wilderness, using the light of my flashlight to light the way. It was a strangely creepy and empowering feeling to hike at night, in the dark. Too many boulders were imaginary bears and the wind was a thousand different animals scurrying in the trees. But when I reached the trail, I was so proud of myself and glad that I had decided to hike out. It only took me an hour and a half to hike back.
I got in the van, quickly ate a granola bar and headed to the campsite to check-in. I arrived at the gate and scanned the clipboards with the names of late-checkins, but nowhere on the list was our group. I shrugged my shoulders and decided I would just head to the site, and if I was hassled in the morning I would show them my reservation and confirmation number. When I rolled up to the campsite, I was surprised to see a trailer, boat and jeep parked in the parking spot. The jeep portrayed a vehicle pass- matching the date and site number. They were in the right spot, and now I had no campsite.

I sighed, and drove across the street to the free beach and parked there for the night. I cleared off a bench and laid down to sleep in the van. I called my husband to lement the trials of my day to him, but he quickly informed me that he had an equally crappy day: our car had broken down on the highway on his way back from Calgary (a three hour drive). Bad day for both of us.
I woke early, to the sun brightly shining on me. I treated myself to a McDonald's breakfast and free internet before I headed back to the campsite; where a ranger confirmed to me that our reservation had been canceled. Apparently, our program had selected some of the wrong dates for that section and had done a sweeping cancel of all sites- including ours.
My partner would have to spend another night out in the woods with the groups, so I loaded up food for lunch, dinner and breakfast the next morning, my trusty hammock for sleeping in, and headed back on the trail.

I was the first person on the trail at that time, and it was a beautiful, cloudless, blue-skied, warm morning. I set off and my mind started running. I got so focused on my thoughts that I missed the branch-off trail and ended up almost walking right into a river. Wait! We didn't get to the river so soon yesterday. Wait... where was I? Oh, there's the trail. No. that ends at a dead end in the middle of the woods. Is that the trail? Oh... no, it's too steep, we didn't climb that with the kids. I tried to back-track, and was still lost and confused. I followed a little path that narrowed and shortened and soon, after spotting some fresh bear tracks, I looked around and confirmed I was heading into bear habitat and that it was an animal trail, not a man-made one. Then I decided to just follow the river. I remember that yesterday, we had crossed the river on a small, simple bridge. If I followed the river for long enough, I would reach this bridge and therefore, the trail.
I hiked for nearly an hour and a half- finally finding an old path for maintaining some sort of pipe system connected to the river, and kept the river to my right and praying, asking God to point out the way to go. At one point, a small pine tree seemed to stand out as a beacon, so I hiked up through some thick sage brush, scraping up my legs to the pine tree. I stood on a large boulder near the tree, and suddenly- up, to my left I spotted a turn in a distinct trail! (Thanks, God!)
Fifteen minutes later, I came upon the bridge and river crossing. Just after crossing, I looked down to a granola bar promising to be cherry-pie flavored, still in the wrapper, warming in the sun. I picked it up and pretended I was eating warm cherry pie as I celebrated finding the trail (Thanks again, God!). I finished the hike in about three hours, laughing to myself that I found my way in the dark, but somehow got lost in the day light.
I met my partner on the trail, near where the group had camped for the night and told him the bad news first- we had no campsite.
And then I told him I had food- and he feasted on crackers and cheese (compared to his breakfast of a chocolate bar that morning).

I had a wonderful night- chicken burritos, a beautiful, clear lake, sleeping under the stars and an incredibly bright moon. In the morning, I woke up and climbed a few boulders to view the lake, sitting in the warm morning sun, fushia-colored flowers bobbing in the wind beside me and all I could do was smile. It was going to be a good day.

And that is my story of the time that I hiked five miles in the middle of the night out of Desolation Wilderness and ended up having to sleep in a van by the beach at Lake Tahoe. The only animal I saw that night was a deer- while I was driving!

Sunday, July 10, 2011

Hard at work.

I'm sitting in the Monterey Visitor's Center, taking advantage of their free internet and complimentary computer. For the past 6 hours I have:
taken a short nap in the van,
talked to my mother on the phone for nearly an hour,
did my devotions,
journaled until my hand nearly cramped up,
ate a little lunch
and then strolled the Monterey Wharf.
It was crowded, being a Sunday and I had to push past crowds of tourists with matching souvenir hats and parents with bulky strollers in the shops and in the candy stores. It's a hard life, I know.
I have to (yes, it's required) to spend the day in Monterey while the groups tour the Monterey Bay Aquarium, I did see them briefly when I passed them off their tickets. And if there are any problems- behavioral or medical, I'll be only a phone call and 2 minutes away. But, since there have been no problems, I have had a wonderful, easy day.
After lunch I:
I bought loads of salt water taffy
Wrote a few postcards and addressed them
Got an original TollHouse chocolate chip cookie fresh from the oven (wonderful!)
and found more flag patches to add to my backpack: Haiti, Cuba and Kenya.

Really? This is my job? I am getting paid to just walk around?
If it had been a sunny, warm day I would have worked a little harder: walked down to the Monterey beach and tanned for a while. I know, it's a hard life I live.

Biruk came to visit me and we spent three wonderful days together in San Francisco- so good that they deserve their own blog, which will come later.