Remember how I told you I'd been camping in a torrential downpour which lasted three days? I wasn't exaggerating. This trip was in 8th grade, with Project Expand. A program for the gifted and talented, Expand taught many things besides just the history and science classes we all had together. We learned team-work, and planning, and cooking for a crowd. And how to improvise when all our planned activities had to be cancelled due to inclement weather.
Our advisors, Mr. Schultz and Mr. Calvert, sure knew how to run a camping trip. First we were assigned to group tents which slept eight. They made sure that there was a mix of eighth and ninth graders in each tent, knowing we'd need some guidance when faced with the seemingly impossible task of cooking a meal for the entire group. We drew lots for which meal we had to do. Everyone wanted lunch, because it was deemed easiest. My tent got one of the two dinners.
From then on, we were entirely on our own. It was up to us to plan it, shop for it, cook it, store it, and when the time came, heat it up and serve it. Each meal had a fixed budget, and we were NOT allowed to spend any of our own money to make it more impressive. (We tried to bring a Reese's for everyone. That's a whole post by itself about why this was so important, but no, we had to stick to the budget. Sixty candy bars just wouldn't work.) Once I got over the stress of it, our task was actually fun. We all met at Karen's house to hit the grocery store, and then to cook. It was a bit crowded with eight of us in her mom's small kitchen, but dividing the dinner into parts and assigning those to specific people worked really well for us. With our spaghetti dinner safely tucked into igloos, we were ready to go.
Packing for the trip also had its rules. We were allowed one duffel bag, and your sleeping bag. If you wanted a pillow, you'd better cram it into that duffel. Even with these restrictions, the tents were pretty crowded. Of course the ninth graders had dibs on the most coveted spots: away from the edges, where there was less of a chance of a leak. Of course, that was in a normal rain. This infamous trip to Catoctin State Park didn't have normal rain, it had freezing, slushy icy rain during the night, and torrential blowing-all-over-the-place rain during the days.
I knew it was not a good sign when I woke up to rain in Silver Spring. I could only imagine what was going on in the Blue Ridge Mountains. But Expand trips were “rain or shine”, so I brought my over-stuffed, about to pop, duffel to school. We did take some razzing from the other students about the weather, but away we went, figuring we could outlast the rain. We had assumed it would stop.
That first day we pitched out tents in the rain, and then gathered under the shelter to huddle together and wait it out. Meanwhile we talked about what to do since we couldn't exactly do a scientific scavenger hunt through the mud and puddles. But we were still in good spirits as we ate our spaghetti, and although we missed having a bonfire as was traditional, we did have fun telling stories and jokes. They sent us to bed a bit early, though. I think Schultz and Calvert wanted some space, both literally and figuratively to discuss tomorrow's agenda.
That was a long night. We did our best to keep things dry, and did do pretty well taking turns in the damp spots, but tempers were getting shorter as the rain continued. There was the rule that you couldn't leave your tent until the leaders came and released you. (They did their best to keep girls out of the boys' tents and vice versa.) But we heard voices in the shelter, figured others had already disobeyed, so we ventured out. Good thing too, because there were hardly ANY spots left in the rafters to hang wet sleeping bags. Woe to those who slept late. As we huddled and hunkered down for another day of rain, much discussion ensued about just packing it in.
In the end though, die-hard won over wussing out, and we stayed. I remember much cooperation and pooling of dry resources. Lots of people wearing other's clothing. Lots of conversations that might not have taken place, had we been focused on the curriculum planned rather than what we were left with, which was relationship building. Our advisors did stay with one of their planned exercises. We were each sent off alone, to find a spot to think and create. We were to write about anything that struck us as we sat there.
I'm not sure I've sat so still since then. I found a great, fallen, rotting log as my place. After about a half-hour of just sitting there, perched on the log, rain dripping off my raincoat onto my already soaked shoes, a mouse came for a visit. And came within inches of crawling into my lap. I had my story. I invented a futuristic world, contained in a bubble of controlled atmosphere, where there was no life except humans. The girl found the door out, found a place like mine in the forest, and found my mouse. This set off a chain of events that led to the destruction of the bubble, and life beginning anew in “the real world.” I was really proud of the story. (This whole love of writing is NOT a new thing!)(And yes, I got an A.)
Rain-soaked and weary after another wet night, we did leave the campsite the next day a few hours before scheduled. But our group was never the same after that shared adventure. We were closer, more connected, and when the end of the year came, we knew exactly what our parting gift to Schultz and Calvert would be. (Some of you younger folks might not understand the origin of this, but back then there were a LOT of t-shirts that contained a variation of (name of group) does IT in (something risque, but descriptive of their uniqueness.) I'll give you some examples: “Fire fighters do it with longer hoses”. “Divers do it deeper”. I think you're catching on.) We said good-bye for the summer by giving them t-shirts. “Expand Does it In the Rain”.