Every winter we take half a dozen boys backpacking into the wilderness of the El Dorado National Forest.
Camping out for 4 days and 3 nights, packing in and out all of the gear, the trip is physically challenging: snowshoeing through waist-deep snow with heavy packs and supplies. The trip is led by Hanna Rec. Specialist and long-time avid wilderness explorer Travis Curtis.
The goal of every trip is to teach the boys that they are much smarter and far more capable than they think they are. These trips give boys the freedom to explore this concept in their own way, while under careful supervision.
When Travis Curtis asked the boys why we think they’re are much smarter and more capable than they think they are, this is how they responded:
“Because at Hanna we might get away with stupid stuff, but when it comes to surviving in the middle of nowhere that’s when we have to put our minds to work on figuring out how to survive.”
“If we have been making everything so far, we can do anything. We have been doing a lot on our own.”
“To let us know that it’s not easy to do things on our own, like making food out in the woods and making shelter.
“I think Curtis says it because he believes in us, and wants us to push ourselves to do better, and do things we don’t think we can do, but can. And this applies to this trip, because we’re really by ourselves and with no staff telling us how to do things, we figure things out.”
“Because in the city we are not able to test all of our abilities, therefore we do not know the extent of our abilities and he wants us to know that we have a lot more capability than we previously knew.”
“He says that because he knows we are capable of making things while thinking outside the box.”
When Mr. Curtis asked the boys to name 5 things they learned on the trip, one boy wrote this:
“I do not need to rely on certain people that I have been for a while.”
” I don’t need technology 24/7 and it’s nice to take a break from it.”
“My mind feels more tense and I feel more crazy when I’m back at home.”
“I can challenge myself more than I have been in the past couple years.”
“I don’t need to give up on myself mentally or physically as quickly as I have been.”
Mr. Curtis says “These responses are typical. I realized a simple fact on this trip that really put things into perspective; this is the only Hanna program where the term “boy” and “staff” becomes irrelevant. It is the only program where boys and staff are completely on level terms, same food, same conditions, same equipment and we don’t go home each night—we sleep in a tent just like everyone else in the group. We put in the same effort to survive, as a team. It seems like a small thing, but the honesty and trust this equality fosters leads to the inroads we are all looking for in terms of providing the best treatment and care for our boys. The shared experience leads to lasting and intrinsically organic relationships that allow us to do our jobs far more effectively long after the initial experience is over.”
These trips are great outlets for the restless, the adventurous, the independent and those who flourish with added responsibility and freedom. It’s a rare opportunity and it provides incredible challenges and potential for growth.