Recently there was an opportunity to join my daughters class on a trip to Northern Minnesota for a week at Wolf Ridge Environmental Learning Center. There was some hesitation about going for me due to a couple of reasons. First, many of the activities are outside and spending a week outdoors in the cold of a Minnesota winter was not overly appealing and secondly, a couple hundred students talking, screaming, and goofing off is difficult for me to take in. I decided to continue on with the trip because I love new adventures and, even more, sharing those adventures with others. Watching another person experience something new and exciting and find skills they didn’t know they had is fulfilling to me.
In the days leading up to this northern adventure I got things situated at work for me to be gone and finished picking up appropriate gear as the weather forecast called for temperatures to be below 0 degrees F most of the week. Finally I got all my stuff packed and ready to go still a little uncertain of how the week would go with these kids. Monday morning came and it was time to head up. I was joined by another parent who would be sharing this adventure and off we went on our 4 hour journey to Wolf Ridge. We arrived a little before the kids got there on their buses giving time to settle in before the chaos started.
The kids all arrived, unloaded their luggage and went to their assigned rooms to put it away before heading to their first class of the week. Unfortunately the snow depth was on the light side meaning cross country skiing would not work and snowshoeing was questionable. Who would have guessed a thin snow base in Northern Minnesota in January? We began to figure out the routine for the week and let the learning begin. Each group consisted of 12 –15 students most of the time with 2 – 3 adults assisting them which made the week very manageable and a lot of fun. You get to know this group and these kids become almost like your own in a short period of time.
There were so many activities planned that each day felt like a week because of how busy it was. the fact that it was pretty cold became less of a concern because of the fun and education taking place. We all just knew we had to dress correctly for the conditions and we’d be fine. It helped remind me that subzero temperatures are not a good reason to forego outdoor adventures and that I am able to stay comfortable in these types of environments. Continually checking the forecast and outside temperatures became useless for me because it didn’t matter. I would go where I was asked to and do what was needed to help facilitate as much learning for these kids as possible.
The coldest day during the week, I had heard, was –26 degrees F with a brisk wind creating a wind chill of –43 degrees F. Yes, we still ventured outdoors on that day but not as long as other days. For those unable to imagine such conditions let me provide an example. After a meal in the dining hall I would grab a hot cup of tea to drink back at the dorm we were staying in. On the short 4 – 5 minute walk back I would almost be drinking iced tea in my room. That’s a slight exaggeration but not much. Another example was using my mobile phone to take a few pictures. I could only take a few because as the phone became colder it actually froze up and would not work again for almost an hour until it warmed back up.
While there were several different classes with a lot of learning going on surrounded by this beautiful landscape, the most talked about classes were the ropes course and climbing wall. These were the most challenging to complete and required students to push through their fears and often be surprised by their abilities. It was such a privilege to be able to witness these kids figure out what they could really do and complete either the ropes course or rock wall or both. A new experience for many. I was certain I could complete the ropes course but I’ve never taken the time to climb a rock wall so this was my first time doing it. Yes, I did make it to the top twice.
As the week began to wind down towards the end a little sadness entered that we’d be leaving. Several adults that have gone before me and encouraged me to take this opportunity all said I’d have a great time and they were right. It was so much fun spending time with these great kids and seeing what they could achieve along with meeting a bunch a great chaperones and having fun getting to know many of them. We’ve all gone back our separate ways but the memories will continue to be with me.