Project Mountain Discovery

I’ve been a little complain-y lately. Y’all may have noticed. (And if you didn’t, don’t tell me. I don’t like not being noticed.)

Running is my outlet. Trails. Mountains. They’re how I work out the stress.

I’ve got some of that right now.

Stress.

But I haven’t been able to run much in recent weeks.

Alone time is how I rejuvenate. Build my energy and peopling levels back up.

Those levels are staying pretty depleted these days.

But I don’t have a lot of things restoring my soul right now.

All of my work with kids involves negatives. Threatening that they won’t graduate if they don’t pass this SOL test. Threatening to take them to court if they don’t start coming to school. Threatening to call their probation officer if they don’t get themselves home on time.

I think most of my work is important. But it’s not fun. For me. And this is my blog. So we should absolutely be worried about what’s fun for me.

But today. Today I got to restore my soul.

Today I got to lead some kids onto a mountain.

No. Not lead. Everybody calm down. I did not lead them. But I got to accompany them.

A few months ago, TheGJBeat interviewed Blue Ridge Marathon Winner. Who happens to be a Roanoke City teacher with an interest in starting a youth adventure program. To take Roanoke City youth onto the mountains that surround them. Because as much as I will drive an hour to climb them. Most of the people living right by them never do.

My last job, at TAP Into Hope, was in one of their Youth Programs, helping Roanoke City kids develop leadership and life skills while earning their GED.

So when BRM Winner shared his youth adventure ideas. I immediately connected him with my former boss at TAP. Because I knew she would be all in on something like this. And that she would make it happen.

Because that woman is a Force. A truly powerful Force.

And I wasn’t wrong. She and my former Project Discovery co-workers were already talking about such a program. And managed to put together an entire outdoor adventure program in a matter of weeks.

And today, we all came together for the first official outing.

The plan was to take the kids up to Mill Mountain, onto the trails that most had never experienced. To see the views of the city most have lived in their entire lives, but never seen from above. Get them outside. During a schoolyear where they’ve been at home. At a computer. Learning and socializing through a computer screen.

And I can only assume that it was my excitement to be part of that. That led me to overlook the fact that I was being placed in charge of leading my own group.

Y’all saw my quick panic attack yesterday morning. About leading a group on my own.

So I studied the map. And sent out panic texts. To a bunch of my people. Who were absolutely zero help.

It turns out none of my people know these trails.

Except Skratch.

And he confirmed my proposed route. Except he had Goatfinder respond. With the confirmation. Because he was busy running.

Which…I mean…she’s me. Goatfinder is me on trails. So…I mean…there was a little concern that something could have gotten lost in translation…

But no. I could probably have managed to accurately convey a written message. Even if it involved trail directions. So, I’m certain she could, too.

And what was even cooler was that Fleet Feet Roanoke brought brand new shoes to all the kids. Brand new $150 running shoes. So the kids could be prepared. And focus on enjoying the experience.

And even cooler cooler? When we got to the mountain. Our groups were small enough that they combined BRM Winner’s group with mine.

“Which route do you think we should take?”

And I rattled off some nonsense words in response. That maybe approximated the route I’d asked Skratch about. And then I stopped. And asked BRM Winner. Do you know these trails?

“Yes.”

Oh. Cool. Then forget all of those words I just said. Let’s go wherever you say we should go.

We started at the top. With the view. That iconic view. And BRM Winner showed them where their school was. And the airport. And where their houses were.

And we took some deep breaths. Because there is nothing that feels cleaner than mountain air.

Then off to the Ridgeline Trail. Which was solid mud. And these kids. In their brand new shoes. Didn’t hesitate. There was slipping and sliding. But no one fell. Which in and of itself is impressive. Because I can fall on dry stable ground with no discernable cause whatsoever.

Throughout the hike BRM Winner explained nature. Lichen. Wildlife. Trees. Because he’s a science teacher. And knows these things.

I explained blazes. Because I’m a trail runner. And I know this one thing.

And the kids asked about the different blaze colors.

And BRM Winner took over explaining. Because I actually really don’t even know this one thing.

But we had fun. We chatted. And laughed. And accomplished.

Not one child took out their phone. Except to take pictures.

We were just there. On the mountain. In the moment.

As we were starting the climb back over to the Star. One of the girls said she never really spent time on trails before. And that she was enjoying this. And that. That was the moment I needed. To get to connect with a student. Over something just purely positive.

I wasn’t talking to her because she had to make up an SOL test. Or because she wasn’t showing up to school. Or because she was violating her curfew.

I was talking to her because she wanted to be there. She signed up for an a chance to go hiking. And I got to be there for it. Because I also wanted to be there.

It was…amazing. And perfect.

And as we came back up the trail to the Star.

I was fully restored.

I know it was about the kids. For the kids. But it was also so completely for me.

These kids just climbed a mountain. For the first time in their lives. And I got to be a part of it.

So I can probably stop whining about my jobs for a little while. And just go back to whining about trail running. The way I’m supposed to.

You’re all welcome.

If you’re interested in volunteering for or donating to the program, let me know. I’m willing to share. Because I want these kids to experience so much more.

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