I’ve only been indoors the last 3 of the past 10 nights. Tonight, the weather is cool and dry, like the nights spent in the past week with 4H Wagon Train, in the Mt. Hood National Forest. I considered hanging my wagon train hammock in the trees on my property and going back to sleeping outdoors as often as I could manage it. I seriously considered it. Indoor sleeping feels so closed-in now, even with all of the windows open wide.
I learned a lot about myself in the past week on my wagon train adventure – like I love sleeping outdoors, and the comfort of sleep with forest sounds and smells around me and the treetops and clear night sky full of stars above me. Even on the nights when I slept close to my horses who were highlined in the trees, making their noises of shuffling and snuffling and munching on their hay, I was comforted by the open air.
Even if you are someone who goes tent-camping on a regular basis, this wagon train thing is different. It’s hard to explain, it’s not just better sleep – many new things opened-up for me when I was almost entirely without walls for a week.
The most surprising thing for me about my wagon train experience is how emotional I was. I felt so connected to all of these total strangers who, like me, came to the trip carrying their individual flags of self-sufficiency, and ended the trip still not knowing much about each other but bonded under the wagon train banner. Tightly. And I’m not the bonding type.
Nor am I much for “Group Life” – at least I didn’t think I was. I am a highly functioning introvert with a wide independent streak who, I think I might’ve mentioned in a previous blog, loves her personal space. But there was no personal space on this trip, it all belonged to the group, and I sort of adopted that concept after a day or so (or, it adopted me). We ate and slept together, worked and played together, walked and rode together, and I didn’t feel like I needed to get away from the group (except for obvious reasons).
Summer and camp was not much of a part of my childhood, but from what little I remember it was kind of miserable. I easily let go of all of those “once in a lifetime” experiences, and have no memory of regular summer activities except being shuttled between my divorced and emotionally-broken parents. It wasn’t a childhood filled with cookouts and campfires and sticky s’mores and sing-a-longs.
I came out of all of that just fine, really! Except I didn’t know the words to any of these camp songs that everyone seems to know, and I’d never sung out-loud except alone in my car with the radio very loud so I can’t hear my own untalented voice. But this wagon train thing is different…as the song goes, “we’re in this together…” and I discovered that when the heart is truly open and happy, you gotta sing! I heard my own voice for the first time, I sang silly camp songs, and I wasn’t self-conscious in this group of mostly equally bad singers. Now I can’t get those tunes out of my head!
Which brings me to The Wagon Train Kids. When I started mentally preparing for wagon train, my greatest anxiety was I would be interacting with kids. I don’t have kids, never wanted kids, and couldn’t say I related to kids. I’ve only known a few kids who could relate to my sarcasm, directness and dogmatism, with a side-order of silly. As I get older, this problem gets worse – kids don’t seem too relate anymore unless it’s through their electronic devices. So I expected to be really uncomfortable and feel, as I always do around kids, like an outsider. But this wagon train thing is different. Every. Single. Kid. On. This. Trip. Was. Exceptional.
I had actual conversations with each of them, I felt like I was magically speaking a foreign language and we understood each other. I wondered to myself what it would be like to know each of them as adults, to watch them become who they will each become. I looked at their dirty, smiling faces every day and wished for them to never have to grow up. I wanted them to forever remember the experience of building relationships, face-to-face, without their devices. I hoped that their lives would be as sweetened by my part in their wagon train adventure as mine was by theirs.
I can’t believe how much I miss them.
This is my tenth and final blog about my 2017 4H Wagon Train adventure. I plan to add one more post in a few weeks to share some of my photos of the trip. I enjoyed this writing project as an opportunity to share all that I’ve learned about the history of the past and present wagon train, and about my personal journey. Many people who read this blog in the past 5 months since it began shared their experiences and enthusiasm for the 4H Wagon Train. I was incredibly inspired by these responses. I hope to get back to this blog in January 2018 when I’m gearing up for the 2018 4H Wagon Train and, in the meantime, I welcome your comments and I hope you will share your thoughts related to #4HWagonTrain.