Michaela Notice, a senior at Match High School, spent fifteen days this past summer kayaking, rafting, hiking, and camping her way through Utah and Colorado with the National Outdoor Leadership School (NOLS).
As a junior, she was approached by her guidance counselor to consider the program. As a result of her time on the school’s step and basketball team, Michaela was known for her athletic ability and the counselor was certain that NOLS would be a good fit for her. Michaela wasn’t so sure. “I was reading through the packet and it talked about how we would be traveling ninety-five miles down a river and there would be bugs, animals, and cold…” she recalls with a wry smile, “but I like trying new things, so... I went.”
Michaela flew to Salt Lake City where she met up with the other team participants before taking a NOLS-chartered bus to Desolation Canyon. fifteen, Michaela was one of three girls and the only African American. She was very much aware that she was definitely in the minority, but she wasn’t fazed. She credited her comfort in the group to her confidence in her physical abilities and the friendliness of the other campers.
Day one of the program was spent on learning procedures and acquiring necessary equipment. Whatever materials the campers didn’t bring with them had to be rented from the local store. Every day would consist of either kayaking or rafting down the river, with food and hiking breaks, before setting up camp in a new location.
Before beginning the journey, all of the campers were trained on rafting procedures and how to successfully exit a canoe once it flips over. “If your kayak turns over, you have to learn forward and tap the bottom of the kayak. If no one hears and comes to help you, then you have to pull the spray skirt and push yourself out. Once you’re out, you drag the kayak to shore, dump the water out, and get back in.”
Michaela had many opportunities to practice the overturned kayak procedure. “The kayak was too small and it was hard for me to keep my balance!” She estimates that she must have flipped over about ten times. By the tenth time, she reached her limit. “I cried once because I was so tired and I was trying to tap and also pull the spray skirt.” Panic set in, but she was eventually saved by teammate.
For the rest of the trip, she became a permanent member of the rafting crew (usually the campers switch back and forth between kayaking and rafting.) The rafts stored the dry luggage, the food, and the portable toilet, known as “the groover.” Every afternoon, the campers broke out into different teams to unload the rafts, prepare dinner, and clean up afterwards. The next morning, everything would be loaded back onto the rafts.
While her time on the raft was less rocky than her time in the kayak, life on the raft was not without its dangers. Rafting down the river in Colorado was trickier because the rocks weren’t as easy to see and if the boat hit the rock, the navigator would be bounced out into the water. Michaela’s proudest moment occurred during one of those almost encounters with a huge rock. “The boat was drifting towards a big wall. I really had to listen to my instructor and do what she said.” She put all her weight into paddling away from the wall and managed to avoid slamming into it.
It was during these sometimes intense, but always strenuous, treks down the river that Michaela built deep bonds with her group mates. She was pleasantly surprised to find a discover a kinship with people from different cultures and socio-economic levels. Some of them were able to relate to her experiences and she grew to love appreciate some of theirs as well. “I can’t believe how much I liked country music!” Michaela exclaimed with a laugh.
Michaela returned to Match in August, bubbling over with smiles and anecdotes. During the school day, she carries her NOLS water bottle with the “Leave No Trace Principles” etched on one side as a reminder of her adventure. Several months later, MIchaela still seems in awe of her experience and proud of her personal growth and exploration. “I’m not just some girl from the city,” she reflected, “I like the country and stuff. It’s cool.”
Thank you for sharing your story with us, Michaela.
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