Thursday, October 3, 2013

Coming of Age for Girls: Setting Sun, Rising Moon

The Coming of Age for Girls trip started off with a tearful song (They are going, they are going, they are going away…) as each girl said goodbye to her family and took her first courageous step into the unknown. With three women as their mentors, the girls loaded into the van, and we were off to Sacred Groves for two days to prepare our hearts and minds for the journey ahead. The girls threaded bead necklaces, reflecting on who they are and who they want to be as young women as they worked. Our first night was marked by each girl saying YES to the journey, and receiving the gift of an animal ally to support her goals for her trip. Some of the allies with us on our trip were Dragonfly, Frog, and Hummingbird. 

Lighting the sweatlodge fire.

Our second day the elders of Sacred Groves, Tere and Therese, held a sweatlodge for us—in the lodge we swam our way through the sweat, steam, and darkness to dig deep for what it was each girl really wanted out of the trip. At night we practiced fox-walking—walking quietly on the earth—and heightening our senses. Each night as the girls scrunched down into their sleeping bags, stories and jokes and excitement filled the Moonlodge.

Hanging out at the Moonlodge

Day 3 we headed out to Dungeness Forks Campground where we were finally camping in the forest! The girls learned and practiced some of the essential skills of camp craft and backcountry survival and performed skits to teach each other Leave No Trace principles. The next day we packed our packs, and headed out onto the trail under a light drizzle.  Even in rain, the trail up to Royal Basin is beautiful. Gratitude abounded on our trip for simple things—warm tea, cover from the rain, a warm and dry sleeping bag.

Day hiking to Royal Lake

On our day hike to Royal Lake, we sat down for lunch and heard rustling in the brush nearby. We froze, looking for what was scurrying about –and who should pop out of the brush, but a juvenile long-tailed weasel! Here is a picture of one, although not the one we saw:

The moon welcomed us to 3rd Beach on our eighth day together, and continued to glow bright even in the afternoons along the beach. We hiked along the beach and up and down rope ladders to avoid high tide zones. 

Working it out on a more gentle rope ladder

We saw a family of otters, 3 little ones and one big one make a sprint for the ocean, leaving behind perfect tracks to examine. 

The sun was setting at our backs and the moon rising ahead of us on the afternoon that we arrived at Toleak Point to setup for the girls 24-hour solos—what poetry the cosmos loaned us at the moment that childhood was setting for each girl, and their adolescence was rising!

We had a full day to prepare for the girls’ solos, and plenty of time to play in the waves and check out the tidepools. 

The evening before solos was marked with a ceremony marking the end of childhood, and early the next morning the girls were off to their solo sites, to sink into the heart of the inner journey of the trip.

The next day each girl was welcomed back to the central camp as a new person – as a youth. We sat in circle and each young woman shared her story of reflection, dealing with the logistics of maintaining a camp all on her own, what it was like to be alone at night, mustering up the courage and determination to continue the solo despite hunger pangs and physical discomfort. We celebrated their return with food, jewelry making, decorating each other with henna, and hours of relaxation on a perfectly sunny day. 

On our last full day on the beach, the group took on more leadership and organized their pack out of camp, meals, and camp setup back at Third Beach. We returned to Journeys basecamp to finish up our trip with an Elders Council where elders in the Journeys community heard the young womens’ story of their trip, a big feast, and a last campfire filled with love and appreciation for each youth. Finally, our trip ended with an excited reincorporation of these new youths back into the folds of their families.

Sunshine may be mostly gone for the next six months, but the stories that were shared in the August sun at Toleak Point—and the jokes told around the fire, the songs sung, the intentions and dreams for ourselves that we spoke aloud—are still glowing like hot coals in my memory, and will continue to kindle us and whisper reminders of who we are, and who we hope to grow into, long past the winter. 

Thursday, September 26, 2013

Wild Days - Coming of Age for Boys II

[written by Cameron Withey, mentor on Coming of Age for Boys, August 11-24, 2013]

It was the height of summer, 2013, and nine boys showed up to the yurt at Songaia to answer the call of the spirit of the wilderness: a call to testing and challenge, a call to listen more deeply to nature within and without, a call to live a greater and wider life. They were met by three men to guide them through this process, and off to the woods they went.

Our first two days were spent learning basic skills of wilderness awareness and survival: how to step lightly and not be heard, how to listen and really hear, how to make simple shelter and pack a backpack, and how to stay safe amid backcountry dangers. We played games and all performed skits to much laughter and applause. We even were able to stop, as we journeyed towards our trail on the Sol Duc River of the Olympic Peninsula, to take a swim in the cool clear waters of Lake Crescent.

Starting up the trail, it didn't take long for the group to encounter many of the challenges and joys of wilderness travel. We had heavy packs and sore legs, but also encountered amazing waterfalls and uncountable blueberries and huckleberries. There were bee stings and exhaustion, but also trailside frogs, salamanders, deer, and wild peanut butter and jelly sandwiches.

Looking at Sol Duc Falls

On our second day on the trail we met a fierce rainstorm just as we were ascending a high pass near Bogachiel Peak. The wind blew rain on our faces and plastic-covered bodies, and fog rolled in, flowing over ridges and down into the valleys below. In the midst of this, we spotted a black bear, standing in a meadow not far below us, eating berries. We stood watching for ten minutes, hushed but for the dripping of the rain.

Turned ankles, wet gear, steep hills, long hikes, homesickness, yes- but ahh: hot soup, fresh cat tracks in the mud, mind-boggling views of misty Mt. Olympus, the foggy Hoh River valley, and the deep clear lakes strewn across the rocky, flowery, sub-alpine land.

Blue Glacier at Mt. Olympus

Checking out a viewpoint into Seven Lakes Basin

And then, after over 24 hours of near-steady rain, the sun broke free as we walked through a wildflower meadow along High Divide, and we basked in warmth, drying ourselves, awed by the mountains surrounding us. Conversation bubbled as we hiked down to our camp at Sol Duc Park for a merry evening, hot food, and deep sleep.

Lupines and Indian Paintbrush on High Divide

As our short but intense trip through the mountains wound down, back along the Sol Duc River to our trailhead, we transitioned into our coastal leg. It began with a short hike through the woods on a damp, foggy morning, but it wasn't long once we arrived to the beach before the fog cleared and the sun came out. Everyone enjoyed some well-deserved beach play, involving frisbees and a major, whole-group engineering project on a tiny stream flowing down the sand from the hill above.

The industrious young men

It was a relief and a pleasure to be on the sand in the sun, and in the presence of the steady, re-assuring sound of the ocean, but like in the mountains our days were full of activity. The boys took on more and more responsibility for cooking, setting up and taking down camp, navigating, and generally directing themselves. They were challenged by their mentors to take responsibility for their choices and how they affected others. They spent solo time on the land and practiced making fires and shelter to prepare for their 24 hour solo fasts.

The solo is the culminating event of the journey; the boys let go of their childhood and step into the unknown. On the night before they went out alone, we had a ceremony marking this brave step in which they each shared the masks they'd made and painted and what they represented about what they were letting go of. They each impressed us with their depth of self-reflection, and we witnessed them putting their masks into the fire. The next morning, at dawn, they walked out to their solo sites along the beach, to fast and sit with themselves and the wild world.

View from camp at Strawberry Point

Rain and sun, eagle and otter, ocean and sky, fire and boredom, grief and insight. These were some of those present on solo day. We kept the fire burning, and the next morning welcomed them back with song, an orange wedge that tasted like "a slice of heaven," and miso soup. They each shared the story of their experience, each unique, each meaningful both in its simple reality and in ways we aren't yet aware of.

Then: a day of relaxation: of games, naps, coal-burned utensil-making and carving, pizza, singing, and theatrics around the fire. What a day, what a life.

The next morning we packed up and began our journey home, a journey that took us back along the beach with its rocky headlands and starfish, through a day of independence and self-determination for the young men, into the old humbling place of the sweat lodge, to a meeting with the elders, to stand before a gathering back home to share stories and be greeted as a new person, as a youth...

It's a journey that in many ways still continues...

Tuesday, August 6, 2013

Personal Reflections from Solo Crossing

      Hello, my name is Elena. I am 15 years old and from Colorado. I came to Journeys with my sister Emma, who also joined me on this trip. We have been away for 5 weeks now and are missing home so much. This was also my first time in Washington and backpacking the Olympic National Park. It was one of the most amazing experiences of my life. The best part of the whole trip for me was when we were in our sixth or seventh day into the trip and we just hiked six or seven miles that day to Anderson Pass. We were all exhausted and irritable when we finally reached the top. We got to the top and to our camp site and to our surprise there was a shelter there! All the kids were so ecstatic because it was like staying in a five star hotel for us. The most challenging part for me and the whole trip was the fact of how long the whole trip was. It wasn't really that long but, we were already gone for two weeks staying in Oregon and drove up from there. It's really hard to stay away from home that long. Overall, the trip was a life changing experience for me. The backpacking was awesome, the views were just breathtaking and the people were extraordinary. It helped me open my eyes to the person and the strengths I can do for this world. Thank you Journeys.

      Hey, my name is Jaiden. I'm from Renton, and I'm fifteen years old. I heard about Journeys from one of my mom's friends, who thought it would be perfect for me. I did some research, raised some money, and bam. I was a-journeying. What can I say? Solo Crossing was amazing. Not quite what I expected, but hella fun. I think my favorite part might have been sliding down Anderson Glacier on my butt. They have a fancy word for that, glissading. Did you know that? Sliding down snow on your butt is called glissading. Anyhow, it was freaking awesome. Another amazing thing was my Solo. Forty-eight hours fasting? Psh, no problem. Solo Crossing was challenging for me too, though. I'm really not all that athletic, see, so all those steep climbs and switchbacks were not so fun. Taught me to be stubborn though. Well, more stubborn. Heh. But yeah. Overall, Solo Crossing was the best thing I ever could have done with my summer. I met amazing people, got to see postcard-esque views firsthand, and climbed a mountain. I really hope I can do this again next year. Thank you, Journeys!

      Hello, my name is Kathryn. Before this Journeys trip I felt like just an ordinary seventeen year old from the city of Chicago. Now, I feel fresh and ready to take on any challenge put in my path. I learned about this organization through my father who knew Steve James, the director of Hoop Dreams, a man who had documented trips such as these, following the adventures and difficulties of us young adults. I had a lot of time to think about my life, my family, my friends on this journey, and the decisions I will be making in the near future as an adult. It was a life changing period of time that I learned many strengths on, and shared much compassion with the other teenagers. I will never forget the first few days of hiking up the Olympic Mountains, which included sore muscles but beautiful views of a world which I had not known. Seeing the black bear with his brown tipped nose, the doe-eyed dear, the glistening glaciers, and much more had warmed my soul instantly. We also came to the coast of the Pacific Ocean, which I will say, was one of my favorite parts of the trip (although I had many others). The fact that we were able to fall asleep to the aching moans of the ocean and the eagles calling in the trees was astonishing. Before I even knew it hiking with a backpack for miles felt like nothing! I could almost picture myself as if I was the wind blowing through the trees and watching over all things living. I now have a spiritual connection with myself, with others, and with the outside. I look forward to the near future where I will continue journeys that call to the soul.

      My name is Emma Baffin Donharl, and this trip has helped bring clarity on my transition from my childhood into this next year when I will be starting my life as an "adult". There were, and still are, many different pieces of me that have struggled throughout my life and are really painful. The ability to work on these hurt little pieces of Emma and realizing that I have to accept and love every part of me has been a very large and fulfilling part of this trip. My little sister and I were able to mend a failing relationship and start a healthy one to work on this huge transition and separation we are about to go through. The hike was beautiful, and having the ability to really immerse myself and find connection in a place other than my Rocky Mountains was invigorating. This trip really is a monument to my stepping into a new life, and I am thankful to Journeys to be able to make that happen.

    I am called Yestra Barnes Myint or Ye. I am from Edmonds, Washington. I was born in Burma, and I moved here about four years ago. On this three week long program, I had the most interesting experience that I have ever had in my life. The program changed me into a completely different person in a positive way. It gave me time to think of who I am, and why I do what I do. Also, the guides that were there on the trip were amazingly helpful when the participant needed help, but they gave me a chance to learn how to handle responsibility without too much interference (which was really nice). I also was able to figure out how to function as a group efficiently and all of the people there were able to become good friends nicely well. The most touching highlight of this camp was when we did our solo, for it gave me a chance to be able to go deep within myself to search for answers. Overall, I believe that this was a totally amazing camp and I hope that it continues itself for future generations that are in search of something meaningful in their journey to becoming an adult! Thank you to all the guides and my mentor!

Tuesday, July 30, 2013

Weaving Women -- Becoming a Young Woman

By Alex Eisenberg, Apprentice for Becoming A Young Woman, July 7-13, 2013

Becoming a Young Woman is a unique trip for Journeys because it is not a backpacking trip. The seven girls who came on this trip did not struggle over miles of a trail. They did not experience the world from the top of a mountain. They did not get to enjoy the challenge of carrying all their own food and gear into the wilderness. Instead, they spent a week at Sacred Groves, a powerful and nourishing retreat center in the woods and meadows of Bainbridge Island.

And even though the girls of Becoming a Young Woman were not backpacking they were still on a journey--they still struggled, they still experienced "mountain-top" moments, and they certainly still had plenty to enjoy and plenty to carry.

The girls enjoyed trust-building games and wilderness-awareness activities. They enjoyed sunny afternoons and dance parties in the Moonlodge ("In the Moonlodge! We're all dancin' in the Moonlodge!"). They enjoyed fires, story-telling, yummy food, and new friendships.
What they carried were stories--good and bad, funny and scary, sad and uplifting. They carried stories about themselves and stories about each other. They carried stories about their childhood and stories about their future. They carried stories of their own lives and stories of people in distant and mysterious lands. They carried all of these stories, and each of them was different.

The girls also carried masks--masks that had been shaped by childhood and parents, by shelter and by storm; masks that were hiding some things that wanted to be seen. By the time we arrived at Sacred Groves those masks were feeling cramped and uncomfortable, and weren't fitting so well anymore. And those old stories seemed strange in this new wild place, with these new wild people, who actually weren't like the stories had said they would be. 

On Monday, the first full day at Sacred Groves, the girls were joined by an elder--a basket-weaver and a story-weaver. Kayla shared her weaving wisdom with the group, and then helped as each of the girls carefully crafted her own unique reed basket. Each basket emerged differently--all different shapes, sizes, styles, and combinations of colors. Through their artistry, each basket honored the important stories woven into them. And it was clear too that each basket was made to carry something different.

As we wove, we sang:

"Weave and spin,
Weave and spin,
This is how our work begins.
Mend and heal,
Mend and heal
Take this dream and make it real!"

The next day, during the sweat lodge, the sharing deepened. The stories came out, the masks came off, and the intentions of each person began to weave into reality. Which stories would they carry into adolescence, and which would they leave behind?
And we sang:

"Spiraling into the center, the center of the wheel.
Spiraling into the center, the center of the wheel.
We are the weavers,
we are the woven ones
we are the dreamers,
we are the dream.
We are the weavers,
we are the woven ones,
we are the dreamers,
we are the dream!"

Wednesday was almost like a dream. It was the day of the 8-hour solo-fast, and the girls stood around the fire in the misty morning, clutching their masks. One by one, they stepped forward and let them go, releasing the stories of childhood they no longer wished to carry. Then, one-by-one, they were led along a path of their empty baskets and crossed the threshold to the woods where they would go, alone. 

Eight hours later, around the same fire, we welcomed back 7 young women, each with a brightly-painted cast of their face, shining boldly with intentions for what they will carry in adolescence. The baskets that had been empty now carried of gifts for remembering and celebrating the freedoms and responsibilities of this new stage of life.

And celebrate they did! The group enjoyed a relaxing evening and then a wild night of sweet treats, dancing, being goofy and letting loose together, beading necklaces and telling stories. The celebrating and fun continued the next day as the group spent the morning doing each other's hair and make-up in preparation for the Maidenhood ceremony where they would be honored and witnessed as young women. And after the ceremony there were even more treats and dancing, and (finally!) on Friday we all got to go to the beach to swim and play before heading back to Songaia the next morning.

Sound like a whirlwind? It was! But it was also timeless.

In a reflection about the trip one of the young women had this to say about her experience: 

"I think when we're in our day to day lives, we really forget who we really are. All of the technology and mindless babble going on around us, it's hard to really concentrate on who we really are. But when you get the chance to spend so much time alone with yourself... It's truly enlightening. You get the chance not only to remember who you are, but to discover who you aren't as well. You can see your strengths and weaknesses clearly. You know your flaws, and you can see your own beauty. And you get to understand how you can change yourself for the better, so that the person you've always wanted to be can become the person you know you truly are."
All seven bold young women took this journey to uncover and remember who they are and want to be, and began to weave that truth into something they can carry with them as they move forward in their adolescence.


Wednesday, July 17, 2013

The Journeyers Return: Notes from Coming of Age for Boys

Phew! We've just returned to sunny Songaia after three weeks of journeying through the wilderness of the Olympic Peninsula, and questing through the wilderness of our hearts. Seven boys and four guides set out to undertake the journey between childhood and adolescence. We've braved glacial rivers, torrential downpours, and invasive sand, seen black bears and eagles, and each grown through the fires and blessing of traveling through the wilds with a group of fellow seekers. Below you'll find a glimpse of our journey, written by the boys on one of their final days. Enjoy!


During this trip we did a lot of hiking. It started off really hard between the heavy packs and the very treacherous trails, but as the journey progressed and our muscles grew, our packs got lighter, the trails became easier, and hiking overall was tolerable. We woke up early in the morning to start hiking and that did nopt help hiking being enjoyable. The weather everyday affected our moods towards hiking. In the beginning, it was very sullen and rainy, but over time the sun came out and our moods started to brighten. Though the hiking was not fun, the sense of accomplishment of finishing a trail or getting to an awesome view made it all worthwhile.
The group poses in front of the largest Sitka spruce in the world!

Enchanted Valley

Enchanted Valley was very beautiful. We really liked waking up in front of waterfalls and amazing mountains. We went on a day hike and it was very fun. We were stopped halfway through because the waterfall had broken the bridge across. Instead, we went to the river and had lunch. Overall, we think enchanted valley was very "enchanting".
Morning View of Enchanted Valley

The Beach

The beach was a significantly different experience from the woods. First of all we would fall asleep to the sound of crashing waves instead of rushing river. The sand got everywhere which was annoying! It was a lot harder to hike on the and and it was a lot colder because of the ocean breeze. Overall, it was harder but still fun.
Washington or Hawaii?


The solo was the most challenging part of this trip. We started very early in the morning and it was extremely cold. It got worse as the day progressed. It got colder and we got hungry. There were fresh muscles in the water that we could have cooked but out of a sense of duty, we agonizingly refrained ourselves. As the day grew longer and colder, we started to get very bored and lonely. We started to become into a state where we were growing emotionally and the whole days was physically and emotionally straining. When we got back we ate oranges that tasted like heaven.

An Accomplished Group

Prospective Immigrants Please Note
by Adrienne Rich
Either you will

go through this door

or you will not go through.

If you go through

there is always the risk

of remembering your name.

Things look at you doubly

and you must look back

and let them happen.

If you do not go through

it is possible

to live worthily

to maintain your attitudes

to hold your position

to die bravely

but much will blind you,

much will evade you,

at what cost who knows?

The door itself makes no promises.
It is only a door.

Tuesday, July 16, 2013

Insights from Call to Adventure...rain, rain and more rain (with laughter along the way)

by Graham McLaren, Guide for Rite of Passage Journeys Call to Adventure - June 23 - 29, 2013

The call to adventure of June 2013 brought together 9 intrepid explorers and three adventurous guides. We started off our first day getting to know each other on a long drive to the Lake Ozette Campground. The group arrived with the rain and quickly learned basic fire making skills. A hot dog roast warmed bellies and eased the transition into the new group life experience.

In the morning the group discovered the salmonberries surrounding our site and this added a tasty distraction during the preparations to hit the trail. There remained an air of uncertainty in the group as we loaded and adjusted our gear and packs and even as we approached the trail. However, once we were off the laughter and riddles began. Hiking though the old growth forest to the coast turned out to be an easy first day for this group and we were eager to explore the beach at Cape Alava, our first camping site. We watched the tide roll in as we set up camp and prepared dinner. Bird alarms warned us of an intruder and we caught site of a raccoon in a nearby tree. Later we watched the raccoon sneaking around camp and investigating our bear cans. We held our first council that night creating a safe container to share and learn about our selves and to connect to each other on a deeper level.

The next day was our layover day. At low tide we explored the tide pools all around Cannon Ball Island. We played games on the beach, which were the highlight of the day for much of the group. The afternoon included awareness exercises and activities designed to help us connect with the natural world. We noticed dozens of great blue herons wading in the tide pools. Then we had a sit spot along the beach, which allowed us to watch and then experience a heavy rainstorm rolling in. The rain was truly our partner in this adventure. It rained some (or a lot) every day. That evening students learned that they could put together a skit for the reunion with their parents, and the preparations began immediately. Each day during the trip they practiced and performed new uproariously funny skits about life in the backcountry.

The tides were a significant obstacle this trip and we had to make an early start the next morning. Our goal was to head north and cross the Ozette River in the morning at low tide. We made it across the swift, ankle-high current and arrived at an extremely beautiful campsite. With the culture of leadership roles established camp was set up quickly. When firewood collection was thwarted by high tide we were reminded of how beautiful the ocean scene was. After a time of sitting as a group watching the waves and the seals, we ran with laughter and glee to play in the ocean waves. We saw the ocean push back against the river causing her to rise higher and higher. We transitioned to playing in the river and watched a river otter swimming and chattering just a few yards a way. Then we relaxed, warming ourselves on the beach rocks. During our after-dinner sit spot on the beach and we saw the clouds break and we got our first glimpse of the sun as it began to get low in the sky.

Thought it rained much of the trip, the next day it really rained. And it rained. And it rained some more. We had a tough morning getting going and a tough hike along the coast. The sight of ravens flying off brought our attention to a seal carcass. We marveled at the whiskers, flippers, size and overall beauty of this animal, and then we noticed the eagle tracks in the sand. We made it back to Cape Alava. But when we tried to push on further south to our goal of Wedding Rocks, we were stopped by the high tide and couldn’t go any further. And so we decided to stay at Cape Alava again. In moments the adventurers had their tarps set and were underneath warming up in their sleeping bags, joking and laughing. It was amazing to see how quickly this group learned new skills, and adapted to the environment and each other in creating a nurturing group experience. After dinner we sat around the fire and took turns telling stories of significant events from our lives and it was clear the safety and bonding each of us felt in that moment.

The next day was mostly dry and we hiked to wedding rocks to look for petroglyphs. The group was high energy this day and moved quickly all day. We had heard of a whale carcass from other hikers and found it. We guessed it to be 20 feet long and that was only the pelvis and some of the ribs and vertebrae. It was amazing to see the skeleton of an animal whose ribs were taller than any one in our group. Further down the beach the group also stalked up close to observe a mule deer walking the edge of the beach and grassy slope. After singing our farewell to the ocean we hiked back through the forest to Lake Ozette. The laughter and singing of the group could be heard throughout the campground that evening and in the morning as well. We had all grown through the challenges, responsibilities, and by connecting with each other, the natural world, and ourselves.