This article first appeared on oa-bsa.org on November 14, 2022, written by Sarah Kitchings
I have been involved in Scouting for as long as I can remember. I tagged along with my brother during his time in Scouting, dreaming of all the things I could do if I was able to be a part of the BSA and the Order of the Arrow. Soon after the membership policy was changed to include Scouts like me, I was inducted into Nisqually Lodge at the start of 2019. I was excited and ready to make all those dreams into reality. Having heard of OA High Adventure, I knew it was one of the first things I wanted to do.
For those who may not know, OA High Adventure (OAHA) are programs run at all four of the high adventure bases. They are one of the very few ways to attend the high adventure bases as a solo participant without needing to arrange with a unit. During these programs, you are paired up with Arrowmen from all over the country to form a crew. Together the crew completes a certain amount of service and takes part in all the fun each base has to offer. The crews are led by foremen who help form the participants into a crew and lead them through the program.
As soon as I could, I signed up for OA Ocean Adventure at Sea Base to start. Even though I was excited to finally get to go on an adventure of my own, I remember also being very nervous and filled with questions. This would be the first time traveling on my own, to a place I had never been with no one I knew, and without really knowing what I was going to be doing. I was also a very shy introverted person having always been a behind-the-scenes helper and never a participant, so I was worried about how everything would go.
My worries began to fade when I arrived at Sea Base meeting fellow members of my crew and our foreman. We spent that night playing icebreaker games, getting to know one another, and preparing to start our trek to Big Munson Island. Even though I was still nervous, I felt a lot better about the decision I had made to be there and knew this would be an experience to remember. We spent our days out on Big Munson completing service projects such as moving burn piles and trail building, as well as other activities like snorkeling, kayaking, fishing, shark fishing and more. Also, we got to spend our time making meals, getting to know one another, and playing games together as a crew. By the last days that we got to go back and spend in Key West we were no longer a group of individuals from many different places, but a crew of friends.
I will never forget that feeling of how much the weeks at Sea Base changed me. I was going into something unknown, so worried about what people would think or what to do and then just being able to be in the moment, feeling like I had friends, being able to be myself, and above all not wanting to leave. I left understanding that this is what OAHA is about, being able to grow in a new experience and I wanted more. I considered going back to Sea Base as a foreman but decided instead to first pursue and complete my OA High Adventure Triple Crown award.
The OAHA Triple Crown is earned when an Arrowman goes to three of the five OAHA programs at different bases as well as completes a presentation about their experience to their local lodge or section.
The following year I chose to do OA Trail Crew at Philmont Scout Ranch. I went in already excited for the next adventure and quickly learned that even though it was the same program of service, fun, and fellowship, it was a much different experience. There were a lot of rough days for me because Philmont required a different preparedness that I wasn’t fully ready for. Even though I was ready and less worried about the OAHA experience of making new friends and figuring it out together, I wasn’t ready for the physical challenges I was about to face. I still remember the first long hike up to the worksite gaining a lot of elevation followed by bringing a lot of gear up to the site and setting up camp. I felt dizzy from the altitude and tired from the hike, and that night I found myself questioning what I signed up for and whether I was going to be able to do it.
As we continued on in the work week, we learned how to cut trails working to remove all the roots and rocks in the way, which leveled it flat. We also built the majority of a rock wall for a switchback by learning about how to keep the grades and rocks at the correct angles. As it went on we grew stronger and it started to become easier, but never easy. We moved into trek week with all of us ready for the next adventure to begin. Though we were met with long miles and I questioned almost every day while hiking if I was going to make it through, we were also always met with beautiful scenery, awesome backcountry camp experiences, and activities. We got to do spar pole climbing, rappelling off an amazing cliff, and almost every night there was some type of campfire filled with staffers and fun. Things that you wouldn’t get anywhere else.
On our last full day on trail we summited the Tooth of Time. I will never forget that feeling of making it to that peak and reflecting on the almost two weeks we had as a crew on trail, both the good times but also the rough times. With the help of a few others, I learned on this trek that it’s okay to not feel confident and comfortable in your capabilities to complete a task because if you did, you wouldn’t be growing and learning. It’s okay to question if you will make it. What matters the most is that you make that choice for yourself each time to keep going.
With Philmont and Sea Base complete, I had one base left to go and that was Northern Tier. I decided to do OA Wilderness Voyage and waited for my last adventure as a participant. I was once again met with difficult tasks when we first arrived learning about canoe flips and portaging. I still felt apprehensive on the first day as I learned to flip that first canoe and head out to the worksite. I had thoughts of “wow, this is harder than I expected. I am not prepared for this.” but at the same time, I was ready and could not wait to continue. My experience in OAHA gave me the perspective to look forward to the challenge and have faith in myself to be able to adapt to complete it. We learned as a crew on portage trail maintenance and we worked on the trails near our site, learning our canoe strokes in the process, and I felt that feeling again as we went from a group of individuals into a crew. We went onto our trek week learning more about portage efficiency as we all grew stronger and felt more comfortable in our capabilities in the Northwoods. Even with the hard times of headwinds, canoes flipping, or getting slightly disoriented with the map for a moment, we all made it through having a great time.
When it came to earning my Triple Crown the only thing I never looked forward to was leaving trek and the thought of being done. Earning my Triple Crown has been one of the best things that I have ever done in my life. I think back to the person so nervous about going to Sea Base, wondering if they are going to be able to do it, if they are going to be perceived as weak. Through this program, she became the person who came back from the boundary waters having carried an 80lb canoe for well over a mile, who faced new challenges not knowing exactly how to get through them, but knew to accept the help and learned how to get there. I can 100% say that I would not be the person I am today if it was not for each one of these adventures, the people who were on them with me, and my foremen that helped me through it.
While I have sadly completed my last trek as a participant because I will be turning 21 next summer, I know my involvement is not done with this program. Each experience taught me something new and most of them are lessons that will last a lifetime, which is why I believe OAHA is one of the best and most valuable programs scouting has to offer.
If you are thinking about possibly going on a trek, even with the smallest consideration, do it. I promise you won’t regret it. OAHA gives you a new perspective, not only of your surroundings but yourself. When you’re on trek, completely unplugged from the rest of the world, you learn things about yourself through your personal challenges and how others see you. The things you learn will serve you for the rest of your life, and you will get an adventure and memories that last a lifetime. There is so much to be gained from OAHA just waiting for you to take the chance. If you have questions, remember to reach out because there are many people passionate about this program that would love to answer your questions and help you get involved. Region and Sections may also have scholarships available which can be a big help if you are looking to pursue your OAHA Triple Crown.
If you are interested in attending an OAHA trek, you can get more information at oa-bsa.org/high-adventure.