I have been guiding Colorado Academy students into the backcountry every May for the past 15 years. Each year, on the day we return home, I reflect on the joyous, scary, and hilarious moments that we shared as a group. Today, I have been thinking about the past five days that a group of Seniors and I shared on the Upper Colorado River near Dotsero, Colo. I can’t stop thinking about how proud I am of these eighteen-year-olds. They reminded me of the mission of our school and why we work tirelessly to instill so many important habits that are essential to the human experience.
These teens are kind and courageous athletes, artists, and students who graduate this month and will continue to learn and lead in the world ahead of them.
Coach Wes Kirk, who is our strength and conditioning instructor at CA, and I, the Director of Visual and Performing Arts, teamed up as leaders to tackle the Upper Colorado River at high flow in “duckies” (imagine yellow inflatable kayaks) with a group of sixteen courageous Seniors. We weren’t alone of course. We were guided by four expert boaters from the Colorado River School, a company that CA has partnered with for years, and they know every cubic inch of this beautiful river.
Each day we set out to learn new essential paddling techniques and to learn about reading the rapids, eddies, and hazards of a powerful river. In order to practice the challenging skill of getting back into your craft after you have fallen out, the students were encouraged to dump each other into the water in the flat sections, so they could repeatedly practice turning their boats right-side up and pulling themselves back in. Our guides couldn’t believe how much they enjoyed the playful competition—and how quickly they were learning this skill—which takes a considerable amount of strength and determination. It was clear that these students are comfortable being athletes.
Being on the river each day was exciting, anxiety-inducing, and a complete adrenaline dump. Yet, some of my fondest memories were formed at the campsite. Everyone used their down time differently. Some students sat on the shore sketching the canyon, while another one played the ukulele, until the whole group was singing together as they all crafted friendship bracelets for friends at home. All of this was happening simultaneously. These students are artists.
While standing around chatting one evening, a student shared with me the complex challenges around water allocation and the Colorado River. They are knowledgeable students who care.
The students were broken into chore groups, and would take turns cooking and cleaning up after meals for the rest of the group. They took care of one another when injured. They thanked me for driving every time we got off the bus at a new section of the river. They are kind.
My biggest takeaway from spending the week on Class III rapids with this group was seeing the way these students pushed themselves beyond what they are comfortable with. Our guides brilliantly scaffolded the sections of river we ran so they could assess what the group was capable of. By the last day, we drove a little further because our group was ready to go to the main Colorado River, a river that flows at three times the rate of the Upper Colorado. When given the chance to paddle around the largest wave/hole of the trip, every single student decided to take it head on. Half the boats flipped, yet before I even made it through myself, they worked together until every person was back in their boat, and all their paddles were collected. These students are courageous.
I loved spending the week with students who genuinely embody CA’s mission.