Last week, July 18-23, Youth Odyssey completed our 2016 Canoe Summer Camp that took place at Martin Dies Jr. State Park. Campers and their families met our staff at South Park Middle School at 8:00 a.m., Monday morning, loaded up, and hit the road for a 4.5 hour car ride to the State Park. The car ride was oddly quiet for the majority of the ride, which consisted of nap taking, radio singalongs, Pokémon catching, and book reading.
When we arrived at Martin Dies Jr. State Park there was a terrible sounding and looking thunderstorm headed our way so we made sure to prioritize setting up tents and shelters in preparation for the storm. I think we may have set some sort of record in the “setting up camp” category. Luckily the storm sounded way worse than it actually was and all we got was a little sprinkle. Since we set up camp so quickly we had plenty of time for dinner, going over what to expect for the next couple of days, and were able to play some camp games before heading to bed after a long travel day.
The next morning we woke up, had breakfast and got right into canoe drills. All of the kids got a paddle and we went through what the different parts of the paddle are called and how to use them when in the canoe. Brian, one of our facilitators, had everyone participate in a tricky paddle game in which an “instruction” is given and you have to “act it out”; if you mess up, you’re out, and if you drop your paddle, you’re out. The last one standing with their paddle wins. The set up is everyone gets in a circle with the paddle end of the paddle upwards and the grip of the paddle on the ground then we have to move right or left to the next paddle without it dropping. As we got better we made it more difficult; you still had to go right or left but also had to bow and spin without the paddle falling on the ground or getting confused and doing the wrong thing. Needless to say it was a hilarious few minutes of some intense competition. Once we had caught our breath from the game we started to discuss the parts of the canoe and proper procedure for getting into and out of the canoe. We reviewed safety rules and fitted everyone for life jackets before breaking for lunch.
When we came back from lunch we headed into the water to go over basic canoe strokes, how to move in a canoe and the idea of “T-rescues”, which is a type of rescue used in case a canoe flips over. We wanted to cover all types of scenarios before heading out into the water for a trip so the kids know what to expect and can react accordingly in case of an emergency. In order to do “T-rescues” though, a canoe must flip, so the kids all took turns intentionally flipping their canoes (which they loved) and then traded off being the rescue boat and the boat that was in need of rescue. If you can believe it, we ran through 4 hours on the water just toppling out of the canoes and doing an insane amount of “T-rescues.” All because the kids just wanted to keep doing it over and over. We still had some time for fun and they chose to go swimming before diner and nightly rituals.
The next morning we hit the water after breakfast to do a 3 mile trip around an island that was supposed to be pretty scenic. We had only traveled about 1/4 of the way there when we realized there was too much overgrowth in our route to continue on so we back tracked and ended up going along the same route just in reverse. This way were still able to see the Mangrove patches and swim in the open area after parking the canoes along the shore of the river. Because the kids enjoy flipping over and doing “T rescues” so much, they decided they would all load up into a canoe and flip it during our swim time and then do a “T rescue.” After they had all loaded up and flipped the canoe they were convinced that, with their strength combined, they could just flip over the canoe by hand while it was still in the water. They were wrong. Eventually they caved and decided to get another canoe involved in the rescue. Unfortunately, the rescue canoe got flipped when another individual attempted to get into the canoe and the weight wasn’t distributed correctly. That lead to yet another rescue canoe being paddled out to the two flipped canoes and then a “T rescue” was able to be attempted. I say attempted because the canoes had filled with water as they flipped and had created a strong seal with the water that was hard to break. Eventually, one of the facilitators had to climb aboard the rescue canoe and help them lift and twist the canoe until the seal was broken and it was able to be brought onto the other canoe and drained. It was quite an ordeal in the sense that it was an insane situation but the whole time the kids were laughing about it and working together to fix the issues as a team. (And it made for some good pictures, as you can see).
After we were able to get all of the canoes in order and loaded up we headed back to camp for some much needed showers, dinner, games and of course some s’mores. That night they had no trouble getting to sleep.
Every year on day four of camp, the kids wake up, eat breakfast, load into the vans, and head to Bevilport Boat Launch, which was just outside the park. This day is known as the River Trip Day. So named because the whole day consists of a 9-12 miles stretch of winding river, ropes swings and swimming. There have been years where the trip took up to 9 hours but, luckily, that was not the case this year and they were getting out of the water at a more ideal 6 hours. The water was lower than previous years so it was more calm and easier to navigate. They of course paused to enjoy the scenery and take a swim at a couple of places. There were also a few rope swings that they came across that they decided to test out and swing from. It was a long, hot day but they had great attitudes throughout and even wanted to go swimming when they were back on land but we didn’t have time since dinner was also on everyone’s mind. The rest of the night consisted of just hanging out and relaying stories from the days adventures.
On our last full day at Martin Dies Jr. State park we decided to have a Free Day. Basically the kids let us know what they want to do and almost anything, within reason, was on the table; canoeing, swimming, hiking, kayaking, just hanging out, or playing games. Due to the full days of the camp, we chose to let the kids sleep in until 8am this day and do a nice, not rushed breakfast and hot coco in the morning. By the time we were done with eating and cleaning it was about 11am and they kids voted to go swimming first and see where the day would take us. We packed up some snacks and went to the swimming hole for more fun in the sun. After a few hours we took a break to get some snacks and dry a bit to reapply sunscreen and play a game or two. The kids chose to stay at the swimming area after snacks so it turned into one big swim day full of water games and fooling around in the name of fun. Eventually, we had worked up an appetite and started back to camp to shower and decide what was going down for dinner. The proper title of the dinner selection is “Leftover Lunacy” where we go through everything we had left-over food wise from the trip, and let the kids kind of free-for-all their meal; and it was quite the spread. Some kids had sandwiches, others mac and cheese, mashed potatoes, beans, breakfast sausage, oatmeal, oranges, granola bars or grilled veggies, and putting them together in a most random way. Clearly the lunacy part was in full effect and the kids didn’t seem to mind a bit. Everyone got incredibly full that night and we had to wait a while before s’mores happened so we could create room in our bellies for more food.
To kill time in between dinner and s’mores we began packing up since we were planning to leave around 7:30am the next day. We washed dishes, took down our pavilion shelter, and made sure that everything was taken off of the dry line we had set up so they wouldn’t have wet swim suits and towels. We also discussed a strategy for rolling right out of bed and getting going. It was basically, “pack everything you don’t need for tomorrow except your change of clothes” type of discussion. Afterwards, we sat down and discussed how the morning would work and giving them s’mores to finish the day on a sweet note.
Refreshingly, the next morning the kids did very well waking up (at 6:30am) and packing the remainder of camp up. Once the tents were down it was a matter of double checking things were put away and making sure to hit the bathroom before officially getting on the road just a little after 7:30am, which was perfect. The ride was again pretty quiet, the kids passed out soon after the drive started and dozed on and off for the first half of the day. They all came to life after our Buc-ee’s visit to fuel up and use the restrooms. After that they kids were singing along the music and chatting it up with one another.
When we arrived in Corpus just a little before 4pm, the kids expressed how much fun they had on the trip and inquired about more Youth Odyssey trips and experiences they could be a part of. We had one girl in particular who started asking us about becoming a mentor; and this canoe camp was her first experience with Youth Odyssey. It spoke volumes to how her camping experience went and we have plans to see her again when our school programs start back up again.
It’s another successful camp in the bag and now our final, fourth camp is coming up in just a few days! Our Hit the Trail Backpacking Camp starts on Tuesday, August 2nd and we couldn’t be more excited.