For this blog, we asked RLT Director Jim Stein to reflect on his first summer spent traveling and how that faithful summer led to the so many things, not least of all The Road Less Traveled! Enjoy and thanks Jim for sharing.
Picture this – a skinny kid, showing some promise as an athlete but still painfully shy and extremely sensitive without any semblance of who I was or someday wanted to be. This was me, Jim Stein, in the run up to the summer between my sophomore and junior years in high school. I’d grown up in the suburbs, going to resident camp in Maine, and even though I was admittedly a bit lost, I was smart enough to realize that I wanted something different. When Nelson Weiters, founder of Man and His Land, came to my house and shared a video with my family of his students backpacking, swimming in waterfalls and climbing the famed Mt. Rainier, I stood straight up and said I wanted to go. Thankfully my parents were on board!
So I set off on – no overstatement here – the summer of a lifetime. For 9 weeks we traveled the great American West, including all of Rocky Mountain National Park, traversing Havasupai Canyon in Arizona, summiting Washington’s Mount Rainier, and rafting the Gates of Lodore on Utah’s Green River. The adventure was rife with challenge, the most memorable being hiking 16 miles in too-tight hiking boots (couldn’t feel my big toes) to get to Glacier National Park’s Hole-in-the-Wall complete with 16 waterfalls. With each turn I persevered. That summer allowed me to do things I never imagined possible. With careful instruction, I was able to climb a mountain, hard-shell kayak a raging rapid, and scale a mountain’s flat face with only my fingers, toes and wits to rely on. When I returned home my parents didn’t recognize me: I’d lost weight (remember I was already skinny), I’d grown 4 inches and my newly found self-confidence was immediately evident as I hopped down from the bus, smiling.
That summer defined me – I had been challenged and I had succeeded. I came back wanting so much more out of my life and even to this day as I look back, I smile thinking about it. I am still in touch with many of my fellow participants, 42 years later!
I share this story because I think it’s important to let you know why we are so very passionate and believe so strongly in our adventure programming. Donna and I know how important it is for our participants to find ways to succeed outside of the school setting, someplace a little less ordinary. As Richard Louv, author of “Last Child in the Woods,” so artfully put it: “…in an increasingly de-natured world…the outdoors remains among the last ways that the young learn the mystery and moral complexity of nature in a way that no videotape can convey…No child can truly know the value of the outdoors if the natural world remains under glass, seen only through lenses, screens, or computer monitors.”
As the adage goes – through challenge comes growth. Our adventure programs are designed with this exact tenet in mind, to help our participants find ways they can succeed, whether it be cooking the best quesadillas or hiking the Mummy Range or rock climbing for the first time. Each of these challenges take our participants outside of themselves, their comfort zones, and push their boundaries resulting in an important milestone in their development. We strongly believe that allowing teens the chance to feel great about themselves in the outdoors is vital at this time in their lives. With us on The Road they’re not competing for the best grades or trying to make the team, they can simply be.
This summer we have launched new programming, our Global Perspectives adventures, designed specifically for students grade 6-8. One of these programs, Mile High Adventure, will take our students to Rocky Mountain National Park, the Great Sand Dunes as well as to our favorite wolf refuge, Mission: Wolf, where we will be able to give back. This program is very close to our hearts and we believe in the vital fundamental mission of these developmentally designed programs.