Tuesday, July 16, 2013

First Descents

I finally found the time today to post about a special experience I had in June.
I had the opportunity to participate in a cancer camp for young adults ages 18-39 back in June. It was a week long camp in Hood River, Oregon. We learned how to kayak. Cody drove me up to my sister's house and we stayed in Boise the first night with my cousin and his wife. Cody already posted about his continuation of his trip with the kids to Seattle.
 Scott and Sadie have 4 kids as well. Ethan, Halle, Zach and their baby Madison. The kids had so much fun playing together and having a sleepover. We are excited to see them again this weekend at the Grant family reunion.
 Me, Scott and Sadie. Scott is my cousin.
We arrived in Pasco, Washington around lunchtime on Saturday, June 15th and Cody literally dropped me off in the driveway. He was so worried about the kids catching the chickenpox. Heather's inlaws were in town too, so they watched the boys and Heather and I went shopping and she gave me a tour of her new city. We hit up Target and bought some new clothes.

Early Sunday morning, June 16th, and Father's Day, Dan drove me to the local Amtrak station so that I could catch my ride to Portland at 5:30am. I thought I would be taking the Greyhound and was surprised to find out it was actually the train. It wasn't Hogwarts Express, but it was definitely a step up from the Heber Creeper.
 My attempt at taking a picture while on the train. Darn flash and glare problems.
I was one of the first participants to arrive in Portland, so one of the directors came and picked me up from the train station rather than having me take the bus to the airport where everyone else was arriving. Ben, or TBD as we knew him, was a great host to talk to me and show me around a bit. I found out that there were 15 of us cancer patients and 9 staff members including 2 camp chefs. 12 women and 3 men. We picked up a few more people when they arrived on their flights and headed an hour east to Hood River.
We stayed in this great lodge on the mountain. Our view from our deck was Mount Hood. Gorgeous site and no clouds were covering it the first day. Storm clouds seemed to always be around it for the rest of the week.

After everyone had arrived and we were settled in our rooms, we were given or rather chose our camp names for the week. Mine was Lulu. My Mom still calls me Lulu and so it was a good name for me, because I respond to it anyway. I roomed with Sonar and Squirrel. I was amazed at how we were all from all over the country and a Canadian and all the different types of cancer that were present. Thyroid, testicular, breast, to name a few. I was the only one missing a part of my brain.
We drove across the bridge to the Washington side of the Columbia River to get all our kayaking materials for the week at Wet Planet. We were fit for wet suits, dry tops and skirts, helmets, life jackets, and kayaks. They fed us a great BBQ and that was about it for day 1.
Day 2 we were able to actually go on the Columbia River to practice some paddle strokes, wet releases, where you flip over and learn how to get out of your kayak, and get comfortable in our kayaks. The crew from Wet Planet and our staff made everything so easy for us. We just had to get ourselves dressed.
 This is my good friend Teenie, or Christine. We hit it off right away and became fast friends. Some of the staff would ask me throughout the week if we'd known each other before. I guess we were pretty chummy. She is in med school at Creighton in Nebraska. She's also married. No kids yet, but maybe because she is married is why we clicked.
 All the colors were so bright and happy. It made us looks like skittles scattered across the water. I loved it! Mine is the yellow kayak toward the bottom of the picture. I'm wearing a red top and blue helmet.
 All bundled up and ready to go.
On Day 2 we were finally on the river on our own. We crossed the bridge to the Washington side and drove to the Klickatat River. We put in here 3 days. Our first day I believe we did class 2 rapids. By the end of the week we were doing class 3. That's out of 4 folks! We were put into pods or little groups of 3-4 people with a guide/instructor.
 Scooby, Teenie, Lulu, Whiskers, and Olive
 T-Rex, Squirrel, Elim, and Happy
 Taking a break in an eddy. The eddy's push you upstream, you almost have to fight to stay where you are.
This is our pod from day 3. Twinkle toes, Olive, Scrappy, Bubba, TBD and me. We would put in where we took out the day before, that way, we know we covered all the river. On our way back to the Panorama lodge in Hood River our drivers decided to stop and scout out where we would be going on Thursday.

 Here are some of us looking over the bridge and this below. Good thing they were joking. That was very narrow and not something us beginners could have managed well.

 These 2 girls are my Utah buddies. The girl on the left has worked at Alta Ski Resort the past couple winters and the girl on the right, went to Skyline and was actually a cheerleader too. Her name is Elizabeth Tobey aka Pika, but she is a lot younger than I am. It's fun to have some connections.
On day 4 we took a break from kayaking and did some white water rafting. That was a lot of fun and reminded me of my youth and childhood days when we would go as a family with friends on the Snake River. Only this time, I was paddling and not stuck in the middle of the boat. We switched rivers and rafted the White Salmon.
 My boat with Scooby, Bedbug, So(g)nar (think gnarly), Happy, me and Squirrel. We only lost Bedbug once and our guide on the back.
 We rafted down rapids like this one and I loved how there were cabins nestled in the trees by the river.
 Each day on the water we would kayak or raft for a couple hours and then pull off and eat our lunches. On rafting day we only were on the water in the morning and then were fed a great lunch.
Afterward we went back to the lodge and had free time. Some went into town, others went hiking, or took naps, pretty much whatever you wanted to do. I chose to hike. It was a fairly easy 2 mile hike in and out. the only tricky part was climbing up to go behind the waterfall. I unfortunately don't have pictures of that now, I'm still waiting on pictures from First Descents.

 Me, Teenie and Eliminatrix
 I knew I'd never remember the name of the hike or falls, so I took a picture.
Our last 2 days were filled with more kayaking. We each improved a lot. I didn't even roll over at all. I was pretty proud of myself. Each night we would have a campfire as a group and talk about things we were hoping to achieve/accomplish throughout the week. For LDS girls, think of it as girls camp, minus the testimony/crying meeting part. The directors gave away awards each night for accomplishments on land, water and being silly. I tied with another girl the last night and we got to wear the camp swimtrunks. We each didn't "swim" all week or in other words, fall over in our kayaks and get wet.
 Feather and I sharing the shorts.

One night when I was finally going to bed, I noticed this on my pillow. I had told Teenie previously that my kids were allergic to peanuts and that this was one of my favorite treats. She secretly gave it to me. I was so surprised and happy. What a great friend!

Staff huddle on one of our last days kayaking. These people were literally lifesavers for many of us. If you were ever in danger or did get wet, they were there to rescue you. I almost wanted to flip over to see if they would really get me, but I didn't. I look up to them all a lot.
 Lunch break with Olive, Squirrel, Bubba and Happy
 I was told that there aren't any pictures of me not smiling. I can't wait to get the official pictures back from First Descents. They have ones of me on the rapids. All of these pictures are from my phone or waterproof camera that I took along.
 On a lunch break one day we came across this baby duckling. One of the girls was a naturalist and took very good care of it until we had to get back in our boats.
 Group shots!
 On our last day on the river we had an optional rapid that we could run. It was a class 3 called Ishy Pishy. I decided to go for it and made it through without tipping over. Not everyone was so lucky (or skilled?), but no injuries were made and we were all smiles at the end.
 Saying goodbye to our new friends. Spoonberg was another one of our directors for the week.
 The lodge had a wide variety of hats hung up all over the lodge and one night we all picked one for a hat montage.
 TBD (to be determined) and Spoonberg - camp leaders
 After our last campfire we all gathered around a kayak filled with water and held candles. After some moments of silence we were told to place the candles in the boat. It was a really neat experience with music playing in the background to songs like Lean on Me. We were all there for each other throughout the week and know that we each can do hard things, even when cancer is kicking our butts.

 First Descents was an amazing week that I'm happy to be a part of. My neighbor, Steve Olpin, originally introduced me to the program because he filmed a documentary for BYU's Turning Point on it. I hope that I can share my experience with others and encourage cancer survivors to look into it. For more information go to www.firstdescents.org.

Sadly, this morning I woke up to some sad news. One of the girls from our trip, Genevieve, passed away on Saturday. She wasn't doing well at camp, even had to go to the hospital one night. I had the privilege of visiting with her our last night about our kids, lives, etc. I'm so glad I did. She was a wonderful women. Her camp name was the Navigator. Her husband wrote on our FD facebook page this morning that "Navigator has blazed a trail to Heaven" and followed it with her obituary. My heart aches for her family and friends. I'm happy to know that she is now out of pain and with her Heavenly Parents now.


Josh and Heidi Balling said...

Great post! Looks like you had a great time! I'm glad there are organizations like that out there for you to be a part of, It looked like a great growing experience! You're awesome.