The final groups from this year’s FLOW trips paddled back to Chewonki Neck yesterday, in the early hours of the morning, trying to beat the winds that were forecast to blow hard out of the north by midday. A light rain was falling and the chilly air was a reminder of the quickly approaching change in the seasons.
We have now completed six years of FLOW for the 8th graders of RSU 1. In that time nearly 700 kids have been outfitted with gear and food, and taught to navigate and live in the relative wilderness of the islands of the lower Sheepscot River and Hockomock Bay. It’s powerful to think about this year’s students, and all those who came before. The first-ever FLOW kids are now in their first year post-high school. What did this trip mean to them? Do they ever reflect on it?
To me, this year’s trip felt like the perfect mixture of natural beauty, hardship, camaraderie and the glory of overcoming. The weather was unsettled and cold, the tides were all wrong, and the mosquitoes were relentless. But the night sky was full of stars, the fall colors were alive, our tents stayed dry even in the rain and wind, our meals were ample and delicious, and we made it through some tough challenges as a cohesive group.
Day #2 was when we hit the sweet spot.
We started the day with shockingly delicious egg sandwiches (how did they toast the bread so perfectly???) and a fun paddle against the incoming tide through Little Hell Gate. This part of the Sheepscot is undeveloped and is not easily navigable for motorboats, so we were alone as we glided across the water toward Beal Island. On Beal we had our landscape painting lesson with Ms. Johnson and then ate lunch on the rocky beach. Belly’s full, we set off to circumnavigate the island. We paused for a bit at Lower Hell Gate on the east side of Beal to do some writing. Then, as we made our way back to the boats, one of our kids banged his head on a tree. He hit it hard enough that we decided to have him taken to a doctor to get checked for a concussion (the doctor said he was fine, and he rejoined the group the next morning). This pushed our schedule back around two hours -- just enough time to miss the tide, again.
I’ve always said that adventure is what happens when something has gone wrong with a plan, and this was an adventure! We had to paddle upstream against a solid outgoing tide for hundreds of yards. It took a lot of muscle to keep the boats moving. Letting the bow veer off course even a few degrees meant getting flushed back downstream. After multiple tries, only three of our six boats were able to make it out of Little Hell Gate. The other three boats had to be lined from the shore to the mouth of the pinch.
By the time all six boats were reunited, the sun was low and the cold wind was picking up. After a quick paddle, we landed on the north shore of Castle Island, and hustled into our tents to get dry clothing on. The vegetable soup and quesadillas whipped up by the evening’s cook crew were sublime. Food tastes better after your senses are sharpened by a bit of excitement. After dinner, we took out a laser pointer to map out the constellations. It was the perfect ending to a full day.
I saw everything from pride, to relief, to fear and frustration in the faces of our kids. It was tough paddling to move those boats upstream, and they did not give up easily. I was proud of them and their effort. Yes, there were some tears, and yes, someone did throw a paddle into the water in frustration, but sometimes that’s what is called for. In the end, as a group, we landed together on our island. We were tired, but we were safe, and I think many members of the group were surprised by their strength and resilience. I hope they can hold onto that awakening, and call on it the next time they need to paddle upstream, literally or figuratively.