Jayne’s Backpacking Classes for Women

Jayne Fought teaching hiking at Rockbrook Camp

You probably didn’t know it, but Jayne, who has, since 2015, helped Rockbrook girls enjoy adventure trips at camp, also teaches women’s backpacking classes.

You’ve seen Jayne at camp guiding rafts down the Nantahala, leading overnight canoe trips on the French Broad, leading groups through our zipline course, guiding backpacking and camping trips in Pisgah, and leading day hikes in Dupont, just to name few of her adventures with Rockbrook campers.

Blue Ridge Outdoors magazine has just published an interesting article profiling Jayne and the women’s backpacking classes she offers here in western North Carolina. Here’s a link so you can go read, Hard Fought: Backpacking Buff Empowers Women to Hike.

Go check out the article. You’ll learn about Jayne’s background, more about her outdoor adventure experience, and I bet you’ll notice several people in the article’s photos.

Way to go Jayne!

A Friendly Fear

Last week, there was an open spot on a zip lining trip, and, since I have the greatest job in the world, I filled it. It was the first time I had been on our new, expanded zip line course, complete with three zip lines, one tight rope, and two rope bridges. I am not ashamed a bit to admit that my heart was beating double-time the whole time I was up there.

Keeping an Eye OutAnd I definitely was not alone in that sensation. Most of the girls that I was with had done the zip line before, and jumped out into thin air every time without a second thought. But hanging back in the back of the line with me was one brand new camper, whose eyes were just as wide as mine felt. She turned to me just before we got to the first zip line, and said, “I’ve never felt like this before.”

I asked her what she was feeling, and she listed out sweaty palms, dry mouth, beating heart—in short, she described fear. Here she was, far from home, standing high on a mountain, and she was feeling, for the first time in her life, fear. Now, she knew of course that she was wearing a harness, a helmet, and that she was hooked onto each line by two different tethers. She knew, intellectually, that she was safe. But that doesn’t stop the body’s natural reaction to the contemplation of jumping off a high rock face.

Suiting UpBut still, despite her fear, she jumped.

Most of our campers, thank goodness, lead relatively safe lives. They can go through whole days, weeks, and months without feeling the rush of adrenaline that comes along with fear, and this is certainly not a bad thing. Still, in our modern, comfortable world, it can be easy to forget the immense benefits of fear.

Let me clarify that by fear, I don’t mean the spine-tingling fear associated with horror movies or true danger. I mean that moment of breathlessness felt at the base of the Alpine Tower, looking up. I mean the bottom dropping out of your stomach when you’re about to go down the Nantahala Falls in a raft. I mean the way a heart can clench in nervousness when you’re stepping out of the car on Opening Day. I mean the way a tongue can tie itself up in knots when meeting new friends.

I mean the true discomfort of being utterly outside of your comfort zone.

Here at camp, we live outside of the comfort zone. We brush our teeth in sinks shaped like troughs, we live in cabins with screens instead of windows, we try new things each and every day that seem crazy and terrifying. We push ourselves, in a safe environment, to challenge ourselves, grow, and find new limits to our bravery.

Flying HighAnd yes, this can be scary. It can be terrifying. But it can also be a transformative experience. That fear can precede the moment in which a girl decides that she wants to spend the rest of her life paddling, rock climbing, or even just putting herself out there and trying new things. That fear can precede a moment of true growth.

My zip lining buddy grew that day. I knew it the moment she flung herself off onto the final zip line—the longest and fastest zip line. I heard her scream out in joy, and saw her smiling hugely as she went zooming away. She met me on the other side (after my own breathless ride), with her cheeks flushed, and her smile undiminished.

“That,” she told me, “was awesome.”

A Swarm of Smiles

Summer camp horseback riding girl

With so much going on at camp and with so many people involved, all simultaneously, it’s astonishing to add it all up. While some girls are screaming as they fly by on the zipline, others are silently stretching into yoga poses listening to quiet flute music. As floor looms click back and forth slowing revealing their weaving patterns, pottery wheels spin splattering mud when a bowl forms in the exact center. One girl rides a horse and another the water slide. Campers shoot bows and arrows, as well as .22 caliber rifles. They hit tennis balls with rackets and volleyballs with their fists. As some girls tie a figure-eight into their kernmantle climbing rope, others tie embroidery floss into square knots to make a friendship bracelet. Campers are leaping off the diving board into the lake, while others are jumping on the mini tramp to flip in gymnastics. With plenty of tie dyes, paints, markers, and glitter, we have an army of girls happy to add color to just about anything. In these ways and others, camp is an energetic mass of movement, and an awesome swarm of smiling busy girls.

Junior camp girl shooting archery

Have you written a letter or sent an email or two to your daughter? Here’s some info about the addresses and such, but it’s worth repeating that receiving mail is a big deal at camp. After lunch and just before the girls return to their cabins for Rest Hour, everyone checks their mailboxes. Seeing a card, letter or folded piece of paper (a printed email) is always a nice surprise, and it’s the perfect inspiration for writing a response home! In your letters, tell your girls how you’re proud of what they’re accomplishing at camp, sprinkled with some encouragement to try new things. Pass along lighthearted, upbeat news from home, while trying not to dwell on what she’s missing while away or how much you miss her.  Maybe include one of these kid-friendly jokes written by our own Sofie Ehlinger.  Do you know why the pig was red, for example? He was out all day BACON in the sun! Here is some more good advice about how to write to your kids at camp.  In the end, “Just write!”

Girls camp rafting whitewater rapid

“Hey Middlers! Hey Seniors! Do you want to go whitewater rafting?” That was the question we asked all of the girls on those lines, and perhaps predictably, about 90% of them said “yes,” with some choosing to do even more by camping overnight at Rockbrook’s Nantahala Outpost. These overnight rafting girls drove over on Monday night and had a great time eating dinner, making ‘smores over a campfire, goofing around in the platform cabins (with a package of glow sticks for each cabin making it even cooler), and simply enjoying this “middle of nowhere” campsite. The next morning, the girls hit the water under bright sunny skies, the perfect weather for a trip down the icy Nantahala river. For several of these Middlers it was their first time rafting, yet almost immediately, even before the first named rapid, they were laughing and squealing with delight. The Nantahala provides a nice balance of thrilling rapids with sizable waves and calm spots in the river where the girls can splash each other and even jump out for a brief swim.

I was able to take a little video as a few of our rafts came through the final rapid, the Nantahala Falls (or “Lesser Wesser” as some call it). Have a look and you can see why rafting is HUGE fun!

Our afternoon group of rafters, which was primarily Seniors this time, likewise had an excellent trip with hot sunny weather, and just as much high-pitched fun.

Girls dressed as animals
Dressed a gorilla performance

When we all arrived back at camp, a special event dinner was ramping up, a jungle/animal themed meal we called “A Night at the Zoo.” This was a fun opportunity to dress like your favorite animal and have a dinner party singing jungle and animal songs.  So tonight we had an entire table of cats, a few butterflies, a squid, a platypus, bears, a turtle, several bunnies, a pink panther (Director Sarah!), and a whole school of fish enjoying a meal together. Hamburgers, sweet potato fries, salad and watermelon with chocolate chip cookie bars for dessert… yummy and fun!

After dinner, during our “Twilight” period of free time (before the start of “Evening Program”), several counselors held a “pet show” on the hill where different girls could show off their “pets.” There were dog tricks, and a super strong rabbit, but the funniest was the gorilla who could do cartwheels. It was all pretty silly stuff, and as that, really great as well.

As the sun began to set far off across the distant Blue Ridge Mountains, the lyric painted on the dining hall poster during dinner tonight seemed all the more apt: “But the sun rolling high… Through the sapphire sky… Keeps great and small on the endless round.”

Succeeding at Failure

Kayaking SuccessWhen I was a junior in high school, my drama teacher set my class two challenges, each designed to get us thinking creatively:

  1. Write down as many uses for a brick as you can think of.
  2. Draw three creatures that do not exist, and that are combinations of a bunch of different animals. Use as much detail as you can.

Thinking CreativelyThe first challenge was a cinch. I’ve been writing fiction ever since I could hold a pen, and still can switch on daydreams as real as a TV show whenever I get bored. If you ask me to use my imagination to think up impossible things, I’m on solid ground.

Sure, I listed the usual (boring) uses for a brick: house construction, paperweight, impromptu dumb-bell, etc. But then came the fun ones: a piece of a giant’s Lego set, an impenetrable fortress for ant-armies, Twinkie-holder, napkin ring at a brick-layers’ convention, etc.

All this is to say, if you’re looking for something to do with that pile of bricks you have lying around your house for some reason, I’m your girl.

But then came challenge number two. Sure I could think of imaginary animals—how about a zebra-striped cow, with the head of a horse, the legs of a mini-elephant, and the horns of a water buffalo? Oh, and it can talk like a parrot! Oh, and maybe it can jump like a kangaroo! Oh yeah, the ideas were coming fast.

There was just one problem. I can’t draw. Not at all. Even stick figures are a struggle for me. I stared at that blank piece of paper, listening to the excited pencil-scratching coming from my neighbors’ desks, and my cheeks began to burn. I was the only one not drawing.

Venturing OutI just sat there, with my head down, until the activity was over. I couldn’t even let myself try. I couldn’t even permit a doodle. I couldn’t take the risk that the beautiful image I had in my head might not translate onto paper. Better to be scolded by my teacher for failing to complete the activity, than for it to be known that I might be less than excellent at something. So I just sat there, almost in tears, until the papers were collected.

I’ve thought about that moment a lot since then. Why hadn’t I even tried? Why had I assumed the result would be that horrible, without taking the simple step of just beginning? Why had I decided by the end of elementary school that I Am Not An Artist? End of story, no question about it, no need to try.

So many times, both in camp and out of camp, I see young girls give up on things before they’ve even begun.

“No, I can’t take pottery, I’m not artsy.”

“No way am I going to try out for basketball, I’m not athletic at all.”

“I can’t take the swim test. I’ve never been much of a swimmer.”

Taking the LeapSomehow, it has become part of our mindset that our talents, our levels of intelligence and understanding, and our potential for achievement are set in stone from the very beginning. The thoughts that were racing through my mind that day in drama class consisted entirely of, I was bad at drawing in elementary school. Therefore, I am bad at drawing now. Therefore, I will always be bad at drawing, no matter how hard I try. Therefore, I should not try.

I know I’m not the only one that thinks this way. We have become so afraid of failure, because we think that that failure defines us even more than the successes that come afterwards. Sure, we know that da Vinci didn’t paint the Mona Lisa the first time he ever touched a paintbrush, and yet somehow we still think that if we fail the first time, then we will inevitably fail every time, with no shot at improvement.

But this is wrong. This is so wrong! Why should I, at 23 years old, have already decided which categories I belong in (Good Writer, Good Reader, Not-Good Drawer, Not-Good Dancer), and given up on changing any of them? Why should a 10 year old camper stand frozen at the edge of the dock on swim demo day, just because somebody told her one time that she wasn’t a very fast swimmer? Why should we throw away the chance to surprise ourselves with new, enjoyable experiences, in an attempt to save our pride from the sting of failure?

Dancing QueensSo here’s the challenge (you knew this was coming): allow yourself to be bad at something once a day. It can be a brand new experience, or an old one that you gave up on long ago. If you’re a bad dancer, then dance like a crazy person with your friends, and laugh when they tell you you’re not so good. If you gave up on piano after one lesson, sit down and bang out “Chopsticks” on the keys, and laugh when you hit a bad note. If you have always wanted to be a poet, then write down that poem that you have bouncing around in your head, and then laugh when you realize it sounds more like a Hallmark Card than Emily Dickinson.

That’s right: laugh. Train yourself to find the joy in failure. When that sinking feeling comes along that tells you to run away from the challenge before it becomes too much, then laugh it away, and try again. And again. And again. And again. Sure, maybe you’ll never be dancing at center stage in Radio City Music Hall, or tickling the ivories like Stevie Wonder, or becoming the next US Poet Laureate—but hey, maybe you will. You’ll never know unless you embrace the possibility that you might just fail, and then go for it anyway.

As for me, I’m still not a great drawer. But I hope that Mr. McFarland will accept this late addition to the creativity project. May I present, the Zebreleffow:

The Zebreleffow

Rafting Video

Here’s a little video from our recent trips down the Nantahala. Whitewater adventure at Rockbrook!

Creative Exuberance

Girl works on clay slab in camp ceramics classOne of the best epiphanies that happens at camp is when a young girl discovers her creative side, when she realizes that she can be artistic, imaginative and make wonderful things. Camp provides daily encouragement and opportunities to experiment with arts and crafts, to be bold and expressive using all kinds of physical media. At Rockbrook this means working with soft clay, yarns and fibers, threads, paint and ink, dyes, cloth, leather, wood and beads. Lately, the arts instructors have presented some pretty cool projects giving everyone something new to try. Girls are rolling out slabs of clay and pressing patterns made from scraps of lace. They’re sewing buttons and pieces of yarn to make sock puppets. With baskets of colorful thread, they’re learning about weft and warp, knit and pearl, back and half stitches. Blending melted crayons and thick black ink on paper, they’re creating bold multimedia designs. There’s incredible satisfaction here because your girls are seeing real results from their creative efforts. It’s showing them that amazing things can happen, far beyond what they might first expect, if they step out and trust their creative abilities.  What a great lesson for later in life, no matter what their eventual calling!

Camp girls hike near waterfallSummer Camp Girl KayakingSummer Camp Girl Rock ClimbingToday has also been filled with outdoor adventure trips, with girls and their instructors hiking, kayaking and climbing nearby forests, rivers and rocks.

The Hi-Ups (16 year-olds) took a “Hunger Games Hike” into the Dupont State Forest to visit a couple of sites where scenes from the recent movie were filmed. We scrambled up and over rocks to get the best view of Triple Falls, snapping pictures all the way. Feeling the cool spray at the bottom of a 100-foot waterfall while standing in bright warm sunshine is quite a feeling!

A group of kayakers spent the morning, and another the afternoon, paddling the French Broad River with superstar instructors Andria and Leland. They chose a great introductory section to practice ferrying (crossing the current from one side of the river to the other) and catching eddies (pulling into calm sections of the river, downstream from obstacles), both important whitewater kayaking skills. Reports back at camp were all positive and brimming with excitement.

Two groups of Middlers, meanwhile, spent the morning or afternoon activity periods rock climbing up on Castle Rock. There are six routes available up there and today the girls hopped on the two named “Shazam” and “Wham,” two of the more challenging options, each requiring both face and crack climbing techniques, as well as some real strength in steep spots. But boy can these girls climb! They may have slowed down to figure out a complex series of moves, maybe tried a tricky section more than once, but for the most part the girls scampered right up the 75-foot climbs. At the top, a fantastic view of the French Broad River valley is the reward, as well as the satisfaction of surmounting the challenges of the climb. When climbing, it can take real grit and concentration to forget how high up you are, and real muscle and balance to reach each handhold. These girls have got it all, and it shows!

Tonight we had a Disney-themed dinner where posters and other decorations transformed the dining hall and the campers and counselors dressed up like Disney characters (loosely interpreted- camp versions). Here too, creativity fueled the enthusiasm for dressing up. Using face paint, borrowed items of clothing, goofy hairstyles, and a few accessories, like “Mickey Ears,” we ate with various super heroes, princesses, a mermaid, a chipmunk, a chef, and a few bears. These Rockbrook girls love to dress up- “just for the fun of it.” They love the feeling of being silly, laughing their heads off with each other, posing and singing as loud as they can. It’s just their wonderful exuberance coming out in creative colorful ways.

Summer camps girls pose in Disney costumes

Confident Sense of Adventure

Camp counselor with girl camper
During one of the many tours of Rockbrook we’ve been giving lately, a parent asked an excellent question. “What do you look for when hiring counselors?” It’s really an important thing to ask, and it’s something we think about a lot, all year round, in fact. We know that our counselors are certainly role models for the campers, but also friends, teammates, sisters and moms to the girls as well. The first thing we look for in a counselor is simply an enthusiastic, energetic, friendly young (high school graduate or older) woman who loves children. The best counselors are naturally “kid people.” They have an innate ability to connect with children, to listen to them, and communicate with them authentically.  This allows them to become really good friends and to forge great trusting relationships with the campers.  Of course, this makes camp fun and rewarding for everyone, camper and counselor alike. Even more specifically, another trait we look for in counselors, among many others, is a confident sense of adventure. This describes someone who isn’t scared to branch out and try new things, who is generally up beat and positive even when faced with the unknown or when something isn’t going exactly right (Raining? “No big deal! Let’s sing some rain songs…!”) Having a confident sense of adventure means being resilient, flexible, creative and improvisational. See how those are great qualities, and something that makes a wonderful role model for girls? There really is a lot of that going around at RBC.

Tying the knots for a bracelet bracelet being tied to camper's toe pottery thrown on the wheel

This year we are having the jewelry making activity meet on the porch of the hillside stone lodge. This porch, which is made of rough-sawed, oak planks, overlooks the lake and at the right spot, has a view of the mountains in the distance. There are a few rocking chairs out there and a big table with benches for the girls to use as they tie friendship bracelets, twist wire, string beads and weave necklaces. It’s a beautiful setting to spend time learning new friendship bracelet techniques (like that toe-tie!), and naturally just talking and laughing about nothing in particular. 🙂

If you’ve ever tried to throw a pot on the wheel, you know that it’s not easy. It takes great patience to learn because there are so many ways a spinning ball of clay can crumple, wobble or even fly off the wheel. Everything can be going great, perfectly centered, and then suddenly your nice bowl collapses and it’s back to square one. All of this makes it such a victory, a moment of pride, when a camper successfully throws something on the wheel, especially the first time.

Posing on the Blue Ridge ParkwayThe Hi-Ups took an exciting trip into the Pisgah Forest this afternoon, stopping first at Looking Glass Falls. This is one of the most well-known waterfalls in this area, partly because it’s about 60-feet tall, but also because it’s easily seen from the main road. We came ready to swim, so after walking down to base, all of us swam through the pool and the spray just past where the water was crashing down. A few of the girls ventured closer to let some of the water smack them on the back, but it looked a little intense, if not painful, so there weren’t many takers. The cold mountain water and the roar of the falls was enough for most of us. Back in the buses, it was then just a short trip further to reach the Pounding Mill overlook on the Blue Ridge Parkway, one of our favorite stopping spots up there. It’s 4700 feet up (Rockbrook’s elevation is about 2350 ft) and provides a grand view of Looking Glass Rock below, a popular rock climbing destination.  By the time we arrived it was getting near dinner time and there was a stop at Dolly’s in the plan as well, so today we came just for the view and a quick group picture.  It’s always nice to get a little altitude!

Camp is an Adventure

Outdoor Adventure StruggleCamp is an adventure! It is because it gets girls outside for all kinds of exciting activities. Climb high up a real rock! Paddle a raft down through whitewater rapids. Sleep in the woods far from the “comforts of home.” These, and other outdoor activities, are just plain thrilling.

But why is that? What makes something a thrilling “adventure?”

The answer might be a little surprising, but it actually boils down to danger. It’s true; an adventure activity always carries a degree of risk. It’s an activity where we “take a risk in the hope of a favorable outcome” (as my dictionary puts it). So for example, rock climbing includes the risk of falling. Whitewater boating has the risk of capsizing, and when camping in the wilderness there’s always a chance of horrible weather (among other things!).

But of course adventure isn’t about getting hurt or experiencing some disaster (there’s safety training and equipment to help with that). It’s about avoiding danger despite the threat of it. Adventure is about overcoming the difficulty and conquering the fear associated with an activity.

Adventure activities are thrilling because we can actually do them despite the risk. Through our own efforts, applying specialized knowledge and skills, we succeed in the face of possible failure. Sure it might be a struggle, but it feels great. Yes, an adventure activity can be difficult, but also really exciting to face it and win!

That’s why, incidentally, adventure activities are so good for boosting kids’ confidence.

Being at Rockbrook provides so many great ways to be adventurous, opportunities to try activities that may look a little scary, but then with the right instruction, encouragement and role models, to also manage the risks and cope beautifully with the challenges involved. Very cool stuff!