This summer I went on two trips with Big City Mountaineers. This organization takes urban teenagers on outdoor wilderness trips. BCM partners with agencies in urban areas such as non-profits or social service agencies, and then 5 youth and one adult youth leader from the agency (who works with those students all year) go on a BCM trip along with 2 or 3 adult volunteers and a team guide/leader. All the trips have a pretty even number of youth and adults to promote adult mentoring of the youth. The trips are designed for teambuilding, leadership development, personal growth, mentoring, and achieving goals.
I went on my first trip in late June with the girls from the agency that I worked for in Chicago, Christopher House. We took 5 girls, some of my favorites. We spent 8 days in the Boundary Water Canoe Area in northern Minnesota. We spent our days out in the wilderness canoing and portaging all day and camping at night. We did a 35 mile route together and the girls did amazing. It was so peaceful and beautiful (and INCREDIBLY buggy!) It will probably be the thing I remember most from my Americorps year and was a great way to end my year spending some time with our students.
I just got back last week from my second BCM trip of the summer. After loving my first trip so much I called the BCM office and asked them to put me on the volunteer list. They actually had spots for trips late in summer so I signed up for a backpacking trip with youth out of Oakland, CA. We went to the Ansel Adams wilderness, a wilderness area bordering the southeast end of Yosemite National Park. I actually climbed a peak during the trip and snuck 20 feet into Yosemite and back out. It was a great time learning more about backpacking and meeting some amazing people.
I spent almost half of this summer on camping/backpacking trips, but I think these two have been absolutely amazing experiences. Of course they are really about the students but I felt like I learned so much about myself on these trips. Just a further appreciation of the wilderness, of living simply, of opening up my life to new people and new experiences, of the amazing feeling you get when you accomplish something that scared you. After seeing how transforming and communal these trips can be I have been spending a lot of time thinking about how they fit into my life. Do I want to incorporate wilderness trips into my future ministries with youth? Do I want to become an outdoor youth wilderness leader? Or will this just become a big part of my own life? I feel like this part of my summer has not only refreshed me but has started a lifelong commitment to spending time in the wilderness… exciting stuff!