With eight days’ worth of miles under their belts, the crews have now developed their own insider jokes hilarious to them and opaque to the rest of us. They are goofing around and are fast friends with students they simply wouldn’t have had the chance to get to know at school. They are surprising themselves with their own abilities, be they hard skills like building a shelter or cooking a meal, or soft ones like providing support for a peer who is having a bad day.
You might wonder how I know such details about the hikers. Most of what I know about them comes from my experience leading the Expedition, not from phone calls from the crews. As I shared in my update from day 2, the actual information I have is restricted by the limitations of the satellite phones. I know where each group is, and have a general sense of how they are doing from a set of code words that the instructors choose from when they call, and if there is something they are worried about I hear about that. What I don’t hear is the stuff that I (and you) really want to know: if your child is doing a good job of cooking, how they are sleeping at night, and whether they have seen any shooting stars. I wish I had more to share now, but I predict from experience that the stories will pour from our hikers when they return to us. We might have trouble getting them to stop talking!
The telling of those stories is a big part of the learning process. One of the characteristics of experiential education (learning achieved by doing rather than by studying) is that it is easily lost if not properly processed. The best way to process a big experience like the Expedition is to talk about it to an interested person who wasn’t on the trip. Gathering ten days worth of experiences into a narrative helps the hikers to identify themes of their trip, parallels between who they were in the woods, who they are at home and at school, and who they want to be at home and at school, and to draw lessons or morals from their experience. If this processing is not completed, the lessons tend to be lost. We find that the sophomores do the verbal processing during the trip quite naturally by talking to each other, but our instructors also emphasize it more formally through nightly debriefs. The debriefs are group discussions guided by the Instructor with the goal of helping students through three basic questions: what happened today, what did it mean, and what does that add to my plan for my future (a.k.a. what, so what, and now what). Putting an experience into words makes it more real, and makes the lessons from the experience lasting. Journaling accomplishes the same thing, and I suspect that art making would as well. Some sophomores really take to journaling and value it as a life-long habit.
The last full day of the Expedition is a bit bittersweet. Each instructor will be sure to spend time with his or her crew in a discussion about what they learned (we are teachers, after all), and what the Expedition meant to them. It is wonderful to hear what the sophomores appreciated about the trip and each other, what fears they had that were silly, what fears they had that weren’t, and what changes they plan to make in their lives after the trip. The instructors will also talk about how to handle the transition from the woods to civilization.
It took the Expeditioners ten days to get used to being in the woods, and it may take a while to adjust to being in civilization. I remember being shocked by the variety of colors and smells in the grocery store, very different from the consistent gentle greens and browns of the woods. People who have just returned from the woods may tend to walk away from a sink without turning off the water, because they hadn’t turned off the creeks in the woods. They may be unused to sleeping alone in a room, having been in the constant company of their crew for the past ten days. Life without a crew can seem lonely at first. As I mentioned earlier, our hikers will probably also have lots of stories to tell!
Although the meals they eat on the Expedition are nutritious and energy-providing, they lack variety, including no meat and no fresh fruits and vegetables. Our friends returning from the woods may crave foods that are unusual for them, and may eat more than usual for a few days. All of this is normal and appropriate, and in general they should obey those cravings for a few days. The exception is that they should be wary of eating too much meat or greasy foods, as their stomachs have become unused to such things and it is best to ease back into that sort of food. The sophomore who heads straight to In-and-Out for fries and a 3-by-3 burger (three meat patties and three slices of cheese–eww) is likely to be uncomfortable later.
Hikers will be warned by the instructors that those living with the hikers who might have an allergy to poison oak should be aware that they and everything that went into the woods with them are likely to be covered with the sticky oil (urishiol) that poison oak oozes and which is responsible for raising nasty rashes on a good portion of the population. A good way to remove urishiol from the skin is with cold running water. A better way is with cold running water and a washcloth, and the best way is with cold running water, a washcloth, and either Dawn dish soap or Tecnu, a product that can be found in pharmacies. Laundry can be done in hot water, and other gear should be hosed down or even washed, again with cold water if using ungloved hands to do the washing. The combination to avoid is warm or hot water, skin, and urishiol, because the warm water opens pores and allows the urishiol deep into the skin. Sleeping bags can be washed in a front-loading machine on gentle cycle, with little soap. The instructors will suggest to the hikers that they start their first shower with a few minutes of cool water before the luxury of hot. If no one in the hiker’s household is allergic to poison oak then the hiker and gear can be treated as merely dirty rather than dangerous.
During the trip the instructors have asked the hikers to do regular tick checks on themselves, and will explain that after that first shower each they should take advantage of their bathroom mirrors to do a thorough check for any ticks that might have escaped detection. There are a few ticks in Henry Coe that carry Lyme disease, although fewer than in other areas of the country thanks to the Western Fence Lizard. Lyme disease presents with a bulls-eye rash around the tick bite and flu-like symptoms early on but later becomes much more difficult to detect and treat. If a hiker develops those symptoms in the next week or so, let a doctor know that he or she has been out in the woods and may have had a tick bite.
Finally, the instructors will explain a bit about how tomorrow will work. The crews will all gather together in one place to clean up gear and have a final meeting. Then the sophomores will head back to Douglas Hall at school, while the instructors and coleaders stay behind to have a wrap-up meeting. The instructors and coleaders will be out of touch for most of the afternoon.
Our best guess is that the sophomores will be back at school between 1:00 pm and 2:00 pm tomorrow (Thursday), but that is an estimate and may not be perfectly accurate. Watch this blog tomorrow for a better estimate, and I’ll also send a text to those parents/guardians with US cell phone numbers. I will post a better estimate of the arrival time about half an hour or an hour before they return to school. School employees will be on hand to let the residents into their dorm rooms to unpack from the Expedition, shower, and repack for the summer.
The coleaders and instructors will be ready to be picked up later in the afternoon on Thursday, perhaps around 3:00 or 4:00 pm. They should be available for the morning and early afternoon of Friday to help with cleaning and stowing the school-owned gear. They will be able to contact you themselves with an updated pickup time.
I’ll share some pictures of sunsets from previous Expeditions below. When I look at these I hear Taps in my head from childhood scouting experiences.