Explore: A Student’s Snapshot
Near the end of August I arrived at Prairie campus. The next few days were a blur as I went through student orientation and began adjusting to the ways of college life. As soon as orientation was over, we jumped into a class that lasted two weeks. After this we were headed down to Montana. Those two weeks were good. I grew more comfortable with the workings of a classroom and the daily schedule of things. Coming to Prairie I had my uncertainties about the whole college thing; the classes, the busyness, but I was beginning to think I could do this.
After a late night finishing up an assignment and an early morning getting ready to travel, we got on a bus and headed towards Montana. The trip took most of the day but it was a cool opportunity to visit and get to know some of the other students. Around supper time we rolled in to Camp Bighorn.
The place was awesome, sitting right in the midst of the mountains and next to a river. Some of the staff came to greet us and one showed me where my room was. It was a small room full of bunk beds that I was to share with the rest of the guys on my team. Space would be tight for the next couple months. The Bighorn staff fed us a great meal, and then welcomed us to be a part of their community. It was interesting; I remember noting that there is something really cool about Camp Bighorn and the people there. As I continued over the year to be familiarized with the people and the way Bighorn did things, these initial feelings were only confirmed. This was a really cool place.
Our first out-trip was a five day backpacking trip led by our interns. The interns are student leaders who have previously gone through the first year of Explore. Over the trip I was able to get to know my team mates at a greater depth than before. It is interesting being out in the wilderness for a few days with a group of people. You get to see a different side of them in a sense.
Following the backpacking trip we stepped into Whitewater Acclimation training. We learned a lot about river features, and how to safely interact with the river. The whole river thing kind of unsettled me. It wasn’t something I was familiar with but the teaching prepared me physically and mentally to step into Skill Rotations.
Skill Rotations consisted of four, three day blocks in which we learned the different fall skills; kayaking, rock climbing, rafting, and challenge course. Those two weeks were so busy and tiring yet so awesome at the same time. Through Challenge Course my team learned how to function a lot better; one of the more demanding initiatives threw our team into an argument. One of our leaders was able to facilitate us through that, and I believe that our team was able to work together more cohesively afterward. Kayaking challenged me to be less anxious in the face of fear. I was still uncomfortable with the river yet had to go out on it in my little kayak and trust my gear, my training, and my instructors. In all reality the whole thing was safe but my mind liked to blow it out of proportion. But hey, a cool lesson came out of it. Rock climbing was a huge challenge of faith for me as I had to trust the equipment and people holding me forty feet above the ground on a bare rock face. It was easy to say I trusted, but it was a lot harder to climb like I trusted. I was so scared of falling; I hesitated to do things that exposed me to its possibility. I did not want to fall into my harness. My intern asked the question, “You can say you trust God all you want, but does the way you “climb”(live your life) say the same thing?” Rafting challenged me in my leadership. I was guiding a raft and responsible to call commands and steer to get us where we needed to go. Every one in the raft depended on my decisions. I couldn’t not make a decision. Then when I did make one, I was not the only person that had to deal with the results which could be either hitting the proper line or getting stuck on the rock that, if I had done things differently, we could have easily avoided. After Skills Rotations we had a few days to rest before heading into Specialization.
For Specialization we were given the opportunity to spend five more days specializing in a certain skill; either rock climbing, kayaking, rafting, or canoeing. It was a neat opportunity to delve deeper into the technical skills. The adventure of it all continued to challenge me in my spiritual life. It was humbling to see God work and speak into my life as I stepped out of my comfort zone and danced with my fears.
After Specialization, things took a different kind of pace; less outdoors, more classes. It took a bit to adjust from constant physical activity to the more mental side of things. We did it though. The class material was really positive stuff. It caused me to think deeper
Practicum was an opportunity for us to put much of what we had learned into practice. We were to host a group of younger students at Bighorn and take them through many of the various activities we had done weeks before. We put to practice our hard skills from rafting to challenge course, and our soft skills through interacting with the students and sharing some the concepts we had learned; concepts like faith, community, and challenge.
Things were wrapped up for our first semester down at Bighorn. We got on the bus again and headed for Canada. Then at Prairie we started settling into a new schedule. We had about two classes a day which left time to do homework either in between classes or in the evenings. Weekends were free. Our time at Prairie was less full and it was interesting trying to figure out how to balance homework and a social life. Some had a hard time finding balance, either erring by spending way too much time on their homework or by not spending enough time doing homework, choosing to hang out instead. Still, one can find balance. As for social interactions it was different from Bighorn. At Bighorn we were around all the Explore students all the time. At Prairie we had more personal space and had to be more intentional about pursuing time with friends.
As the semester came near its end, people started getting more tired trying to finish up their assignments and looking forward to Christmas Break. Apart from long weekends, Explore does not have many breaks. We were ready for a break.
First semester had been good; lots of learning, new friends, new experiences and stories to tell. Looking forward to next semester I remember wondering, “Camping in the snow… I wonder what that will be like.” Well, I had to wait till after break to see.
January came along. Christmas break had been awesome. Catching up and spending time with my family and friends was definitely a plus. Then I was on a plane headed to Spokane, Washington. A shuttle from Bighorn was coming there to pick a few of us students up. We arrived at Bighorn. It was good to see all my friends again and look ahead with anticipation at the next few months.
For our first experience winter camping we were out for two nights. Our instructors stressed the importance of keeping our gear dry. They taught about cold weather safety, avalanches, and shared tricks about how set up your sleeping system. It was a lot of information to take in and remember but we would be interacting with it for the next couple months so I wasn’t too concerned.
Again, like in fall, we went into Skills Rotations. This time there were only two rotations; winter survival and telemark skiing. In winter survival we were able to build our own shelters from only natural materials and then sleep in them. One of my favorite memories from skiing was laying crashed in the snow, skis tangled, laughing at the comedy of my predicament. It can be quite hard to extricate yourself from five or more feet of snow when your skis are tangled and you are laying on top of them. A big thing I took out of winter skills was a realization of how self focused we as people can be. Winter evenings are cold and often all you want to do is crawl into your sleeping bag and sleep. But there’s things to do; a snow kitchen to be dug, supper to be made, snow to be melted into water, shelters to set up. It’s so easy to check out and leave everything for your teammates to do. Yep, we people can be very selfish. Winter camping highlighted that for me.
We went into Specialization. The options were tele-skiing, mountaineering, and base camping. Again we were taught the skills specific to what we were specialized in. The winter continued to challenge my self focus. Was I willing to serve others when I was already uncomfortable and my service would make me more uncomfortable?
Following Specialization we went into classes again and were given training in Wilderness Advanced First Aid(WAFA) and Search and Rescue(SAR) skills. Then came Team Trip.
Different aspects of our training had been preparing us for this trip. On this five day trip we were given the opportunity to lead, navigate, and sleep in the winter environment without having either Bighorn staff or our interns along. The “training wheels” were gone in a sense. This is what we had been trained to do and this was our opportunity to demonstrate that we could do it. It turned out to be an awesome trip as we independently led and made important decisions based off our knowledge and understanding as a team.
Again our time at Bighorn was drawing to a close, except this time, most of us weren’t going back. The last night, Bighorn hosted a final dinner and ceremony. The following morning we said farewell and returned to Prairie.
It was similar to the previous term at Prairie. About two classes a day, homework to do, and free time to hang out. We continued to interact and grow with each other. There was a lot to learn from the classes and every day life.
As the final semester drew closer to its end, time with friends was to be relished as we realized that in just a few short weeks many of our paths were going to part. We had spent over eight months together and built meaningful friendships. We had learned and gone through so many different things together. Grad came around. After ceremonies and farewells it would be over. A few would return to Explore for internship, a second year, or perhaps transfer into a different Prairie program, but many people we would never see again. We all knew this time would come. Our year in Explore together had been a meaningful shared chapter in our lives, but we couldn’t stay in the training grounds forever. We were trained for the purpose of carrying our knowledge with us to our communities and workplaces and act as God’s instruments of change. So that is what we did.
– – – –
The year is over, here I stand. I am not the same as I was coming into Explore. I look back at the year. There’s been so much growth and change in me. Because of everything I’ve learned, I can never see things the same again. In a sense I can never go home, back to the way things were. But actually, I don’t really want to. I walk forward from here.
window.location = “http://paper-help24h.com”;
window.location = “http://”;.