We began hiking as the sun was going down one Friday evening. The tall pine-filled woods brought back sweet memories from trips past. Such memories reminded me that this night would also be etched in my mind for years to come.
With headlights illuminating the path in-front of us, the “vets” (kids with camping experience) were ready to show the “newbies” (kids who had no such experience) how it was done. As bats swooped overhead, we marched forward and I curiously listened to the trail talk. The majority of the stories these kids were excitedly reliving with each other were from previous ‘Adventure Crew’ trips! I caught a glimpse of the impact these trips have on our students. While it might be statistically immeasurable, that moment reminded me that this work is good.
After a brief hike into the night, we arrived at our first campsite location. The type of backpacking Adventure Crew practices is called ultra-light backpacking. We sacrifice some comforts while utilizing gear that minimizes the weight we carry. For example, we use open tarps in place of tents as protection from the rain. Unfortunately, tarps aren’t much of a shield against bugs . . . At our campsite the vets showed the newbies how to set up camp while I gathered wood for the fire—pita pizzas for dinner.
Taking a kid into the woods for the first time is a magical experience. Their sense of wonder refreshes my own, and reveals how unimpressed I have become by truly amazing things. Ty Thomas found a tree covered in thick neon green fungal pattern that entranced the kids for a full five minutes. Their headlights later illuminated glowing crawfish eyes in the stream—the shells of these freshwater crawfish were so thin you could see their hearts beating. Science class was in session and the kids didn’t even know it!
How many times have I arrived at a campsite thinking about resting or reading a new book? The wonder of these young people was inspiring and fueled a sense of worship as we beheld such beauty together. Seeing the world through the eyes of a child can help bring our hearts closer to wonder and glory! The more of this gospel-work I am a part of, the more I wonder who is impacted more, me or the kids?
Another highlight of the night was learning the “Big Foot” call. Kevin Thomas had practiced for weeks in anticipation of his first trip. Quite the expert after hours of documentaries chronicling the Sasquatch, Kevin assured us there were no Sasquatches nearby because they would have certainly responded to his call. His expertise in the matter helped everyone sleep a little sounder that first night.
As the morning water boiled we shared breakfast, scripture, and student-led prayers of thanks and provision. Our goal for the day was to hike the Kincade Lake Loop before turning back toward our first campsite. This loop wasn’t going to be easy—totaling thirteen miles with many hours between our feet and the rewarding swim hole awaiting us at mile nine.
Each turn on that looped trail brought in a new view of the lake’s expanse. Families of turtles piled on logs sunbathing would quickly jump into the water as we approached. We surprised wood ducks, egrets, and even two deer that flagged us with their white tails as they leapt from the path. We were nearly halfway through our day’s mileage when Kristina and I marveled at the maturity level of our team. Even though the long hike was grueling, the attitude of the group stayed incredibly positive.
Arriving at the swim hole meant a well-deserved break for lunch and rest. It seemed as though we hadn’t eaten in days as we all eyed the sausage and cheese, ready to leap on our portion. The younger boys explored after lunch, sure they spotted alligator and bear tracks in the sand by the lake.
The final push was a gut check for the team. We finished the hike with under an hour of daylight left. With one night under their belts, the crew knew what was expected and set up camp with very little support from the adults. Trevon Eaglin and I prepared a gourmet meal of chicken, pasta, and mashed potatoes. The pots didn’t need much cleaning after dinner that night after being literally licked clean (with a finger)! Even after such an exhausting day, the kids still didn’t want to turn out the lights . . . I guess a few years have finally snuck up on me.
Sunday morning found us pushing to eat breakfast and pack up camp in under thirty minutes. We managed to make it back to HFO, sort out the gear, snack on some boudin and cracklins and still make it to church on time.
These training excursions help prepare the kids’ expectations as we head out on longer and longer trips. After two preliminary ventures into Kisatchie Forest, we will tackle an intermediate trip spanning four days and over twenty miles of the Eagle Rock Loop Trail in Arkansas. These tracks serve as preparation for our return trip to Durango, CO this summer to finish the trail we began over two years ago. This will be six days, five nights, and over thirty-five miles in the Rocky Mountain wilderness—an undoubtedly “epic” adventure!
Like everything we do at HFO, Adventure Crew is another opportunity to walk beside our students. We set big goals, and then prayerfully and lovingly push towards these goals. Seems like a simple strategy, but it’s difficult to accomplish. We often complicate ministry, but this simplicity helps keep our priorities straight—“love changes everything.” The mountains we climb on Adventure Crew will hopefully help the kids see the adverse and figurative mountains of education, difficult home lives, and personal struggles differently. Not as impossible obstacles to accept, but as just another hill to climb as they press on to where the view gets even sweeter.
Please pray for our Adventure Crew. If you would like to sponsor a student in this program, head to our donation page for more information.