Sixteen young adults from around the United States made the trek to the Buffalo National River in Arkansas to be a part of the first Challenger II canoeing program. The Challenger II program is designed to be a service and leadership program along with the rock climbing Challenger II program in Arizona. We had a few more girls (10) than guys (six). Our canoe staff consisted of Britt Taylor, Mike Blackwell, Allen Hirst and Doug Horchak.
On day one, we pitched our tents and were introduced to the fantastic food that would continue for six days. (Admittedly it's not as hard to brave the wilderness while you are enjoying fajitas and homemade beef stew!)
Day two we hit the river and tested our skills as expert paddlers and, with the low water levels, we also tested our leg strength with a few portages. Although Mr. Blackwell educated us on the snakes and crawling creatures that are native to Arkansas, I am pleased to report that most kept their distance and we were able to admire them from afar, or not at all.
For three days and two nights we called the river home and were responsible for setting up and tearing down camp each day. Once we mastered our canoeing techniques, we focused on team building. The participants experimented with makeshift catamarans by tying two canoes together in which four or five young adults paddled and one lucky participant took the stern and worked to encourage the rest of the team members.
Each morning we started the day with a brief Compass Check to highlight a biblical principle that would be the focus of our day. Toward the end of camp, one of our own, Matthew Miller, presented a Compass Check to the group.
Each evening ended with a campfire discussion that would start with a story of courage, bravery or integrity and end with a discussion involving life skills and our personal conviction. Oftentimes campfire was followed by informal discussion in which we all related personal stories, scriptures and opinions about all walks of life.
As for the highlights, of which there were many, I'd have to say that the camaraderie of the young adults was definitely at the top of the list! While all the meals were fantastic, a special thanks go to Chef Doug Horchak and Chef Mike Blackwell for the Sabbath morning made-to-order omelets, which were definitely a smashing success. I am sure we will all always remember hitting the river's rock “pillows” while floating in our lifejackets down the rapids (whose names are a great contradiction!). And I'd be remiss if I didn't mention the pickin' and grinnin' exhibition of Ozark mountain music that was showcased by the locals after sundown on the Sabbath.
At the conclusion of camp, we were all responsible for taking a Learning by Doing service project back to our location congregation. These projects can be anything from mentoring, to assisting with service logistics or organizing a congregational activity. We will be working locally to share our camp experiences! UN