This week in the Goannas I would like to shine a spotlight on highlighting the number of emotional breakthroughs we experienced. This group has come together on more than one occasion to be supportive in their emotional journeys; strengthening their bond emotionally has also benefited the group logistically. Whenever we had to get ready to hike, they supported one another in getting motivated, helping gather up and taking down camp, as well as setting up camp. Each member of the Goannas has shown strong leadership skills. On the same note, each person has been incredibly receptive in their one on ones and effectively applying the supportive techniques that were discussed, in real time!
Creativity was upon us this week. We really got into crafts, such as spoons, A-frames, keeper’s pouches, busting sets, and turning found materials into necklaces. We also had two first time coal busters! While on the artsy topic, we had lots of drawing and coloring time, along with creative recipe making. Another form of emotional expression was through rapping as a group, using drums and a ukulele and for the end of our days we had collaborative story making at bedtime. The group came to realize that taking personal time is a necessity when exploring one’s emotional journey. During personal time, they were able to journal and write letters to loved ones. Overall, the Goannas are coming together as a group and are learning how to help guide one another through challenging moments. Through this help and support, each member’s confidence is growing each day and that support is becoming infectious.
This week dawned the beginnings of a new group by the name of the Kangaroos. Together these two groups of students conquered the heights of Mt. Black Crook, and the bountiful peak offered a view that dwarfed the other mountains around us. The group celebrated our ascension, posing for pictures with their therapists, peers and staff and managed to squeeze in an elevated game of D.O.G.S before our return. The students received their patches for peaking one of the field’s most notorious heights and saying their adieus to their therapists before continuing their expedition week.
The week began with an end. The group said goodbye to some of its valued members: Tenacious Horizon & Sturdy Stallion in a goodbye ceremony. Memories, sentiments and reflections of friendship and kinship were felt in a veritable stew of nostalgia and affection for the last few weeks the students spent together.
Many of our days this week were suffused with torrential downpours that hindered some of our regular daily activities but simultaneously provided opportunities for the group and staff to bond in extended discussions on life, society, and their time at outBACK. The group also observed many instances of wildlife: sleeping owls, herds of cows along the trails, several sightings of curious hummingbirds and tarantula hawks.
The theme this week was Identity. We had gatherings in which we drew two symbolic masks of ourselves that depicted how we thought people perceived us and we wished to be perceived. During another gathering, we reflected on the nature of our roles in society (as a community, role models, students, mentors, offsprings, citizens, etc.) and which roles we wished to fill as we develop as individuals. Wrapping up our gatherings of the week, one of our students was given their trail name: Free-Spirited Sandstone and earned the tokens: Winged-Heart and Strong Cord. Our soon-to-be departing students received the tokens: Journey keeper & Maker. This ceremony was a particularly emotional one as we said goodbye to the treasured students: their impressions and impacts on the group’s culture not soon-to-be forgotten.
The mission was simple: ascend Red Pine. Of all the mountains in our desert this one is perhaps the most difficult. With the many hills, trees, trails, and slippery rocks all along the terrain, it is easy to see why making it to the top is not for the faint of hearts.
The Ulurus started this week saying “see you later” to Courageous Honey Badger and Grounded Aspen as they left to head out for their peak adventure therapy week. The Ulurus held a goodbye ceremony for Mischievous Raven who said his final goodbyes to the group before embarking on his next chapter in life.
When we told the news to the group that our goal, at the end of the week, was to hike Red Pine, it was met with both excitement and a hint of self-doubt, but that was quickly washed away as the group proved their own strength by completing two epic hikes under the vast, starry, night sky. We sang Country Roads along the way and spent a lot of time personally reflecting during these days.
Finally, the day arrived. We had made it to the shadow of Red Pine and set up shelter. The next morning, we arose at 5am to make our ascent. Each time a hill was summited, two more would appear like a hydra. But no amount of hills are insurmountable for the Ulurus. We watched a pink and orange sunrise greet us as we made it to the top of Red Pine and we held a token ceremony, after a few victory screams into the sunrise. Willful Willow received Making Amends, Nomadic Roadrunner received Brightness, Glimmering Hummingbird received Brightness, and our newest guide received Seeker.
All in all, it was a week of conquering self-doubt, personal growth, and conquering mountains, both literally and figuratively.
This week Peak Adventure began with students sharing with staff and each other, the reasons they had come to outBACK. They were able to hear one another’s reasons and find ways to connect and establish common ground. Afterwards, they set up camp and went to sleep.
In the morning they departed the field and headed toward lava tubes in the desert further south. They explored the magma carved channels and enjoyed the shaded respite from the summer sun. The group descended to a complete cold darkness where the staff had them gather again and challenged the group to use their peak week to get to know themselves at a deeper level. Initially they struggled to let themselves go to that level of self-inquiry, yet slowly, the vulnerability grew, and they started sharing more of their personal reflections. The group hiked back to the surface after being issued the challenge and enjoyed dinner together.
The next morning the group arrived at Yuba Lake, a reservoir nestled within desert hills where the students would spend the day swimming and paddling on SUP boards. The group welcomed the break from the hot and dry environment and splashed and paddled the afternoon away. Upon packing up our beach day, extreme winds kicked up, forcing them off the beach and to the comfort of their campsite.
The next day we made our wary further south toward St. George. They spent part of the afternoon learning about Southern Utah’s flora at a native plant garden, then headed toward a narrow crevasse between red rock boulders that several students shimmied through. The endeavor was an exciting challenge for those who chose to take it on. The van once again moved on to a chosen park for dinner where quesadillas were cooked under a gazebo, and the group enjoyed some personal time on the lush grass. The campsite for the night was in a red sandy mini canyon, where a gathering was held in the glowing sun set, before a comfortable sleep in the tents with a bed of soft sand beneath them. The gathering focused on outside resources and personal values and areas in our lives that we might need support. Each member excitedly analyzed these pieces of themselves and challenged one another to look inwards.
Next up was a day of rock climbing. The students embraced the challenge and stepped outside their comfort zone as they scaled walls of basalt rock while being belayed by other group members. When shade gradually disappeared from the rock face, students set off to another park. They returned to the campsite and reflected on how the challenges they faced, while climbing, mirrored the challenges they faced in their personal lives. Some of these challenges they identified were trust in other people, trust in themselves, the importance of perseverance, and the difficulties in establishing achievable goals.
The next day was another day by the water at Quail creek where we spent time wading in water until the arrival of a surprise hailstorm. The storm passed en route to the state park that the group would be camping at and upon arrival, the sky was clear, and everyone scrambled on the red rock. Before bed, the students gathered to share their respective plans on how to best re-enter and transition back into their respective groups at the end of their peak adventure. Some of them shared goals of wanting to be more of a mentor figure in the group while others shared a desire of continuing their own self growth and challenging negative thought patterns. Vigorous Honeybadger expressed interest in sharing their maker skills with the newer members of the group.
The final morning outside the field began with a delicious breakfast and the completion of therapeutic assignments. As we made our way back up to the groups, the Peak crew were able to take on the challenge of giving themselves a self-assessment regarding their engagements over the course of the week. The students showed an impressive amount of self-awareness when reflecting on their week and demonstrated a mature understanding of what they excelled in, as well as what they struggled with. While this week had its challenges, all the students were able to see pieces of themselves in a different light.
In the morning, the group was honored with Peak patches in a final ceremony before being dropped off at their groups to begin the final leg of their outBACK journey.