The last full expedition of my year here at FMA was a great one.
On the first day, I had to wake up early and help Ms. Margaret cook for everyone, and then at about 9:00 a.m. most of us piled onto the bus and were ready to go. Out of nowhere, the bus refused to start, but I was still in great spirits and did not allow myself to see this as an omen. Mr. Mike finally got the bus working and off we went. When we arrived at Star Gap Road, I was disappointed that the donkeys were not there to greet us as they usually are. I soon forgot about that and focused on keeping my spacing steady while hiking between Stephanie and Morgan. It didn’t take long for us to reach the trail, and I’ve always loved that first section of the trail because it reminds me of somewhere I’ve been before. The weather had begun to heat up and I was glad for the sparse shade of the trees. We had our first break, and I sat on the side of the trail without taking my pack off, becoming slightly annoyed as I felt the seat of my pants getting wet. I enjoyed the sun on my face during the next peaceful period of hiking. I could tell we were getting close to camp, so I started collecting twiggys, and somehow managed to drop my hat. When we arrived at camp, Morgan graciously returned my hat to me, and also Mr. Mike’s tiny stuffed cat, Felix to him. We had two hours before rally, so Stephanie and I set up our camp and let our sleeping bags and tent air out. When rally rolled around, we were tired from the heat so Mr. Mike passed out the gift of Snickers bars from Ms. Patricia claiming that Mr. Matt didn’t want to carry them anymore. Then he gave us the rest of the day off. Stephanie and I went to camp and played in the creek for a while, before going back to our tent. Both of us said that we wanted to save our Snickers, but the craving overpowered us, and we ate them quickly, happy that for the first time in a long time they weren’t frozen and were soft and easy to eat. After a quick game of cards, we fell asleep comfortable and happy with all the extra room in the tent. My only regret that day was that I didn’t have pajamas, so I was hot as I drifted off to sleep.
On the second day, Stephanie and I woke up early. I started the fire in a way that made it quickly blaze up, and I started cooking the oats. When I got to the rally point, my stomach was in knots because Mr. Mike had already told us what was going on that day. We hiked up the painfully familiar hill to a very steep rock wall that would have been pretty if I hadn’t known what was in store. I watched the first couple of students complete the assignment, and before I knew it, it was my turn. I climbed up the side, and when I reached the top and looked down, I could feel the blood freeze in my veins. Not from the height, but from the anticipation of falling. I knew I was being silly. No one else seemed to have any problem, and generally I’m calmer than most of the students, but the thought of failing miserably and falling was very strong. I grasped the rope and backed off the edge of the (now mountainous in my mind) wall and very slowly began to slide down. I knew that sliding was not what I was supposed to be doing, and most likely it was more dangerous, but somehow it felt safer and before I knew it, it was too late to go back up. I had to rappel from where I was or fall, and I wasn’t about to do that. When the whole ordeal was finally over, I was glad to slide back down the hill and pull on the heavy backpack at last. Or at least I was until we started hiking, and every time I crossed the creek I could feel my boots filling with cold water again. I didn’t complain though, because the rest of my body was burning up. I lost count of the number of times we crossed the creek after about the seventh time, and I was relieved to arrive at camp, to take a cold bath near the creek, and to air out all of my clothes. When we went to rally, Mr. Mike took us all on a day-hike to a side of Gentry Falls we hadn’t seen before, where several of the other students played in the water. Isaac found a big GeoCache that was full of toys and other cute little entertaining things. A few people traded items for some of them, and then we hiked back to camp where we tightened everything down because the sky had begun to look threatening. Mr. Mike told us at rally that if rain were falling in the morning, we would stay in this camp. Stephanie and I headed back to our tent and went to bed.
On the third morning, Stephanie and I woke up to the sound of what we thought was rain falling on the tent. Reluctantly, I climbed out to ask Mr. Mike if we were staying in camp, and my good spirits plummeted when I saw that the water falling from the sky was actually frozen and making everything we had left outside practically useless. I trudged quickly up to Mr. Mike’s camp. From inside his tent, he asked me how bad it was raining, and I told him that it was actually snowing. I heard Mr. Matt laugh, and Mr. Mike asked if I was serious. He told me that we would just “hunker down” that day. I walked as quickly as I dared back to our now frozen tent and jumped in, waking Stephanie who had fallen right back asleep after I had left. I got out of my now wet clothes and snuggled back into my still warm sleeping bag, thankful that, for once, everything in the tent was dry. Mr. Mike came by at around 12:30 that afternoon and told us to get a fire going and eat something. After we did that, Stephanie went up to Mr. Mike’s camp and asked if we could visit Morgan and Rachel. We went up to their camp and played cards for a few hours, and then the four of us dove into Stephanie’s and my tent to get out of the rain. Shortly after Morgan and Rachel left, Mr. Mike came by and gave us the information for the next morning, and Stephanie fell asleep almost immediately. I stayed awake and read until it was dark, and fell asleep restlessly.
The next morning I awoke in a fairly bad mood for reasons I didn’t fully know, and my mood got worse and worse as we hiked up the steep rocky hillside because every three steps my tent fell off the top of my backpack and hit me in the head. It really was three. I counted. When we reached the top, Mr. Mike stopped us and Morgan helped me re-attach the tent so it would stop hitting me. I promised to make her a cookie at the next camp, which I did shortly after getting there. After rally, Mr. Mike took Stephanie, Rachel, James, and David on a day-hike, and, while they were gone, Morgan and I hung out at my camp and talked. When they got back, Stephanie told me about the hike, and I was glad I wasn’t one of the ones assigned to go. We made a traditional expedition “Everything We Have Casserole” and shared some of it with Mr. Mike and a few others at rally. Then we played some cards and read until we fell asleep.
On the morning of the fifth day, Mr. Mike came around just as we were finishing packing and getting ready to go, and told us that we would be going on a day-hike first and that rally would be later than normal. Once we were ready, we started the hike up to the bald knob with Morgan as the leader. At the top we all relaxed, and I let myself feel as though I were on vacation at the beach. It was nice. I could even feel my skin burning. When we were ready to go, Mr. Mike gave William instructions to lead us down the hill where all the little homes were. When we arrived, there was not much to see besides the cute little cabins, and I grew tired of the place quickly, mainly because it was hot, and I felt like I wasn’t supposed to be there. Once we were back to where we had left our packs, the hike down to camp was short and easy, if a bit slippery, and we got there after only a few minutes. At least that was how it felt, in truth it was about eighty minutes. Stephanie and I had the first campsite, the only drawback being we were in the middle of the trail and about ten minutes away from the rest of the group. I also soon discovered that I had to slide down a steep hill through trees and thorns to get to water. When we went to rally, we passed Mr. Matt and wondered nervously where he was going because we were tired and my hand felt funny. At rally, we talked for a while and then Mr. Mike sent us all out, with Stephanie leading, to find Mr. Matt. I was at the end of the line, so by the time I got there, everyone already knew that it was a first-aid drill, and Morgan was in charge. In my opinion the whole thing was a bit of a mess, and in a real emergency I hope we would do much better. Even so, we did build a stretcher and carry Mr. Matt back to camp. When that was over, Stephanie and I took the long hike back to our camp, ate our food, and started getting sentimental because we were thinking about the fact that it was the last time we’d be doing this. Then we went to evening rally and listened to Mr. Mike, before going back to camp and playing cards until we fell asleep.
The next morning, Stephanie and I were both eager and reluctant to leave the tent, but we knew we had to, so after some complaints about the stormy-looking sky, we got out. It was my turn to start the fire, but Stephanie wanted to start our last fire, and I let her. We ate, packed our packs, and went to rally. It was a bittersweet moment for all of us, and we were slow to leave, but when it was over, Stephanie and I headed back to our camp and stayed there playing cards until it was time for the other students to meet up with us. While we were waiting, I found an old metal match container and decided I would keep it. Stephanie led the group out, and when we stopped at the creek, Mr. Mike gave us a quick lesson on edible plants and some more advice for our upcoming solo expedition. We hadn’t even been hiking for an hour when we were pleasantly surprised to see Mr. Kevin driving up the street in the bus to pick us up. We got back to school earlier than normal, and after my shower, I went upstairs to do my “brains” for the next day in the kitchen. After dishes, I was exhausted but ready for another early morning in the kitchen. All the pain and annoyance of the last expedition already forgotten, I was surprised to realize that I was going to miss them.