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A Summer Out West

By Brantley Sanders ’19
“I believe that courage is all too often mistakenly seen as the absence of fear. If you descend by ropes from a cliff and are not fearful to some degree, you are either crazy or unaware. Courage is seeing your fear, in a realistic perspective, defining it, considering alternatives, and choosing to function in spite of risks.”
-Leonard Zunin

I walked into the backcountry in Southwestern Colorado followed by a dozen thirteen-year-olds who were dwarfed by the size of their large packs. Most of them had never been camping before, and all were extremely nervous about what the next four days would entail. We started off into the San Juan mountain range on a trail surrounded by Aspen trees. The day was beautiful, but the group quickly lost steam. One kid used his inhaler five minutes in. I was full of assurances to the group that this would be the greatest days of their lives, but I was getting nervous that things were not going to go so smoothly. 

Little things kept going wrong, and by the time we reached our campsite for the night, I was left alone by the other two leaders on my trip with all of the kids to make dinner, supervise the set up of tents, and dismiss any fears of sleeping in the woods. Needless to say, this was the most stressful night of my life. None of our camping stoves were working, no tents were up before it got dark, and I myself was nervous about sleeping in the woods. 
Thankfully, the next few days in the backcountry went much more smoothly, but there was still one kid who was really falling behind. The one who used his inhaler at the beginning of our hike. He hated backpacking. We put him at the front of the group and he slowed everyone down. We put him at the back and he lagged behind. We were surrounded by wildflowers and snow-capped mountains, but the only thing he could focus on was how heavy his backpack was and how much he didn’t like peanut butter. Nevertheless, the rest of the group had an incredible time and bonded closely together, in a way that can only happen in the woods completely cut off from the rest of the world. 
As we were hiking out of the backcountry, something changed. The boy who had been struggling all along started singing. Then he started encouraging the other kids in the group. The change was like night and day.
Over this past summer, I led three two-week camping trips in the Southwest corner of Colorado for Moondance Adventures. We drove a big white van full of kids from the Great Sand Dunes National Park to the Arkansas River to the San Juan National Forest. Everywhere we went was full of new surprises from kids who began to see themselves as leaders and from the beautiful world around us. I’ve always loved the outdoors but was by no means a seasoned camper before this summer. Living outside for a few months allowed me to gain a new perspective and confidence for life in the real world.