August 07, 2017

My LEAP Experience

Youth and Friends kayak the lower Salmon River.

Guided by our wilderness therapy partners at LEAP, Friends of the Children made its sixth annual run down a 50-mile stretch of the Lower Salmon River this July. The group included 12 high-school-aged program youth. For some of these youth, it is their first time camping or kayaking. For others, it's their second or third LEAP trip, and they look forward to accomplishing new challenges each year.

Chris Golec, a Friend for 11 years, joined the rafting crew for the first time. Upon their return, Chris immediately began reflecting on this life-changing adventure. He constructed a cairn and wrote the following story in order to never forget the amazing experience.

What This Cairn Represents

By Chris Golec, Friend

This cairn represents the 3 ½ days that 12 youth, six Friends staff, three special guests and the LEAP staff spent on the Lower Salmon River in 2017.

LEAP 2017 Cairn horizontal crop

The bottom rock represents day one on the water. It covers the wide array of feelings we all had as we figured out how to navigate the waters individually and as a group. The second rock represents day two on the water. While there was still nervous energy for some, overall, the group had a great day.

The day on the water was finished off at the Lower Whitehouse rapid. This is a re-run rapid. Everyone got to re-run the rapid as many times as they like. This rapid saw youth and staff, pushing themselves to try new things. This included going down the rapid in pairs or threes, a youth “surfing” the rapid on top of a flipped over the raft and just swimming the rapid. Lower Whitehouse was the rapid where people were falling into the rapid and understanding that there was no need to panic. The life jackets kept you afloat, and the LEAP staff was there pulling you out and/or encouraging us to swim out of the rapid. For me, swimming the Lower Whitehouse rapid helped me prepare for what was ahead.

Day three on the water brought the biggest rapids as we headed into the 9-mile Snow Hole Canyon. The very first rapid of the day is called Half and Half. Being in the back, I watched this rapid wreak havoc on the group. Instead of nerves kicking in, those of us in the back pushed hard and did our best to make it through. Once through Half and Half, we eddied (pulled to a side of the river) out and gathered ourselves. Matt, our lead guide, told us we had just completed the hardest rapid on the trip. There was a huge cheer.

The rest of day three was full of exciting rapids and a sense of determination from everyone to stay in their kayaks for the remaining rapids. Youth who had gone on this trip before was anxious and determined to dominate rapids that they did not make it through on previous trips. They were all successful in conquering the rapids and were beaming with pride by the end. The joy and excitement from the day carried over to our camp spot. Once we were out of the boats, we all played in the water. Even after our longest day on the water, we had the energy to burn.

The final day is represented by the small rock on top. It was our shortest time on the water. We all worked together to get through the main rapids of the day. The final rapid of the day was the Eye of the Needle. Sam, a youth who did not make it through the rapid on a previous trip, had set a goal to make it through without falling out. A LEAP staff member talked with Sam about the way he wanted the two of them to hit the rapid. Once on the other side of the rapid, all I could hear was, “I did it! I showed that rapid who’s the boss!” Sam had crushed the Eye of the Needle. Her smile and positive energy were amazing to witness.

The fifth rock you see, holding up day three, represents the LEAP staff. They do so much more than just support us on the water. They are the ones who provide us with amazing meals. They do all the food prep, cooking and cleaning. They provide us with any medical attention that’s needed along the trip. They were there to talk through the rapids and provide tips on ways to push through those fears and nerves that any of us had to go into bigger rapids.

Every evening we circled up, and LEAP’s program director, Valerie, led us through a meeting to process the day. We covered everything from achievements, headlines of the day, concerns and highs/lows of the day. We also worked in small groups to come up with three or more positive traits/characteristics about ourselves. We then used those traits and created “I am…” statements to share with the group. For example, one youth’s statement was, “I am a man who is adventurous, caring and determined.” We also set a personal goal to achieve within the first week back from the trip. One youth’s goal is to finish the work he needs to do so that he can enroll in an honors language arts class this year.

Altogether, this cairn represents the amazing journey that 12 youth, six Friends of the Children staff, three special guests and the LEAP staff had on the Lower Salmon River in 2017. This experience created new friendships. It pushed many of us beyond our typical physical and emotional limits. We were able to leave something negative in our life at the river and bring back a positive memory. I appreciated the opportunity to be part of this wonderful journey.

IMG 3513 edit