In mid August, I had the privilege of taking a group of four 13 and 14-year-olds on a week-long expedition through the Appalachian mountains of Virginia, West Virginia, Maryland, and Pennsylvania. Going into the week, I aspired to be a good role model for the kids, to encourage them to be themselves, and to foster in them a deeper appreciation for the outdoors. But as I became caught up in adult responsibilities, it was easy to forget to live simply and to fail to practice what we preach. After spending some time with a younger group, I was able to relearn lessons as valuable as those I hoped to pass on.
Exploring Rock City at Cooper’s Rock State Forest, WV.
We started off the week with an afternoon of team building, where the goal was to cultivate individual and group teamwork skills. With the very first activity, my campers said it was important to trust each other: trust that your teammates would pull their weight, that they are as capable as you, and that they would have your back when needed.
This stayed in the back of my mind throughout the week, and I continuously questioned myself to see if I was trusting and treating them as the capable, young outdoorsmen and women that they are. They were more than happy to wander around the campgrounds, wade in rivers, and climb around on rocks without me hovering over their shoulders like a helicopter counselor. Still, I found myself thinking: is that boulder really safe? Should I be worried about them burning themselves on the stove? Do I need to watch them cross the river? As the week went on, I realized these questions were practical, but unfounded.
Exploring behind Cucumber Falls in Ohiopyle State Park, PA.
At my camp we preach “Challenge By Choice,” which is a way of saying we encourage individuals to push themselves out of their comfort zones in order to have new, rewarding, and mind-opening experiences. This applied to everything we did on our trip, whether it was rock climbing for the first time outdoors or setting up a tent by yourself.
Over the week, I was reminded that I needed to get outside my comfort zone, too. I needed to create an environment of “Challenge by Choice” for my campers by choosing to challenge myself first. I needed to face my worries and understand that I am as much a part of the team as all of them. Despite my hesitation, my campers constantly reminded me that you should go farther, you should explore new locations, you should take more risks. In doing so, you become more confident in and more connected to nature; you are able to develop kinship with places and with your team, leading to deeper and fuller experiences that are the seeds of personal growth.
By trusting yourself and your group, you begin to cultivate a simple, genuine engagement with the natural world. Thanks to my campers, I was able to reflect on my mindset as a leader and more importantly, relearn how we should connect to nature and each other.
Climbing at Cooper’s Rock.
Raven’s Rock hike at Cooper’s Rock State Forest.
I’m a South Florida girl who loves rock climbing and hiking as much as the ocean, and I’m always seeking new ways to connect to places and people. You can follow my adventures on Instagram.
Cover photo by Terah Brook.
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