A Reflection by BAC Guide Juliana

The door of the Suburban slammed, the girls filed into their seats, and I hopped behind the wheel.  We headed west, Spokane and the Peak 7 warehouse receding behind us.  In the rearview mirror I could see six sets of eyeballs that belonged to strangers, looking around and out the window.  Here we were, setting out on a 54-day adventure, feeling connected by that fact, yet aware of the unfamiliarity in the air.  We began to play the get-to-know-you game “two truths and a lie.”  “One of my favorite fruits is papaya, I’ve always wanted to be left-handed, and I speak French.” The crowd tried to guess the lie out of the three potential pieces of myself that I had offered.  Kelley, my co-guide, wins the round. The lie is that I don’t speak French, but I would like to.

Our relationships start here, in the “burb,” sharing what we do and what we like.  In a matter of weeks we’ll begin to talk about who we are and who we want to be as individuals, but first we start with a conversation about who we want to be collectively, as a group. We talk about our core values, what we want to stand for and how we want to treat each other. We land on four values: Adventure, Thoughtfulness, Transparency, and Servant-Leadership.  These values and 54 days lead eight strangers through a summer of learning and play and eventually turn us into family.

The summer gives us the opportunity to practice these values.  We start with Adventure as we set out on our first backpacking trip in the Olympic Mountains.  Some of the girls have never been backpacking and all of our packs are heavy.  However, we decide we want always to “be up for adventure,” choosing positivity and joy despite unforeseen circumstances.  Our first trip gets cut short, yet despite the disappointment, we find ourselves giggling, remaking the tune to “the final countdown,” and slow motion running through the trailhead parking lot.  Our adventure then takes us to the Wenatchee National Forest where we continue to play, build fishing nets and rafts, and fight away the mosquitos. We decide that we might just be friends after all.

Thoughtfulness becomes the undercurrent of our actions and our words.  The leader of the day wakes the group up at six in the morning; Thoughtfulness tells us that we should show them respect by getting up and packing our things.  Thoughtfulness causes us to evaluate the power of our words, even when something is meant to be a joke or when we want to complain about the terrain ahead.  It teaches us that when we take care of ourselves, it benefits the whole group–“self care is group care.”

We embrace Transparency by sharing our life stories: what happened when we were five, that one time in middle school, what our moms are like, our fears, things that we are proud of, things we don’t understand, things we wish never happened, our life aspirations, and our favorite Disney princess and pop tart flavors.  Once we share our stories we feel understood, cared for, and loved. When we listen to someone else’s story we appreciate them and have more in common than we once thought.

The purpose of the course is to develop leadership skills. We know that the key to being a leader is embodying servant-leadership, and that the first step to leading is serving each other.  We watch the stoves even when it’s cold and we would rather be in bed, we spread out the weight in our packs when someone’s knee hurts, we give hugs and kind words when there’s a call from home with bad news, we learn that conflict doesn’t always have to be hurtful and that if one person wins a fight no one really wins, and that “group care” can be “self care.”

Our last night on the Olympic Coast, our third to last night of the entire course, we circle around a fire.  Our seats are made of driftwood and we can hear the waves grow closer to the treeline.  We talk about the course ending, of going our separate ways.  We start the conversation with tears as we think about “real life” without one another, yet laughter quickly takes over as we recount silly and quirky moments we encountered along the way, like the time I burned my eyelashes off, or when Sienna tackled Victoria over a cooking dispute, or when Erica ate almost an entire burger before she realized she forgot the patty.   The conversation turns to what we’ve learned about ourselves and what we’ve learned from each other.

From Victoria we learned about courage,

Sienna, service

Reese, joy

Erica, affection

Riley, acceptance

Shaylor, strength

Kelley, humility.

But the biggest thing we learned from each other was what it means to be known and loved.

With Adventure, Thoughtfulness, Transparency, and Servant-Leadership we created a family founded on acceptance and care. No masks, no substances, no false pretenses.  Simply being who we are and being accepted from corner to corner. Just like backpacking, for some of us this was a new experience. We loved each other despite differences, through conflict, and even more after three thousand miles on the road.

-Juliana, BAC Guide