The class of 2017 has graduated, but not a second before they were ready. That’s what a capstone year is all about, providing leadership opportunities that build courage and CONFIDENCE in these adolescents. That way they are ready for whatever comes next. The southwest trip is a BIG part of eighth grade magic at The Lexington School. It happens after finals, after school is essentially over, so the kids are able to relax, reflect, and take it all in. You can see from the album of photos, video, and daily blog that the southwest experience is a journey, not a destination. It is a lasting metaphor for The Lexington School and for life well beyond. It is the capstone that closes the gap and brings it all together.
Southwest Day One: We Travel to Build
It was dark when we left The Lexington School parking lot this morning. Groggy kids heaved thick duffles under the bus while parents huddled to watch and wonder how their child would possibly survive Southwest Trip 2017. On to the airport, we checked bags quickly thanks to the generosity of Lisa Matthews, mother of Morgan and Delta gate manager, who took a day off to meet us in Cincinnati. Thank you Lisa!
Now we are on the plane, all 71 of us kids and adults. Some are sleeping but most are snacking, chatting, playing cards, writing songs, excited for the next leg of this 8-day journey. This is what happens next: We get into van groups and travel for four hours to Zion. We look like a mini-van commercial—imagine a rainbow of 10 vans queued on the open Nevada road. And on this open road we listen to music, tell stories, talk about the past, present, and future. It’s a road trip!
On the way we will stop off for food, a shopping collaboration extravaganza. Cook groups are responsible for their own meal planning, so watching their collective brain power weave through the grocery aisles selecting healthy camp dinners and lunches is very entertaining. What will the budget allow? Chicken, tortillas, hot dogs, ramen noodles, pancake mix, apples, granola bars…no pop tarts please! Finally, the cart will fill and off we’ll go to the next and final stop for today, the campground.
Unpacking and setting up camp is unforgettable. 71 people will come together to carry, unpack, and build a tent village. It feels a bit like a barn raising as little by little there is progress and then VOILA! we all have shelter and structure to stay. And we realize this is really happening!
Next, we’ll cook, play a little, meet to discuss tomorrow’s big first day of activities (hiking and canyoneering), and then off to our sleeping bags we’ll go. After a full day of travel since the wee hours of the morning, those bags will feel like the most luxurious bed we’ve ever known.
We will do our best to report the day’s events each day right here on the blog. For now, our photo journalism will be abridged as the reception is spotty and uploading media is tough. Please be patient. We’ll have lots of great pictures to share when we return.
Day Two Zion: Hiking and Canyoneering
You know you are in a special place when rain and snow can’t keep you from having fun. And we aren’t talking about hot chocolate by a crackling fire on a day off from school; we’re talking about canyoneering and hiking in Zion! That’s how today went, and it was a blast.
Early up at 6:30, half the kids left for canyoneering with Jonathan and his crew (our guides). That half broke into thirds and ventured to Huntress Canyon, Stones Throw, and Lambs Knoll where they hiked through narrow canyons, over rocks and boulders, and made their way to the top where clouds and fog couldn’t ruin a sublime Zion view.
Many of our kids haven’t rappelled, so it took real courage to lean, take that step back, and begin walking down the steep rock face. Everyone made it down, some hearts thumping harder than others, and once it was over, a new confidence was born.
That’s just how this trip is. Kids are present in their fortune to be here, so they are game. They’ll try it all, and even if they are uncomfortable in the moment, they feel the reward once they’ve accomplished the difficult.
Usually hiking is pretty simple, but today the weather threw a clever challenge coin our way. Half the group split again and took in different hikes. The group that drove to Kolob Canyon drew the short straw and started their hike in a snow/rain mix at about 40 degrees. We adults decided we’d shorten the hike, but once we got going (and it stopped snowing), the crew wanted to complete the adventure through the finger canyon and make it to the top to see the double arch alcove. Was it worth it? We asked and full consensus was “YES!”
5 miles later, a few naps on the car ride home, this group of kids LOVES hanging out. Imagine ten or so kids crammed into Mr. H’s van playing a game, another group huddled under a tarp attempting to play cards, and now that the rain has stopped just before we begin cooking, we’ve got a football game going. They are making the most of this final time together, and it is just the beginning of this magical week.
On the car ride here today one of the kids said, “I can’t believe it’s almost over. I mean, I’m really not processing it. This year has gone so fast.” They are aware of the time, and while they are anticipating their future, they are relishing their present too.
Tomorrow we flip groups and the weather should cooperate. It looks like this will be our only wet day. Wet or not, it was a great one.
Day Three: Cold Hands Warm Hearts
Human heaters come in handy when it’s 32 degrees outside. Last night, tents of six were a welcome experience. It was COLD out here in tent city. Luckily the kids took the copious adult warnings seriously, layered up and got some sleep.
Today was another big day of hiking and canyoneering, so we were all grateful to see our friend the sun revisit. We are hopeful it will stay. Groups scattered all over this amazing park for a variety of hiking trails, finger canyons with water, undulating limestone canyons with sand slides, short rappels, long rappels, and even a 420 foot climb up a rock face with ropes and ascenders. That excursion was a surprise ending to a 7 rappel trip. If the picture comes through you can see the car ride back from that one—five sleeping boys in the back of the van.
Doesn’t take much of a nap to re-energize this group though. Back at camp tonight, 60 degrees felt balmy, and most felt pretty grimy after two full days of dirt and sand, so off to the river they went for a “polar bear bath.” They won’t forget the feeling of that Virgin River water for a while. Clean and awake, dinner then games, camp fire talks, soccer, football…finally they are in their tents, warmer than last night, more tired than last night, but a good tired. The kind of tired when you know you did something big today and you are happy to lie down, reflect upon it, and dream happy dreams.
Tomorrow we shift gears, both figuratively and literally…biking and rock climbing are next. Stay tuned…!
Day Four: The Zen of the Rock and Downhill Cycling
Another BRISK morning woke us and shook us to quick action. Breakfast, pack a lunch, pack water, pack your pack! Camping requires lots of packing. Hurry to the vans and off half of us drove to a section of the park 30 minutes away where a giant rocks rise out of a lava base and grassy green valley floor. Checkerboard mesa on one side of the valley and solid sandstone rock face on the other.
The other half relaxed a bit, helped clean from breakfast, and readied themselves for a 16-mile bike ride to one of the most unique water canyons around. Two hours up the hill; a half an hour down.
Back at the base of the rock face, Jonathan, our lead guide and ZION GURU, explained the essence of climbing. “Rock climbing is technical. It isn’t about who does it fastest or who does it best. It is about your personal journey. It is a place where you focus on one move at a time and nothing else. It allows you to be completely present if you let it. Think of the rock as a mirror. You look into to and ask it where to go next, and if you listen and watch long enough, you will find the answer.”
Our kids took it to heart, and everyone participated in this rigorous activity in one way or another. As usual for this group, not a single kid complained, showed anxiety or boredom. They rooted for each other, helped each other, and some made it to the very top of almost every ascent. Each of them experienced the Zen of the rock in his/her own way.
The same was true for our cyclists. The uphill ride was a challenge; yet after enjoying lunch at the canyon, a little ice cream at the lodge, the descent back to camp was transcendental. The wind swept across their faces as they rode fast downhill, amazing views of sandstone mesas and arches flanking them on both sides.
It was a euphoric day that ended with a beautiful 75 degrees and a bath/swim in the river. Today the river was a popular spot! Refreshed from the COLD water, supper and games followed, and now we are all settling in for a much warmer night in our tents. We are happily tired, ready for the same routine tomorrow with different groups where we’ll all get our ZEN once again!
Day 5: Pizza Noodle and Other Carb Delights
Writing this post tonight from Pizza Noodle in Springdale where 71 extremely carbed-up kids and adults have swarmed the scene, and Mr. Herrington is playing catch the Sour Patch in his mouth while Morgan M. throws it across the lawn. Emma is trying to catch the catch on video. They DID it! Next up Mr. Conley. He nailed it too. Everyone is laughing, eating much deserved candy, and completely relaxed after a final FULL day of biking and climbing in Zion.
You know the routine from yesterday. Gorgeous, sunny, 80-degree weather, 18-mile bike to the Narrows, picnic alongside the gorgeous Virgin River. The challenge of climbing at Lamb’s Knoll, a rock face that’s less of a lamb and more of a ram.
The kids were amazing again. No complaining on the way up the rigorous 9-mile incline to the Narrows, and today’s climbers were all over that rock and game for more; they had to be coaxed back into the vans to leave.
This afternoon was different. No cooking tonight, so after quick river bath, we went to town for an early dinner at Pizza Noodle followed by some shopping, ice cream, or whatever dessert looked appealing. And foreshadowing the North Rim, we just hung out.
That’s what we do at the Grand Canyon—hang out. We rest, spend time together, reflect on the rigors of Zion, enjoy our last moments as the class of 2017. Tomorrow we’ll pack up camp, pack a lunch, take a dip in our favorite swimming hole, and dry off just in time to drive to the next amazing destination.
On Monday we will take an easy hike and picnic on the ridge of the Grand Canyon, the start to the “Day of Awesome” that has become a rite of passage tradition for TLS graduates on this trip.
A final blog post is coming, but it may be Tuesday before it gets to you. Posting content is next to impossible in the far reaches of the Grand Canyon. Be patient. We’ll be back to say goodbye and next “we’re home!”
Day 6: Splish Splash Zion
Nothing like a crisp, clean swimming hole to finalize our amazing 6 days in Zion. Even on a travel day, we squeezed everything we could out of Zion. Tents packed, lunch packed, and cars REALLY packed, we drove to the swimming hole where boys with the boys and girls with the girls, they drummed up their nerve and took the plunge, literally.
The rock was high and the water was cold, but as you’ve heard before, these kids are game for the experience, so they overcame their jitters and had a blast.
After the swim, everyone changed to dry clothes and ate their lunches as we made our way through the sandstone tunnels of Zion across the straight and narrow desert highway to the North Rim of the Grand Canyon. On the way we stopped for more groceries, and the store clerks commented on how impressive our kids shopped and behaved. They were right. After a couple of shopping and cooking experiences, our kids really know how to shop efficiently for a group. That lesson alone is probably worth the trip out here!
Here is something special. We unpacked and set up our North Rim tent city, cooked dinner, and then took a short walk to the edge of the campground where we lost our breath at the first sight of the truly GRAND canyon. Add sunset to one of the world’s wonders, and you have a vista that you’ll never forget. Photography simply cannot do it justice.
Also impossible to do capture in this blog is the community that we’ve built out here. The last night in Zion was an emotional one. The kids and their teachers have bonded in a new and different way. The kids are getting it now. They are connected as graduates, pioneers, and now lifelong friends. And they are grateful. Gratitude is in our high altitude air.
Day 7: Day of Awesome
Ah, to sleep in! Today’s start was 8 AM and it felt like noon on a Saturday in contrast to our early mornings in Zion. A leisurely camp breakfast led to packed lunches and a mid-morning departure to a 3 mile (total) hike to the edge of the North Rim Grand Canyon where we picnicked and took in the vast, sublime vista.
It is a humbling experience to sit tiny atop that rock and listen to Mr. Johnson teach the geological significance of this 250-million-year old canyon. Mrs. Telech added cultural context, and for a moment everyone was silent.
But only for a moment. This group is on the go, and by the end of tonight, they will have played a soccer game, cooked dinner, built advisor group charades costumes out of garbage bags and duct tape, danced, and finally, reflected.
Tonight is the night when the kids will talk as a group. They will share memories. They will tell of their experiences at The Lexington School, and ultimately they will share what they love most about their time at the school and as a member of this talented, unique class of 2017. There will likely be shout-outs, emotion, hugs, and a few tears. It will be catharsis number two (the first one was in Zion), and it will be wonderful.
This class has come together on this trip. They’ve connected in a way they never would have without this uninterrupted, sacred time together. It is a magical trip to end a magical journey through childhood.
One day soon they’ll move on, but they will never forget their time at The Lexington School, this Southwest Trip, and each other.