Proctor Academy's Mountain Classroom program began their ten-week cross country immersion learning experience in New Hampshire. After three days of driving, four days backpacking on Cumberland Island, and three days canoeing and camping in the Okefenokee Swamp, the group departs for winter break. Read more about the group's first three weeks on the road below.
Orientation and Life on the Road - Dalton '20
I awoke in Charlestown, Massachusetts, from a sleepless night due to my excitement for the day ahead. It was like Christmas morning, not just because of the snow that had dumped on the city, but due to my intense thrill for my first day of Mountain Classroom. I checked over my gear, ensuring that I had the materials needed for the journey ahead. After many emotional goodbyes, my father and I departed towards Hillsborough, New Hampshire. Throughout the drive, my excitement built, eventually leading to anxiety as it became more real. I was leaving the home I knew behind and taking a journey to truly find myself and to grow as a young man. My last request from my father was to stop for lunch. With few options, I decided McDonalds would be the perfect last meal. With my belly full I finally made my way to Bethel Farm for our two day orientation.
Arriving at the farm was a culture shock to say the least, a cult looking farm awaited me fitted with large dream catchers and crystals on the posts of the house. My excitement intensified as my eyes locked onto Deb (the Mountain Classroom bus). I was greeted with a ball of sunshine, also known as Lila, and instantly felt at home. I then made my way over to Quinn for the first task of Mountain. Upon arrival our group unloaded their belongings into the action packers in the back of the trailer. As I started to put my belongings within my tub, my dog began to create havoc amongst the instructors, Erica and Quinn. With smiles on their faces, they dealt with the onslaught of humping and biting from my golden retriever, Sam. To which Quinn said, “He must be a puppy.” To the dismay of my dad, he admitted that Sam is six years in age and just poorly trained.
After giving my father and dog one last hug and goodbye, I made my way inside the gorgeous wooden cabin to be greeted by my new family. Quesadillas were prepared by the master chef, yours truly, as the group enjoyed the company of one another. Nervous chatter filled the log cabin as we started to learn more about each other and the journey ahead. As a group we made our way to the yoga studio and started to pour out our emotions to one another. On tiny pieces of paper, we wrote down our fears for the journey ahead.
These pieces of paper were then placed into a hat. Then each of us read a piece in order to ensure that while the fears remained anonymous, they were known to the group. It allowed me to feel comfortable knowing that my group members knew what I was most nervous about, and I trust in their ability to support me when these fears arise.
Eagerly, we all split into the rooms we would be staying for the next two nights. I was lucky enough to get a room with five beds, accompanied by Ben, Cole, Alex H., and Cameron. Of course I was thrilled to be sleeping with my boys for the next two nights, yet I was even more excited to get to know Alex H. and Cameron. With excess time to hangout I found that most made their way down to the basement to all talk together. Our group immediately hung out all together instead of splitting up into smaller groups which I truly appreciated. I enjoyed getting to know in depth the individuals I would be spending months with, and I truly felt engaged as the conversation never went stale. Time flew by and before we knew it, It was dinner time. Lila, Ben and Anya were chosen to be the chefs for the evening.
My advice may have been needed, considering that the chili was burning on the bottom, which Ben said was all part of the plan. They were actually trying to make smoked chili, Lila stated with her bubbly personality. Then, to my surprise, I heard a knock on the door and luckily it was Patty Pond and not an axe murderer in the woods as I had expected. She came bearing gifts of brownies and coconut macaroons post dinner which where oh so delicious. With everyone there, we were able to begin to eat, yet not before Quinn and Erica explained chow circle to the group. In our tight-knit circle, Quinn read a quote aloud and we all had the chance to reflect on this before eating our meal. We then took Quinn’s lead in saying what is quite possibly the most memorable phrase of all of mountain. “Peace and chow!” we chorused. To conclude chow circle, we all joined in to chant what is quite possibly the most memorable phrase of all of Mountain: “Peace and chow!”
The warm food filled our bodies as we continued to talk without rest proving just how social Proctor students truly are. It also helps that we also connected with Quinn and Erica as quickly as we did with each other. After the delicious meal we cleaned the dishes as a group and made our way up to the yoga studio for the last lesson of the night. We all took out pillows and made a circle as Erica brought to us a large piece of paper that had what I would say to be an expertly drawn tree. Erica then explained that we all need to write what we bring to the group as the roots of the tree. Then what we individually need from the group as the trunk and finally what we hope to gain from the experience as the leaves. The only challenge I found is what I want to gain from this experience due to the fact that I don’t know yet. I said that I wanted to grow as a person. What I truly mean is that I want to evolve in some way, but I don’t know in what way and only time can tell.
Another 4:00 am wake up we shot out of our tents in haste to escape the blistering cold. We packed Deb and made our way to North Carolina. With just a few stops on the way we made to our campground. The excitement intensified as many of us realized there were showers in our home for the night. It culminated to a full on scream of joy by yours truly. We set up camp and a delicious burrito meal was prepared for all which truly filled our stomachs and spirits. The boys being Ben, Cole and I ventured to the shower to rid ourselves of the dirt that soaked into our skin. For evening meeting we introduced chaos cards. These cards can range from a bus blow out which entails cleaning out the bus to a group ice cream trip. For the first night we pulled "group message" in which we would give each other messages.
We woke on the 7th to a full day ahead of us. After a quick oatmeal breakfast we made our way to Walmart to prepare for our hike ahead on Cumberland Island. Quinn and Erica taught us in the parking lot of Walmart all about food planning. We delved into how to create good meals that would provide enough energy for the days of hiking. Quinn broke down the specific foods that would provide long lasting energy as well as those that did not. We then were given our budget per day which was eight dollars per person. At first I thought that it was impossible yet when I found myself in the store I was needing to find more items to buy in order to spend all of the money I was given. I was placed into two cooking groups as I would have the job of cook twice in the time before break. Ben and I searched cook books high and low in order to figure out meals that we can make in the backcountry. Shopping was stressful to say the least with us being in the store for over three hours. With meals ready for the week ahead we went back to camp in order to prepare further for our first backpacking trip. Quinn and Erica taught us how to pack our bags as well as use the back country stoves. After information was absorbed we each packed our bag ensuring we did not pack to little or too much. We gathered the meals we would need and packed them as well. With our packs overflowing with supplies we rested for the night knowing we where ready for the adventure ahead no matter what comes at us.
Cumberland Island - Ben '20
We woke up early on December 8th, anxious but excited to pack and prepare for our first expedition of Mountain. We would be backpacking for four days, three nights, on Cumberland Island off the coast of Georgia. Rocinante (the trailer) was packed full of our packs and we boarded Deb (the bus), then drove an hour or so to the ferry port that would take us to the island. We boarded the boat and found our place at the bow where we took our polaroid for the day (journalist takes a pic every day for our group trip log) along with a few other pics. Our forty-five minute voyage started off to the sound of a blaring fog horn that startled many of us. The boat cut though the fog for a while until it finally cleared and we got a sunny view of our island home for the next four days.
The island was covered in dense vegetation, the most prominent of which were Live Oaks with Spanish Moss dangling from their branches and car sized Palmettos bushes. It was like a scene out of Jurassic Park. We disembarked the ferry and got a quick lesson on fitting packs and hiking as a group, then we were off. We hiked through a green tunnel for about seven miles along perfectly flat land past armadillos and wild horses, eventually reaching our campsite: Yankee Paradise. But paradise it was not. We quickly found we had forgotten our spice pack along with a few other items. Our cooks did their very best without flavoring but we ended up having kush-mush for dinner. Oh, whats kush-mush you ask? Well, apparently when you burn red lentils they give off an aroma similar to that of burning plants, and without spice, they tasted that way too. So our meal that night was aptly named for the smell and consistency for the dish. So with full-ish stomachs we crawled into our sleeping bags ready for rest after a long day of backpacking, but what we were met with could be used as a torture method. The mosquitoes came out in full force attacking us in our open air pyramid tarps. We tossed and turned as they buzzed in our ears and bit our necks, we tried to take refuge in our sleeping bags but would quickly overheat in the south Georgia warmth. Eventually morning came but most of us hadn’t slept more than a couple hours, except for Quinn who became one with the bugs and came out somewhat unscathed. Oh, also the water could not have smelled any more like sulphur. We now believe this site name was meant to attract yankees, only to lead them to their final resting place.
The next day we hiked another four miles to our campsite on the coast. A small sandy beach paradise awaited us as we emerged from the green tunnel trail. We set up our mids (pyramid tarps) near the water, soaked in the view, and made a lunch of chicken, bean, cheese, avocado, and chorizo burritos. Soon, we left for a short day hike to the real beach across the island. The white sand beach was a much welcomed sight after our yankee paradise endeavor. We swam in the ocean and had a seaside lesson about how the moon affects our tides and other things. With the group feeling rejuvenated and ready to roll, we hiked back inland and across to the other side of the island where our camp was. We returned close to dark so the cooks got busy making dinner while the rest of us caught up on schoolwork or took a break to relax by ourselves.
During dinner a curious Armadillo made his way into our campsite in search of food, and maybe friends, so we all went over to pet him. In hindsight that might not have been the best idea but it was kinda too cute to resist. After we left it alone and returned to eating he seemed to follow us. He kept circling our group, just sniffin’ around, looking for bugs. As cute as it was, we were worried why it was coming so close, so we stomped and clapped to scare it off, and you know the saying “curiosity killed the cat”, well curiosity got a stick thrown at the armadillo, courtesy of Quinn. But, not even that could deter the persistent creature. Eventually, Dillo the armadillo made its way near Cole, to which he said, “This is my crib, get outta here.” So finally, Dillo obliged and off he scuttled, back into the bushes. After dinner we had evening meeting and then crawled into our sleeping bags after a full day of fun. Although that night’s sleep was a bit sandy and rainy, it was heavenly compared to the night before. It’s all about perspective.
Day three we departed our now wet and sandy campsite to head back inland. We hiked for a while through the green tunnel, past Yankee “Paradise”, towards our final campsite. Eventually, we reached the water pump that we needed to use to get water for the night, but it was a mile away from the campsite, so we decided to get water then instead of walking the two miles to return later. Dalton, Alex C, and I strapped the the water sacks to our packs and hiked the last mile heavier and with water dripping down our backs, but it was well worth it when we got a bunch of free time uninterrupted by a walk for water. We used that free time to group read some humanities work and to finish our ESA’s (ecological species accounts) for science. Finally, we ate dinner, had evening meeting, and had the best sleep of the three nights yet (I did at least).
On the last day we woke up early, packed up camp, ate a quick grab n’ go breakfast, then hiked in the dark for a couple hours as the sun came up, and the rain came down. The trekking was soggy and straight as we hiked out via the main road, the fastest possible route, so we could reach the ferry on time. Turns out we had nothing to worry about because we arrived an hour early, crushing our time goal. While we waited for the ferry, we presented our ESA’s to the group and drank the sulphur-free water at the main building. By the time we boarded the ferry, the rain had let up but the cold hadn’t, so we all took refuge inside the cabin as we cruised back to the mainland. Once on land, we loaded our things back into Rocinante, put on a change of clothes, boarded Deb, then drove to our next campsite in the Okefenokee.