Ann and I go backpacking to escape our house. To escape our neighbors. To escape our jobs. To escape the emails and escape the voicemails.
To escape civilization. Dare I say, to escape Stockton.
And so it was with some dismay that we pulled into the parking lot at Kennedy Meadows last Friday, only to find 30 high school sophomores from Stockton Collegiate International School hoisting backpacks and beginning their march to precisely the same backcountry hideout that we intended to enjoy.
“Great,” I muttered under my breath. “A two-and-a-half hour drive, a seven-mile hike climbing 1,800 vertical feet, and we’ll be camped right next to a bunch of kids who go to school right around the corner from The Record.”
But once we got moving, an amazing thing happened, as it often does on the trail: My attitude improved.
As we climbed with the group toward the top of an exposed ridge, one of the teachers explained that this was actually the students’ final exam for their P.E. class.
“No way — I wish they’d done this when I was in high school,” I said, vaguely remembering doing 300 sit-ups, or something. “You guys are lucky.”
I’m not sure they were buying my enthusiasm, as the gradient on the climb steepened even more. It was clear some of these kids had never been backpacking — perhaps never even hiking. Maybe they’d never been given the opportunity. And maybe, as they struggled up that ridge, they wished they never had been.
But I knew that if they would have anything like the experiences I had in the wilderness with my friends when I was a teen, some of them just might discover a new passion. Maybe they’ll be returning someday with their wives, their kids, their dogs, whatever.
Suddenly the forest didn’t seem so crowded anymore. I was happy to climb with them.
Eventually Ann and I picked up speed and passed the group for good. And we didn’t see them again, because as it turned out, despite my grousing, the wilderness offered plenty of room to share.
Thanks to the fearless leaders at Stockton Collegiate for giving those kids such an awesome experience. You can check out photos from their trip on the school’s Facebook wall.