The Fountain of Youth on LCA’s rafting trip

Posted on 21. May, 2018 by in LCA News, river rafting trip

The Lighthouse Christian Academy boys in front of the Gen. Sherman tree.

By Michael Ashcraft —

As we rolled over rapids and smashed whitewater soaking ourselves, I dialed  back the years — 37 of them, to be exact.

I was hollering, whooping and yahooing like a 13 year old. It may not have been the Fountain of Youth, but the Kings River Rafting expedition for the Lighthouse Christian Academy made me forget I’m 50.

Photo credit: Mark Leder-Adams

(The only trouble: At 13 years old, I no longer qualified to chaperone the nine boys who signed up for this years camping trip.)

The 10-mile class-3 paddle down the Kings River brought out a side in me that I was unaware of.

The annual camping trip — the last in Lighthouse’s Spring trips — is supposed to be about bonding, not about becoming young. It’s roughing it in the woods, not rejuvenating in a spa.

Photo credit: Mark Leder-Adams

LCA emphasizes trips because we focus the whole student, not just college prep. On our trips, students find themselves, find friendships and find God. At-risk students move off the at-risk list. Secretly suicidal kids start seeing the bright side of the street. Good things happen at LCA, out of the classroom too.

This was my first camping trip. I’ve been teaching at LCA for six years now. Why hadn’t I gone before? The excuses cropped up easy enough, lack of finances, lack of time, etc.

Photo credit: Mark Leder-Adams

But this year, the administration is undergoing a makeover and in the transition there was a need for another chaperone. I absolutely love camping, so I figured this was my chance for the 3-day adventure on the river and into Sequoia National Park.

I’m familiar with the rigors of camping. You go for Mother Nature, not for creature comforts. It’s the call of the wild, not the call of your palatte. Food, sleep and taking a bath are all negotiables, sacrifices you make to take in the breath-taking splendors of the pine ridge, the waterfall, the canyon view.

So I wasn’t ready for the pampering we got: tri tip and Roquefort cheese.

Garlic bread, fresh greens, pasta pesto, two types of meat. Camp food has shed its reputation.

“Wow!” I said, making small talk with the Zephyr Whitewater Rafting staff. It’s the same guys guiding boats and chefing. “You guys run a five-star hotel here.”

“Actually, we have a five billion star hotel,” responded Greg Bowen, who earlier had just chased a snake out of camp grounds and was slathering seasoned chicken breasts onto my plate.

Greg, rafting guide, snake chaser and gourmet chef.

Immediately, I caught his quick turn of words. While only thousands of 100 billion stars are visible to the naked eye, up in the mountains the stars aren’t blocked by smog or dimmed by city lights. The spectacular sky showing strikes one like fireworks.

When you cut yourself off from cellphone service, you’re pretty much stuck with each other. The students — all boys this time (for some reason, virtually no girl wished to go) — played volleyball, BS and other card games between the scheduled activities. For two days they rafted.

Akihiro thoroughly enjoyed the icy dip.

On the other day, they hiked up to a waterfall (in Sequoia National Park) and dipped in a pool of water from freshly melted snow. Japanese student Akihiro Ohu leaped from rock to rock like a mountain goat. Our 4-year Korean student, Howon Chun, who has bravely tried everything in America including bone-crushing football, didn’t miss out either.

I’m usually shy away from exhibitions of machismo but found myself being carried away with the excitement of the moment and baptized myself with the others. (It should be noted that certain students who TALK A LOT about how studly they are opted out of this plunge.)

Howon Chun and Akihiro Onu in the mountains.

The camping experience didn’t disappoint. The students saw deer, a marmot and a bear — even a peacock.They struggled with setting up tents and enjoyed chocolate chip pancakes made from the Hershey bars left over from the previous night’s S’mores.

I ditched my protein-skewed diet and junked out on Tapatio Doritos and other delectables. At the rafting base, the Zephyr staff tended to our food, but in Sequoia it was Pastor Zach Scribner, our math and science teacher, who cooked up fare. We had chili dogs, camp cakes and sausage and French press coffee.

Mmmmm. Camp cakes with chocolate chips from broken up Hershey’s bars.

Unfortunately, I poured my coffee into a used water bottle. It wasn’t just drops of water in the bottom. Unluckily, the bottle I selected was the one they used the night prior to pour cooking stove fuel over the log fire to get it going.

I didn’t realize anything was wrong until my third sip (yes, I’m groggy and grumpy until the caffeine starts kicking in). Camp coffee is known for being bitter. But at the third gulp, I thought it was unusually raunchy.

After asking a few questions and sampling some unadulterated brew, I was able to determine I was in trouble. Worriedly, I read the warning on the side the fuel container: If ingested, do not induce vomiting. Call the Centers for Poison Control immediately.

Well, that was heart-warming, wasn’t it?

Mr. Ashcraft going through adventures and misadventures.

I prayed. What else was I supposed to do? And luckily, I didn’t faint on the trail. All that day, I was burping up fuel flavor. (Later, I noticed that camp fuel — toxicity aside — is a decent laxative.)

Zephyr runs a fun operation. Their staff is composed of smiling nature-lovers. The female guides seemed too sweet to commandeer an endangered raft. The male guides savored every moment of paradise. During the winter, they work ski resorts making snow and whatnot jobs. During the summer, they guide because they’re kayaking addicts.

Halfway down the river, the guides beach their inflatable rafts and break out Pringles, Gatorade, cookies, PB&J, lunch meats, cheeses and sliced avocado, tomato, onion with lettuce, carrots and sprouts. Again it was such an attractive spread it tempted comparisons with hotel fare. We munched and joked under tree shade next to a creek inlet into the river that looked like a natural temple.

The boys threw a football around everywhere — in the campground, along the path — everywhere except on the rapids from one raft to another (football is big at Lighthouse).

We left early this year so that the boys could play air soft gun wars outside of National Parks with Pastor Zach while LCA driver Lou Hyland and I sipped coffee at a nearby Starbucks.

There was one more misadventure. While the students rafted on the second day, I proposed to get some video. LCA had never documented with justice the excitement of the rafting trip. I was a journalist, so I proposed obtaining the best possible footage barring nothing.

I asked the camp photographer if I could tag along with him, and he graciously obliged. The first photo shoot was him — I’ll call him Mr. National Geographic photographer (his name is Mark Leder-Adams) — sitting on a tuft of grass on a steep incline on the ledge of a cliff several hundred feet tall. He warned me that I probably shouldn’t follow him, as it was a dangerous slope. But I countered that if he could clamber down from the roadway in sandals, I would do better in my shoes. The first video was no problem.

To get to the second spot, we drove farther down the road, got out of the car and had to ford part of the river to get to a rocky island. Again, Mr. National Geographic counseled me NOT to do it. Here, his shorts and sandals gave him a distinct advantage. He wouldn’t be cutting up his feet on the rocks in the riverbed.

I wasn’t to be daunted in my journalistic fervor. I stripped down to my chonies, pulled off my shoes and socks and waded through. The current was stronger and the rocks slipperier than anticipated. I was hurrying and wobbling and groping about for a good footing. I tried to project an image of confidence to Mr. National Geographic, who, having already forded the river and was looking back with an eye roll that spoke volumes (It said: This clown is going to fall in.)

Nevertheless, I made it across decent enough, pulled my pants back on and followed him to the other edge of the island.

The trouble came when I had to cross back to the shore. Having felt the slippery rocks and strong current, I was now worried. I slipped three times, always trying to steady myself with the one hand that didn’t have the iPhone in it. Once my phone dipped momentarily into the water (fortunately, I had already turned it off.)

Mr. National Geographic was watching me, repressing laughter no doubt. Still trying to project an image of confidence, I looked up, and he snapped a photo of me.

I barely made it across. Photo credit: Mark Leder-Adams

Uh oh. This is the extortion photo, I thought to myself. No doubt, he’s going to threaten to post the picture of me in my boxers (only my wife has seen that) and demand a huge sum of money.

In regards to that, there is good and bad news. The good news is that he isn’t publishing the photo. The bad news is my children no longer have an inheritance.

JK. Here’s the photo:

Caught with his pants down. Photo credit: Mark Leder-Adams

I was very worried about my iPhone. Was it destroyed? Would I NOT be able to extract my pictures and videos. I kept it off for the rest of the trip. When I got home, I packed it overnight in dry rice.

Happily, it’s working and the photos are in this article.

Michael Ashcraft teaches journalism, literature, and Spanish at LCA.

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