Proctor Academy's Mountain Classroom Winter 2018 group has completed their ten week adventure across the American Southwest. Luke '18, Amanda '19, and Lucas '19 share reflections on the final two weeks of the term in this blog. Read more!
Full Circle - Amanda '19
Full circle is, in essence, our exam week. We spend 4 days in one place (a rarity in itself) traversing from the library to our campsite to town and around and around and around. Our exams aren’t tests, exactly - just a single notebook, about a foot tall and 9 inches wide, filled with illustrations, writing, and sometimes coffee stains, that attempt to sum up our experience on Mountain Classroom. There are a series of prompts for each of our subjects: Community Living, English, Social Studies, Science, and Expedition Skills. There are no computers, and no spellcheck. We just write pages and pages, hunched over that black Mountain Book for hours each day. At the same time, we must plan our Final Expedition (if that’s applicable - we can only do this if we make it to Final Phase.)
We spent our Full Circle in Idyllwild, California. It’s way up on a mountain, and it’s quaint - eclectic houses all around a small town with no Walmart or Starbucks - just local small businesses selling everything from coffee to toys to shoes to jerky. We arrived there after leaving sunny, beautiful San Diego. Our first night, it snowed. The next morning we went on a hike to Alex’s favorite view point in the world. The base of Suicide Rock, looking out at Tahquitz. We sat there for a long time, talking, thinking, and listening. Eventually, Alex and Kate told us we had made Final Phase. So the work began.
We returned to town that afternoon and headed straight for the Idyllwild Public Library. (After snagging some drinks and baked goods from the coffee shops, of course.) There, we sat in a circle and whispered about what we could do. Surfing? Kayaking? Climbing? No - we were going to backpack, to make up for the Gila, in part, but also because that’s the tradition.
There were so many options. We could go basically anywhere in a 5 hour drive radius, and California has beautiful trails over nearly every inch. We eventually narrowed it down to a few options, and then even fewer. The sand dunes in Death Valley, for sand boarding. Cactus to Clouds - a 20 mile hike straight up, starting close to sea level and gaining thousands of feet of elevation. And Joshua Tree - climber’s hub and national park filled with backpacking trails. This is what we finally decided on, after hours around a campfire, in a conference room, on couches.
We rotated in 30 minute segments trying to find the perfect trail. Two people would research using the computers and any local knowledge they could find, and everyone else would crank out their Mountain Books, knocking out prompt by prompt and section by section. We completely took over the library some days, and also the biggest coffee shop, where I’m fairly sure Kate got 3 or 4 free drinks by using the ones we bought for her reward card.
There isn’t really a name for the trail we decided on eventually, because parts of it aren’t truly a trail. We were going to have to use maps and compasses to connect one common trail to another less traveled. It would be around 15 miles total if we traveled the correct paths, with close to 7 for the first two days, a rest day on the third, and then a mile hike out to the extraction point. There was also no available running water out there, so we had to make a few water drops in advance close to our paths - 12 gallons in one place and 24 in another.
Once all of this was decided and worked out, and our Mountain Books were (mostly) done, we left Idyllwild, first to our 10K and then to Joshua Tree.
10K - Lucas '19
The day of the 10K began with an early 5:10 wake up. We were a little nervous although we all knew the run was just for fun. After a quick breakfast, we packed up and headed out on the forty-five minute bus ride to the starting line. When we pulled in, we were greeted by a bunch of intense looking runners dressed in tight shirts and short shorts. We hopped out of the bus and began to change into our costumes.
On days prior to the 10K, we spent time in thrift stores picking out costumes carefully that we would feel comfortable running in. As we got into our costumes, heads began to turn our way as we immediately began to stand out. We had Sam Wyckoff dressed as an old man, Luke Weber rocking a basketball getup, Anna Hollenbaugh dressed as a Vietnamese track star, Olivia Clark as a cheerleader, Amanda Hinds dressed as a Snap Queen, Augie Mueller as Ace Ventura, myself (Lucas Bush) in a spankin’ tight bike spandex, and Julian King as a standing American Flag (the race used him as the American flag for the national anthem).
At 7:45, we lined up on the starting line. As the other runners started lining up next to us, our nerves began to rise. There was a quick countdown, and we were off. Some of us started off sprinting just to experience the sweet feeling of being in first until we were soon passed as our energy drained quickly. There had been so much anticipation for the 10K for all of Mountain Classroom which made finally running in it feel surreal.
The course was beautiful. It began by an orange grove, ran along green fields for farming, than worked its way through a valley. It was 3.1 miles to the halfway point which was where we had to turn around and head back for another 3.1 miles until we reached the finish which was originally the start. This course was neat because everybody saw each other during the race when they were running back.
I personally am not a huge runner. Running is hard but rewarding. I ran as hard as I possibly could and faced cramps, lightheadedness, and stumbling around. These challenges that I faced were mainly because of the lack of water I had before the run. In my head, I knew that I could overcome the challenges and that I needed to just keep running. My plan was to find a rather fast looking person and to stay with them as long as I could. I had a young man in green shorts pass me early on and I knew he was the man I needed to follow. I ran painfully behind him. Each minute I thought would be my last before I gave up and slowed down to a pace which was better fitting for me. But for some reason, I never let him go. On the final stretch, I passed him and my mission changed. Now, I just need to stay in front of him.
Finally, the finish line was in sight and next to it was my good friend Luke Weber who was jumping up and cheering me on. With his support, I finished with as much grit and strength as I could in front of my friend in the green shorts.
I sat down with Luke, exhausted. I spoke excitedly to him in between huge gasps for air. We spoke of our challenges, of our successes, and how we needed to run more. Finishing filled me up with a warm feeling of pride. I was proud for Luke, for myself, and for all my classmates who we watched stride past the finish line with huge grins on their faces.
We all looked at the board with everybody’s times and places and our jaws dropped.
For the boys:
- Sam Fulton won the half marathon
- Luke Weber placed 2nd for the men's category and 1st for U19
- I placed 4th for men's and 2nd for U19
- Alex Lyttle placed 5th for men's and 2nd for the 20-29 category
For the girls:
- Kate Sabo placed 3rd for the 20-29 category
- Anna Hollenbaugh placed 1st for U19
- Amanda Hinds placed 2nd for U19
- Olivia Clark placed 3rd for U19
The ridiculous looking group in funny costumes dominated the board. The 10K organization loved us. People would continuously come up to us to talk, ask where we were from, and understand exactly what this group of funky looking people were doing exactly. I even got interviewed on the load speaker. After great fun and food at the finish line, we had to say goodbye and head out on our way. The race committee are looking forward to the next Proctor group to come through the 10K. They will have big shoes to fill.
Final Expedition - Luke '18 and Lucas '19
Final expedition, our last expedition. Our last time in the wilderness. We had been thinking about final expedition for almost the whole trip, and it felt crazy that it was finally here. Joshua Tree National Park was our destination. As Amanda explained earlier, it took us a long time to decide on a place and a route, but we finally did. Our whole group greatly appreciates Sam W. for taking the lead on planning the expedition. The days leading up to the expedition were hectic because we had to drop water off in certain places on our route, pack our bags and food, and on the last day before the expedition there was a rain and wind storm.
The Final Expedition started officially around noon on the February 19th. We had all of our backpacks packed and began walking into the wilderness of Joshua Tree. Because final expedition is solely up to the students, students cannot ask the teachers for help or directions. Kate walked on the trail behind us but her mouth was sealed. The first day was about seven miles of backpacking which seemed long at first, but playing fun word games and cracking jokes made the time fly by. We stopped along the way for a quick PB & J lunch which never gets old to us. The trail led us up the side of a steep hill where at the top, we were hit with snowflakes and a beautiful view of the valley we were hiking through. As the terrain we were walking on began to flatten out, our eyes split out for a nice spot for us to set up our camp sight. The wind was picking up and the temperatures were dropping so our search became slightly more urgent. Finally, we found a nice area with big bushes to shield our tents from the wind. Once everything was set up, we reconvened for evening meeting. Although Alex and Kate were not there to make us have evening meeting, we grew comfortable with it and thought we should stick with the routine to which we have grown accustomed to. We all enjoyed a delicious dinner made in our new cook groups and went to bed early.
The next morning we got up early to prepare for the long day of hiking. I got out of my warm tent and was greeted by the harsh wind of the California Mountains. For the expedition we had two cook groups. One cook group brought real food but had a lot of dishes. The other cook group (the better one), bought a lot of packaged food and had to do no dishes. After we all ate and packed up, we left our campsite. The hike started out easy, a well defined trail surrounded by stunning outcroppings of rock and strange Joshua Trees. After a few hours, we breaked for lunch and went to find our water cache. With refilled water and less food to carry, we started hiking again. It was hard to find a game that could be played while hiking, but one game was played almost the whole time. It is called Ghost. It is a spelling game where we each say a letter and try not to finish words. It made the hiking seem to go by much faster. All we had to do now was cross a small looking canyon and then we would be at our campsite. Once we entered the canyon, however, we realized how much bigger the canyon was than we thought. The going was tough with large boulders and steep drops to navigate, but we were up to the challenge. The views were gorgeous and we still had a few hours before sunset, so we were feeling good. Right before dark we arrived in the area where we planned to camp. It was surrounded by cliffs of granite perfect for bouldering. Bouldering is the most underrated form of climbing. We were all tired from the hiking and went to bed pretty early. Anna Hollenbaugh even went to bed at 6:00pm!
By day three, we were all feeling comfortable executing the expedition requirements without the help of adults. Because of our success on the tough day before, we were only about a mile from the end point of the expedition and we took the day to explore the cool area we were in. Some of us scrambled up the massive boulders surrounding our camp sight, others hung around camp and worked on finishing up any schoolwork for the term. The time we spent wandering lead to a true appreciation of the area we were in. Joshua Tree has a special feeling of authenticity which made us feel like we were on another planet. The days of expedition prior to the third one was focused on backpacking, which distracted us a little from our sense of place. The day was wrapped up smoothly with a fun idea of a seven-man tent. The boys agreed that our last night in the back country should be spent together so we squeezed all seven of us into a tent built for four. The three girls had the same idea and shared a tight two person tent. Although many ended up losing sleep, we all gained great memories of our last night in the wilderness.
Another expedition had come to an end as we backpacked out to our destination on the last day. It is so cool to look back at our first backpacking expedition in the Gila and compare. We are so much closer as a group and so much better at living in the wilderness. Personally, I feel confident enough to go on a wilderness expedition by myself, which I would never have dreamed of before Mountain. We have all grown so much, and it is scary that we are about to go home. Before, I was scared to leave home and start Mountain. Now I am nervous to leave. Alex told us on the second to last night that no matter where we were, whenever we are sitting around in the evening meeting circle and the bell rings, he feels at home. I completely agree, and I think that we all feel that home is less of a place and more of who we are with.