Monday, July 14, 2008

First Descents

July 4th I had the opportunity of going to a cancer survivor/fighter summer camp in Kalispell, Montana. It was a week long kayaking based getaway from the real world where I was able to get my bearings back and think about what I want to do with my future. It was one of the best trips I have ever had! I met a lot of new people and made some really good friends.
First Descents does a lot for cancer survivors/fighters that modern medicine cannot. I did not have to pay one penny for the week stay. My parents paid for the plane ticket but that was it. Even the plane ticket would have been paid for if money was an issue. First Descents is strictly funded by sponsors and donations. I agreed on being an ambassador for the camp by help raising money and maybe in the future even being a camp counselor. I hope this summer to have a softball game in which all the money raised will go to First Descents. Anyways, here is a summary of the days at camp:
I was picked up at the airport by two camp counselors who had the "nicknames" of Matteo and George. They told us everyone at camp would be givin a nickname at camp if they did not already have one from the year before. I was curious to see what would be givin to me. We picked up some more campers who were all talkative in the van. They were from all over the nation.
Finally we arrived at the cabin in which we would stay the next 6 nights having the time of our lives. At the cabin I met all the counselors and campers. Right away the counselors began asking me questions to help determine my nickname. As soon as I told them my name was Nick, they knew right away that my nickname was going to be "Nickname". Ha. So the entire camp I was called Nickname instead of Nick. I kinda liked it!
That night we were fitted for our dry suits (since the water temp was 45 degrees) and kayaks. I was really excited to get out on the river the next morning to try them out. The next morning we went out to Lake Macdonald where we learned paddle strokes and how to "wet exit" our kayaks if we ever flipped over. Because we had spray skirts on we were attached to the kayak skin tight so that water could not enter as we went through rapids. You had to learn how to stay calm and pull your spray skirt off. We then played a game of kayak polo which was fun. We then took off to the river where we learned how to enter and exit "eddies" which is where a section of non moving water is that is good for taking breaks and waiting for the rest of the group. It is really difficult going from moving water to non moving water. Your kayak has a tendency to want to flip over if you dont lean right. I admit I tipped over a couple times the first couple days.
The last day of kayaking I was able to pull of my first complete roll in moving water! I was so stoked! I had been working on it all week with the counselor's help but had never done it on my own in moving water. It is kinda hard at first to learn to keep your cool and get set up under water to use your paddle to roll yourself back upright. But I finally did it and I had the biggest smile when I did.  One of the counselors who I was closest with (Corey) was right next to me when I did it and he was so proud. It was good having him impressed when he was a pro kayaker and almost made the olympic team in his prime. He also coached the womens olympic kayak team in '96 which took a bronze. Anyways, after completing the roll and looking around I noticed that everyone had paddled on shore and were watching me. They all clapped and were happy for me since I was the only camper to do one. (I am not bragging I swear) Then the camera guys paddled over and told me to do it again for the camera. I was able to do it again on my first try and I am hoping that the footage makes it on the documentary that the guys are making of First Descents. I was also interviewed at the end of the day just like every camper was. The documentary is supposed to come out in the spring. It should be pretty neat.
So even though my roll was one of my highlights of the trip, it could not top the final night at camp where we had a closing prayer and shared stories with everyone. We started off by circling around a little kiddie pool with water in it, holding candles inside glass cups. It was pitch dark and we were told to say any prayer we felt nessesary and to put the candle in the water anytime we wanted. Most people were pretty emotional and took their time. We then sang songs for a while and then moved onto the fire pit. At the fire pit, one of the pro kayakers (Brad) told us about one of his trips to some foreign country where he was shooting a kayak video. He told us he was having some bad luck with his kayaking and that they were thinking of leaving without any footage. The local tribe there said they wanted to give Brad a blessing that would bring him luck. They tied on his wrist a blessed ribbon called a "Baci" ribbon that the cheif had blessed and tied on him. So we were all given a Baci ribbon that we were to tie on the person next to us while we said a prayer silently. It was really cool!
Finally saying goodbye was the hardest part. It was cool to see how close some people can get in just a week. One of the local kayakers that helped out, who's nickname was Burn Rubber told me that I should really try to get into paddling and if I did he would ship me one of his older kayaks for free. He said he had like 6 and would love to give me one. I felt really honored for him to tell me that, since I knew that all he did was kayak and loved his kayaks. I just recently found out there is a kayak park like 15 minutes away that I would like to try out. I am trying to convince a buddy to kayak with me since your supposed to paddle with others for safety reasons. I am still looking.
Anyways, to sum things up, First Descents is an awesome program that I plan on attending years to come. It was the best summer trip I have had in a long time and I cant wait to go back. I really hope they have a ski camp soon so that I could be a couselor or something. My paddling skills aren't good enough to be a counselor yet. If you are a cancer survivor or fighter I am telling you that you have to go next year. It is the most fun ever and it does a lot of help for the other campers as well as yourself. You learn a lot about yourself.
Alright here are some photos:


Obsessedwithlife said...

That's great! I have not been to that one but I have been to Camp Makadream and Planet Cancer (both amazing). You might like them too!


Anonymous said...

Hi Nick!
Awesome pictures. It sounds like there were a lot of pretty cool people there and that you had a really great time. I'm so happy that you were able to attend and the opportunity to meet many new friends. Kudos on your kayaking roll! I'll bet that was a rush - I wish I could have seen you. Is there any activity that you don't do well or enjoy? I'm envious of your ability to try something and keep at it until you master it to the point of enjoying it! Is it time for a skydive next? Let me know - I want to come and watch. But if it's at some crazy hour like 6am I might have to sleep over. Keep me posted. I'm so pleased that your having such a good summer. Your blog made me smile as I pictured you in the beautiful mountains, on the river in your kayak and around the campfire with your friends. Thanks for sharing your joy.
Love, Denise

Jay Paterson said...

Nice Scenery Nickname,
You have been enjoying a host of experiences, and getting close to nature, and to people. Good for you!
There is something really special about quiet time on the water. Everything moving and everything still at the same time.
Nick, your practice at keeping up your blog is showing in your writing. The stories are becoming more and more engaging, reflecting your experiences. You have also cultivated a very good group of friends.
Keep up the joy, and we'll see you soon.

Chris Ulvin said...

Dear Nick,
I am so glad you are posting current happenings on your blog. I find great hope in the fact you are choosing activities that honor God, friends, nature, and living life to the fullest (or should I say "kayaking rollest"). May God continue to bless you and keep you cancer free. Love, aunt Chris