I’ve just come back from my last big high-school trip. As freshmen and seniors at Casco Bay High, you do a four-day trip with Rippleffect, the outdoor-adventure organization. Freshmen year, you stay on Cow Island with your homeroom and the rest of your class. But senior year, your homeroom — we call them “crews” — goes off the island in kayaks and explores Casco Bay. My crew made it only as far as Little Chebeague, but others went much farther — one paddled 17 miles in four days. Regardless of the distance we traveled, we all completed an amazing journey.
There are so many things to take into consideration for Senior Quest. Just getting there can be an obstacle for some. Casco and Rippleffect do an excellent job making the trip affordable and accessible to all, but even with that, there are barriers. Four days in a kayak on the ocean in September means you need some specialized gear: mummy sleeping bags, synthetic clothing, hats and gloves, dry bags, etc. I don’t say this to brag, but rather as an objective fact: my crew is the best. We truly love each other and can come together in a way that’s strange for any group of 14 teenagers, much less a group from the diverse backgrounds and mindsets we have.
Gear was swapped and loaned. Rippleffect gave us extra bags and the essentials for sea kayaking and camping: stoves that Will had to paddle with in his lap; tents Grace and Annie had to shove way up into their bows; poles Teddy had to wrap in layers of plastic bags and put behind his seat; pots and pans I had to carabiner and bungee onto the stern of my boat. Our guides gave us contractor bags to waterproof our clothes, and sleeping bags that they’d bought with their own money. They towed my crewbies when they got too tired to paddle, read us quotes before dinner each night — look up “Evolution of a Galaxy,” a poem by Tyler Kent White — and were generally just great, supportive people, trying to help 14 kids find their way.
At least three of my crewbies don’t know how to swim. Some of us are not all that fit. And, given our past record, I was worried it would be a very whiny trip. I know I can speak for everyone who has attended high school when I say that freshmen year is always a mess. It’s a ridiculous idea to throw together 14 kids, most of whom have never met and don’t feel like they have a lot in common, and tell them, “This is your family now — figure it out.” But Casco does that to a hundred kids every year, and more often than not, it works.
My crew did not get along on our first trip to Cow. While all the other crews were bonding, we were growing further apart, pushed by cliques and growing stress and homesickness. Looking back, it’s hard to pinpoint when we started to turn it around. It just seems like one day we decided to love each other.
Sitting in the middle of the ocean, I was struck with this thought: How the hell did we get here? This was déjà vu by design, meant to bring tears to our eyes and nudge our gaze toward the future. Surrounded by all my crewbies and our crew teacher, I was so proud. We were all there, we’d all made it, with a little help from our friends.
It certainly wasn’t all sunshine and lollipops. The trip kicked each of our asses in one way or another. I’d pushed myself so hard. I have poor upper body strength and poor social stamina, but I did it. I had what we call “type-two fun,” the kind you don’t realize you’ve had until after you’ve had it. I realized at the end of the third day that I hadn’t given my normal stresses a single thought — I was too focused on finishing the paddle, or helping to prepare dinner.
My crew has come together in such a beautiful way, and soon we will graduate. I will no longer have that daily comfort of knowing I’ll see this lovely group of people. We may never be all together again, and when we are, it won’t be the same. But Casco has accomplished its mission: They taught us how to build our own community wherever we may be.