In the days leading up to my first adventure crew trip, I began doing my typical pre-trip research. Yet, the more I read about Swamp Base, the more pictures I saw, the more questions I asked, and the hotter the Louisiana summer got left me deeply pondering “What the heck did you get yourself into Woods?” I’m not really a big fan of the outdoors, I tend to have a few germaphobic tendencies, not to mention how truly out of shape I am — I started contemplating loopholes in my commitment. Alas, considering character traits I hope to stand by, backing out wasn’t an option.
When we arrived at the University of Louisiana at Lafayette to begin the training portion of our trail, I had the pleasure of meeting a few members of a boy scout troop that had just completed the adventure. The first three, a man and two teenage boys (whom were all caucasian) happened to share their semi-rosy picture of their journey. Just before I fully regained confidence in my ability to complete this excursion, I met a middle-aged physically fit African American male who had also just returned from Swamp Base.
I’m sitting in the lobby with my gear, waiting for the rest of my team to arrive for our final meeting of the night when the man approached me. Looking at my two packs, he began pleading with me to lighten my load before we left out early the next morning. “If I were you, I’d drop that big bag and condense everything you have into that little bag (aka turn 60lbs of gear to 20lbs). With that much stuff, your canoe is going to sink. There’s no way you can paddle with that much weight. I had half your gear and my son and I could barely move. But if you're anything like my wife (which I must be), you're not going to listen (I absolutely did not), and you’ll regret it in the morning (I did eventually regret not packing an extra pair of shorts).”
With sweaty palms and the taste of fear climbing up my throat, I asked him about his experience. He said with a sincere look of disgust masked on his face, “It was the hardest thing I’ve ever done in my life! I barely made it out. I begged the medical team to take me off, but they refused. We even had an ex-marine with our group and he struggled the whole time. If there’s anyway to get out of going, I’d suggest you do that now”. As he was expressing his final sentiments, our students began exiting the elevator. The slender man took one look at my team and chuckled “That’s who you’re going with? This kind of stuff isn’t made for us (black people), this is white people [insert explicative]”. And with his final words ringing loudly in the back of my head, he got on the elevator my crew just exited and went on his way.
Fast forward four days and five nights and we are heading into our final day of the trail. By this time, I’ve managed to get sick and experienced way more mosquito bites than I thought were possible being drenched in 30% deet; however, the pride in my-scratch that- our accomplishments deeply outweighed the pain we were currently experiencing. Our crew, the urban outreach group from Opelousas have been dominating the trail. The number of times we had to stop to swim, nap, and hang out in the shade due to being so far ahead of schedule became ambition to continue paddling harder. We were our own competition. Storms, waves, heat, nor winds could stop our drive. Everyday we worked harder than the day before. I watched our group encourage and support one another. We suffered together. But, we also rejoiced together. Our community grew on that trail, and our confidence followed.
Finally, we reached our goal. 61.6 miles under our belt, and the right to shout “We conquered the Swamp!” As we returned to the room that I had that awkward encounter just five days prior for our badge ceremony, I shared the story with our team of the man who didn’t believe. On that day, (thirteen) African American young people “Conquered the Swamp”. This was a group that looked incapable to many. An urban outreach group that many had low expectations of. Some who worried we’d possibly be the worst group to take the trail. I’m so grateful that the cowardly man came to speak to me on our first day of Swamp Base, because he afforded me the opportunity to share with our kids a real life example of the fault in judging a book by its cover. I hope our team learned that some will say because of their life circumstances, lack of money, schools they attend, neighborhoods they live in, whatever cards they've been dealt, they cannot achieve success; but so long as they have an understanding that suffering will happen, quitting is not an option, and live with a mindset for victory, they can challenge those stereotypes and dismantle negative opinions of them by proving some of the best novels ever written have broken covers.