As recently as twenty years ago, it was quite unusual for students to take a gap year between high school and college. There are reports this year that over 30% of high school seniors are considering taking a year off of formal education before entering college. What was once seen as strange is now pretty normal.
FBRA alumni buddies Braxton Lathrop (c’17) and William Harvey (c’17) graduated from high school last spring and were not quite ready to begin four years of college work. Both of them studied abroad for part of high school (William in Spain and Braxton in Brazil), so they were comfortable chasing down their own adventures, which they decided to do together. They returned to FBRA in early December to recount their exploits to the entire Boys Program students and staff.
The first stop on their trip was the Colorado Trail: 486 miles of scenic climbs and descents through some of the most spectacular high country in the world. Following months of preparation, William and Braxton loaded their packs and flew to Denver to start five weeks of walking with a third friend of theirs. Along the way, the young men quickly realized that walking for twelve hours per day, every day, can be a physical and emotional grind. Both Braxton and William commented that being able to listen and understand each other was critical to their daily success, especially when the weather was not all blue skies and and the meadows were not sunny fields of wildflowers.
For our current students, the most amusing anecdote was “the mountain lion encounter.” Braxton unzipped the tarp right before heading to sleep to see the glowing eyes of a big cat not more than twenty feet from the tarp. The other two boys thought he was joking when he told them that there was a mountain lion just a few paces from them, but they quickly became believers upon looking out of the tarp. The boys started banging pots and pans together and moved their food cache away from the tarp. It was an angsty night for them as they had no idea if the lion was ten feet away or had moved on to find a less noisy dining hall. Fortunately, they made it through the night unscathed.
After completing the Colorado Trail in Durango, William and Braxton pushed on to Utah where they had secured volunteer jobs working for the Utah Conservation Corps. They worked in two different crews of five people to remove invasive plants with chain saws and kill the roots with an herbicide. Again, Braxton and William had to rely upon their ability to communicate with the other members of their crew under challenging conditions in order to complete their daily work and maintain good relationships with everyone. They worked about ten per day in the heat of the high desert for eight straight days before getting six days off. On their days off, they rested and visited state parks and scenic areas being rewarded with unEarthly geologic sites of that part of the country.
That would be enough for most folks, but William and Braxton are headed to Spain in January to travel and immerse themselves in language and culture. William spent some of his high school time in Barcelona, so they are definitely headed there, and Braxton will, at some point, head to Portugal where he will certainly discover the differences between Brazilian Portuguese and the Portuguese of the old world. Along the way, they will no doubt be required to use their communication skills to make friends and help others.
Following their presentation to the students, there was time for Q and A. The most important piece of advice that came out during that session was for the FBRA students not to be afraid to “nerd out” on things that interested them, be it music, paddling, or a specific area of academics. What was clear to all who watched the presentation was that these two alumni Salamanders have deep experiences and vast communication skills that will continue to make them positive forces in the world.