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Raft Trip
This article, by Cristie Boone, was originally published in the March-April 1996 issue of Home Education Magazine.

"FORWARD!"
Even as my mind said I couldn't work any harder, I shoved my paddle farther and farther into the water with each stroke until I thought my arms were going to fall off. When Sheila started yelling, it meant put everything you had and more into paddling, or unpleasant things could happen. From my position in the back, I watched the front of the raft descend into the rapid, then loom above me. Reality froze. At that moment, I knew the front wasn't about to stop, but was going to keep accelerating and flip the whole raft over.

We're all going to die...

I trudged up the hill again, with Kendra and Meredith in front of me. I liked the idea of making our own sweat lodge, but climbing the hill again and again to get enough wood for firing the rocks was not particularly enjoyable. I liked walking down, however, and also throwing the dead trees over the edge of the small cliff, but I didn't appreciate the uphill part. Above us, Michael and Adam searched the area for wood that Kendra, Meredith, and I could carry down. Below us, on the sand, I could see the sweat lodge taking shape. A few people were making it out of a tarp and our paddles. They dug a pit for the hot rocks to be put in, and when we finally had enough wood, they started a fire to heat the rocks. Throughout the evening we heard loud firecracker noises, as a number of the rocks exploded. We had a hard time finding large rocks that would work since we were by a river. The rock would explode if it held too much moisture. Later that night, we all gathered in the lodge, hoping we could get the temperature hot enough. As we sat in our circle, we shared our stories about how long we'd been homeschooling, and what kinds of things we considered important. Unfortunately, the sweat lodge only got hot enough to be called a "warm lodge," and we all filed out into the cool air. We had found a gorgeous spot to camp that night, with a lot of sand, a flat place for our tents, and an area sheltered by trees for our "kitchen." But the best part about our camp was a clear natural pool fed by a small creek coming off the mountain. After the sweat lodge was finished, a number of people ran and jumped into the pool, laughing all the way in.

I don't know... This first rapid looks fairly big. Why couldn't we start out with calm water? An eddy swirls by the shore, but it hits smack into the rapid in the middle of the river.

We've all practiced how to paddle while on the shore, but looking at the water, paddling seems like it will be a lot different in the water as opposed to on land. We get into our separate rafting groups and climb in. We shove off, and Sheila has us practice paddling in the eddy until we decide we're ready to brave the rapid. We move towards it, and I hold my breath...
Our raft flows easily over the whitewater, and immediately after we all feel safe again, we all cheer.
"One pair of pants and one tee shirt? Yeah right!"

So much for my carefully chosen wardrobe. Narrow the choices down, squish the clothes up, all my travel stuff must fit in one duffel. Hah! Oh, well. Should I take my jeans or my sweats? Jeans, or sweats. Jeans... Sweats. Jeans. Three, no, I guess I can live with two tee shirts. Okay, definitely the long underwear, polar fleece, sweatshirt, gloves, and hat. Got my wetsuit, booties, raincoat and windbreaker.

"You guys, I'm never going to be able to narrow this down!" Meredith groans.

Kendra's all set, but Meredith's even worse off than I am. Two huge bags to sort through, rather than one and a half medium ones. But eventually all thirteen of us will get our belongings sorted out.

I never knew I could hold it so long. The one problem with being on a wilderness trip was that we didn't have the luxury of toilets. Or showers. Or running water for that matter, besides the river. To have water to drink, we had to carry water from the river up to our campsite, and then filter as much as we wanted. To take a shower, well, we had to go for a swim. To go to the bathroom, we had to dig a hole, bury whatever we left, except for the toilet paper. We had to burn that. I never knew I could hold it so long.

The time is around 3:30 pm, we're all cold and wet, and ready to settle down for the night. Debby says she thinks we should start looking for a place to set up camp, and we all agree, wholeheartedly. Fortunately, we're in calm water, so we don't have to put all our attention into paddling. After a while, someone speaks up.

"How about over there?"

Looks like a place that will suit our needs well. As long as the possibility has some sheltered area, and the ground isn't too rocky, I'll be happy to sleep there. We get the attention of the other rafts, and paddle over to the shore. After scouting around, we pull the boats totally out of the water and start unloading our gear.
"Hey, you guys! Do you remember how scared we were of that first rapid? It seems pretty funny now, after all we've been through, doesn't it?"

Towards the end of April, 1995, I went on a homeschooling rafting trip organized by Tom and Debra Weistar. I spent five days on the Eel river with twelve teens, Tom and Debby, and our two river guides, Brent and Sheila. I've never done anything quite like the Adventure Course before in my life, but then again, the Weistars tend to create new and wonderful experiences for anybody who wants them. Their adventures are a great way to meet homeschooled teens in a situation where you all learn to work together.

The Weistars live in northern California, and they have a ropes course behind their house. They have different courses and trips they organize for schools, families, and other groups. Only in the last two years though, have they done some trips specifically for homeschoolers.

They have done a Challenge Course both years: Five days at their ropes course, a hike down to a river and a swim if you dared to brave the icy water, rock climbing, numerous trust games, and time to get to know the other people in the group. Unexpectedly, the first year, we went to bed in the rain and woke up in the snow! As a result, we didn't get to go rock climbing, but the course was still an incredible adventure. And one of the best parts of the whole trip was the fact that our little community consisted only of people my own age, and two very cool adults (Tom and Debby).

This year, in addition to the Challenge Course, the Weistars added an Adventure Course. The course was meant to be a backpacking trip with one day rafting, but conditions were so great on the river that with everyone's consent, we spent the whole five days on the water. We traveled what is called a wilderness route. Except for the train tracks that ran along the river for half the time, we were out of civilization. The scenery held no roads, no campsites, and no running water. Our surrounding world consisted of trees, water, sky and a few "No Trespassing" signs attached to an occasional dilapidated fence.

I'll never forget that trip, mostly because I hardly ever have the chance to live with a group of homeschooled teens in a demanding situation, struggling and working together from the beginning, to make sure we all come out safely at the other end.
- Copyright 1996 Christie Boone

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