With full stomachs (we all had sausage biscuits and hash browns from McDonald’s), 12 boys (3rd-8th grade) exited the bus at Burgess Falls State Park and were met by Tony Lance and his team from Great Outdoors University.
Most of these boys were on their first overnight camping trip and were very excited. The GOU team had the perfect plan for our group—no speeches, no long list of rules, no silly games–just, “Everyone grab a day pack and start packing your lunch. We are hiking to see some waterfalls.” No one needed to be told to stay away from the water’s edge. With all of the rain we have had, the river was flowing very fast and we were all appropriately scared of falling in. As we ascended, the falls became more and more beautiful until we reached an overlook that gave a majestic glimpse of a creative and powerful God. Unanimously, we agreed to hike down to the bottom of the falls along a narrow and steep path past a warning sign about severe and dangerous conditions. Most of us had minor slips down the path before being met by a drenching mist about a
hundred feet from where the water falls into the river. Upon drenching, all of our students were captured by a joy that is much different from a Kentucky Kingdom kind of joy—it was natural and pure. Spontaneously, several of our boys took off their shirts and began dancing with their arms stretched to the sky—what joy, playfulness, freedom, and abandon. We were dancing at the bottom of a rainbow (created by the mist) and felt like we were right on top of the pot of gold.
We stayed in that magical place for a while learning to skip rocks, having foam fights, painting faces with “paint rocks” found at the water’s edge. We ate our trail mix and fruit, then made the trek back up the side of the hill to fully unpack our daypacks and eat sandwiches and granola bars. This first hour of the camping trip set the tone for a wonderful outing which included: a presentation on red-tail hawks, a drive to Edgar Evins State park where we set up tents, eating burritos cooked on a charcoal grill, “swimming” at the edge of Center Hill Lake, making a fire, eating s’mores, hunting scorpions (did you know that at night they fluoresce under black UV light?), hiking, sitting around the camp area telling “scary” stories, having a devotional time on the bluff overlooking the lake, and plenty of water play along the rocks of the lake.
Almost everything we did was new to our group. They were at times uncomfortable which allowed opportunities for building trust (some of our students found out that if you hold a flashlight just right you can actually see many spider eyes. This revelation sent half of our group running like ninjas through the woods back to the safe confines of a picnic table). They were delighted at how comfortable it can be to be uncomfortable sometimes. As we said good-bye to Tony, Kelly, Aubree, and Matt, our students were unanimous in their de
sire to go camping again—“how about this Friday?”