Campers Take Trips

Girl Kayaking down riverGirls hiking on John RockIn addition to the regular daily activities at camp, the four in-camp activities each camper has as part of their day, the adventure staff announces special trips everyday. During breakfast and lunch, everyone finds out about these optional out-of-camp trips where small groups of girls get to go rock climbing, whitewater kayaking, overnight backpacking, day hiking, whitewater rafting, overnight canoeing, or ziplining. A trip might be a short hike that takes half a day, or a full-day of kayaking or climbing. It could be a night hike, a creek crawl, a visit to a nearby swimming hole, or to the cave under Dunns Rock.  You just never know what trip will be a surprise announcement. Since these trips are extra and optional, and since they require the girls to miss their regular activities, it presents them with a choice. Are they willing to skip, for example, riflery and tennis in the morning to go rock climbing instead? There seem to always be girls willing to say yes, and take advantage of these special trips.

Recently the kayaking instructors took girls to the French Broad River and the Green River. These were all-day trips that departed after breakfast, included eating a picnic lunch, paddling for several hours and returning to camp just in time for dinner. Another special trip brought a small group of seniors backpacking and pitching their tents near John Rock in the Pisgah National Forest. It allowed the girls to watch the sunset from up on the rock and be back to their campsite for an evening of roasting marshmallows around the campfire before heading to their tents.

Girls Drumming LessonAnother special trip-like offering today was the two drumming workshops taught by our friend Billy Zanski. Billy owns a drum shop in Asheville and has been teaching drumming lessons for more than 10 years (He’s been coming to Rockbrook for 3 or so). He studied under master drummer Bolokada Conde from Guinea, and no is well known in this area to be a great teacher and performer. Today the workshops included working on the Doundoun bass drums, which are double membrane, cow-skin drums played with sticks… three at a time, each tuned to a different tone. Billy also brought with him about eight Djembe drums, which are single-membrane, goat-skin drums played directly with your hands. After learning the three basic notes to make on the Djembe (called a bass, tone and slap), the girls followed Billy’s lead imitating different rhythms. Pretty soon they were playing very cool beats, and sounding great.

The biggest event of the day, a dance with the boys of Camp Carolina, in a way started long before the music. It began at lunch when the CITs announced that we would be dancing tonight, and for most of the afternoon as the preparations unfolded… non-stop showers, more hair brushes than you can count, and some of the cleaner clothes we’ve seen lately… the dance was on our minds. We learned long ago that splitting the boys and girls into two dances, one for the young and another for the older children, makes it more fun for everyone. The music at both tends to be similar (pretty much exclusively Pop), but the style of dancing differs a bit, with perhaps more jumping for the older girls. The songs with well-known group choreographed dances (the “Cha Cha Slide,” or “Cotton-Eyed Joe,” for example) are the most popular, as they get everyone dancing. All the dancing— the jumping, shaking, and spinning —gets all of us heated up. Smiling, laughing and sweating: it’s a very fun combination.

Middle Girl Camp DanceSenior Girl Camp Dance

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.”

Blurred Emotions

Camp Girls OnlyIt’s hard to say goodbye, but it’s especially difficult to leave good friends, and even more so when it may be a whole year before you see them again. That’s how we all felt this morning as the first July Mini Session campers finished their time at Rockbrook this summer— a little melancholy, wistful, even confused about what to do next. For everyone at camp, today marked a change. The Full Session girls suddenly had fewer camp companions, making most things feel oddly vacant, and the Mini Session girls were abruptly returned to the “real world” as parents began arriving by car. Reuniting with family members (parents, siblings and pets!) while simultaneously departing from their camp community… it can be an intense blur of emotions. As the goodbyes spread across the morning, it was very clear to me that these girls will miss each other. We hope the many wonderful memories gained this session will sustain their new friendships until next summer. Thanks to everyone, this first July mini session was a great one!

Zipline Camper GirlMeanwhile, camp life carried on at Rockbrook with adventure trips heading out of camp (a whitewater kayaking trip to section IX of the French Broad River for example) and the full array of in-camp activities in action. Both morning activity periods took a full slate of girls through our new zip line course.  This summer we expanded our existing zip course by debuted two new zip lines and two different additional suspension bridges. Now when girls sign up, they spend an hour on the course, zipping high above tall rhododendron bushes, maneuvering over the different bridges, and screaming past the new office building for the 450-foot final zip. The entire course is beautifully harmonized with the natural features of camp, the massive rocks and waterways in the forest here. The first zip, for example, is a gentle ride, about 60 feet in the air, between rock faces that frame Stick Biscuit Falls. The course is truly a special experience. Calling it “scenic” would be a serious understatement, and the girls love it!

Lake Relaxing in the sunWarm summertime weather (high temperatures in the upper 80s) has been inspiring a great deal of activity at the Rockbrook lake lately. Not so much sun bathing —though there’s been some of that too— the girls have been swimming their “mermaid laps” increasing their tallies, inventing crazy poses flying through the air off of the diving board, zooming down “Big Samantha” our water slide, and just relaxing on a tube aimlessly floating in the cool water. Bright warm sunshine and the chilly mountain lake water make a wonderfully refreshing combination. It’s almost irresistible, prompting even several directors to join the crowd of campers getting wet during the open “free swim” periods before lunch and dinner. On days like this, the lake, like the dining hall during meals, is a community meeting place where everyone, campers and staff members, young and old alike, gather to enjoy the water and each others company. It’s a delightful place all day long.

Descending and Ascending

Kayak trip on the upper green riverNC Green River Kayak kidOne of the whitewater rivers popular with kayakers in this area of North Carolina is the Green, a dam-released river running through a deep gorge just south of Asheville. One reason for this popularity, besides the natural beauty of the surrounding forest, is the different sections of the river that provide a range of whitewater boating challenges. Perhaps the most famous, and certainly the most technical, section is known as the “Narrows.” With several class IV and class V rapids, and boasting a gradient of about 100 feet per mile, this is a section for experts only. At the other extreme is the section known as the “Lower” Green. It is about 5 miles of class II whitewater making it excellent for beginners, and the section most commonly run by camps.

Today a group of Rockbrook girls, led by Leland, Andria and Clyde, ran a third section known as the “Upper” Green. It is a moderately difficult section of class II and III+ rapids dropping almost 50 feet per mile over 4 miles. The whole section runs relatively fast, and the two largest rapids, named “Bayless’ Boof” and “Pinball,” are challenging lines with significant waves.  Our Rockbrook kayaking girls handled it just fine, and spent the whole day playing on the water. Rarely paddled by summer camp kids, it’s a real accomplishment for these girls to run the Upper Green.

Kid climbing Sundial route of Looking Glass Rock in North CarolinaMeanwhile, another group of Rockbrook girls, rather than descending a river, ascended a rock. Led by Andy and Rita, a group of Seniors and Middlers woke up early and drove into the Pisgah Forest to reach the base of Looking Glass Rock. They headed up the trail… gently uphill at first, but steep toward the end —to a climbing area known as the “Nose,” and were able to set 2 ropes on a well-known climb called “Sundial.” This climb is rated 5.6 in the Yosemite Decimal System, which means it’s steep enough to require a belay system and technical hardware for safety, but not so difficult that it requires advanced skills or strength. Climbing Sundial requires precise footwork, and the girls quickly figured out that the sloping “brow-shaped” handholds sometimes work better when you cling to them from underneath, lifting up instead of pulling down. Sundial also rewards you at the top of the 80-foot first pitch with a gorgeous long view of the Blue Ridge Mountains. This photo of Haley at the top of the climb shows her after she removed her blindfold.  That’s right; with careful and patient footwork, she was able to climb the whole route blindfolded!  After a quick splash in the creek to cool off, the crew made it back to camp happy about the day’s fun and accomplishment.

Back at camp, the girls eating lunch in the dining hall were surprised when Chase interrupted the meal and shouted “Dance Break!!” into the PA System.  The speakers were ready and the music queued up, and a second or two later the entire dining hall was up and dancing to the song “Classic” that’s popular on the radio these days.  It’s a fun, pop dance song, and most of the girls new the words enough to sing along. For those three minutes of loud pumping music, everyone was moving, smiling and having a complete blast.

Girls slip and Slide for FunGirl attacking with shaving creamOur after dinner “twilight” event was a crazy shaving cream fight and slip-n-slide. This is about as simple as it gets, but also equally as fun. The girls dress in their swimsuits and assemble on our grassy sports field. Then, armed with a can of plain shaving cream, they attack each other spraying and smearing the slippery foam everywhere. The goal is to cover your friends (and, I suppose, anyone within reach!) as much as possible, spraying their backs, arms and hair, all while running around to avoid being sprayed yourself. Can after can of shaving cream was emptied, while we all laughed hilariously and screamed with delight. At one end of the field, we also unrolled a wide sheet of plastic down a gentle slope, added a little soap and sprayed it with water to make a fun slippery ride. The girls, all greased up with shaving cream, took turns launching themselves down the plastic, sliding in some cases 75 feet before rolling off the end to a stop in the grass. This last photo sums up the event nicely… Tons of good “clean” fun.

Camp Shaving Cream Fight for Girls

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

Castle Rock Climbing

What’s that red dot in this photo? Amazingly, it’s a Rockbrook camper climbing Castle Rock! You may have heard that Rockbrook is lucky to have a great rock climbing area right on its property, and that this makes it incredibly easy to rock climb while at camp. It’s true, and here’s the proof! You may not, however, have a sense of just how BIG Castle Rock is. Well, it’s enormous… the exposed rock face being easily 250 feet tall.

Our friend Bob Twomey, who is a helicopter pilot and the owner of Wolf Tree Aviation, helped a photographer grab these shots last summer. Bob passed them along to us, and we just had to share.

Ready for some rock climbing? That red dot could be you!

Camper rock climbing on Castle Rock at Rockbrook

Camper rock climbing Castle Rock North Carolina Rock climber taken from helicopter

It’s Your Adventure Girls

Adventure GirlsAre you ready for some adventure girls? Are you ready to put yourself out there, or up there as the case may be? Camp is the perfect place for girls to try out outdoor adventure sports. There’s rock climbing, high ropes course climbing, wilderness backpacking, camping, hiking, whitewater kayaking and rafting, to name just a few.

But what makes these adventure activities? They all are a little intense, a little uncertain, and a little scary. They often test girls’ mental resolve and determination, and sometimes require physical effort beyond the ordinary. Adventure activities usually require special safety equipment and techniques as well (think ropes, paddles, helmets, tents, etc.).

When girls first try adventure sports, they are usually surprised how well they can do. With quality instruction, encouragement, and some practice, most of the girls at camp can climb a real rock, paddle a kayak, and camp overnight in the woods— and this in just their first year at camp! Everywhere you look there are adventure girls at camp.

Adventure for Girls

Girls Climbing Camp Adventure

Girls of all ages get at least a taste of adventure while at camp. Even the youngest girls (who, having finished kindergarten, can be as young as 5 years old!) are able to gear up and climb our 50ft Alpine Tower. Even before leaving the ground it’s an adventure— fitting the helmet, tightening the harness, clipping the rope to everything, and learning the belay commands. This kind of outdoor adventure camp activity introduces girls to a few technical details of climbing while at the same time providing a nice balance of physical and personal challenges. It’s balancing up little holds and remaining calm and focused despite a fear of heights.  All good things!