If you’re following along, you know that last weekend I graduated high school. Most of you are probably thinking that this is just the beginning for me and my next phase of life; that I have so much to look forward to, which is all true, but right now it feels like the end of something. Maybe “end” isn’t the right word because it’s very definitive, but it says a lot about the beginning and the middle that I’ve cherished so deeply. The people I’ve grown to love over the last four years will be scattered across the U.S., which means my comfort zone and sanity will be just as scattered. Some of them are jumping right into prestigious academic programs; others are plunging into military academies; and some like me are headed off to the college of their choice. We had to have one last hoorah before everyone started packing up.
If you’re not really into graduation traditions, let me fill you in on a lil something we like to call “senior week.” Typically it’s when you throw your graduation cap behind, load up a few cars full of your closest friends, and road trip to the nearest beach the week after graduation. Around here the destination of choice is Myrtle Beach or the Outer Banks, but my posse and I opted for a different approach to celebrate new-found freedom: we went to the mountains.
It took five cars, a few 5-hr-energy shots, and some seemingly life-endangering mountain roads to get there, but we all survived. We stayed in my friend’s family lake house (which sounds a bit more extravagant that it really was.) Honestly, the house had its scuffs and scrapes, was home to the local population of stink bugs, and was missing a little hot water and some AC. Let’s just say it was a bit rough. Because I’d been there before, I knew what to expect, but I didn’t know how everybody else would feel about such standards of luxury, especially when they were originally offered a trip to the beach. I was just hoping everybody would love the old house as much as I do because it’s seated right on the lake and provides the perfect spot for star-gazing (one of my favorite things to do if you haven’t already noticed).
Once everybody arrived, we cleaned the whole house top to bottom. Literally. The ceilings were spider-web free and the floors were swept and the bathrooms were clean. If my mom had seen the amount of elbow grease that went into this task, she would’ve been speechless and would’ve likely given me a motherly rant about how I never clean like this at home. Let’s not talk about that part.
While working on the plans for this trip, a few guys planned out some day trips for us to get away from the house. One of the first of these adventures was to go white-water rafting in West Virginia down the New River. In order to pull this off, we had to get our whole group out the door and ready for a 3-hr road trip by 5 a.m. Yes, you read that correctly. We got a group of 10 teenagers ready and out the door by 5 a.m. By 10:30 a.m. we were headed down the river with all our awkward helmets and sticky sunscreen layers. If you’ve ever been kayaking or rafting before, you’ve likely experienced the odd quirks of a raft guide. No two are alike, but they’re all equally weird. Fortunately, our group of 10 was divided into 2 groups of 5, which made for effective competition as we were paddling down these rapids. My raft was led by Don, a weird little guy who we originally thought was quiet and awkward. As it turns out, he was one of the most interesting guys I’ve ever met. By the end of the 10-mile stretch of river, our whole group felt like he wasn’t just an awkward raft guide who mumbled and made funny comments, but he was also one of our friends. I guess paddling down class V rapids in the blazing sun can really bring people together.
Another day we went hiking along the New River Trail. It gave us a chance to do something other than swimming and we still had a whole day left when we reached the end. The guys were determined to be these adventure-seeking nature enthusiasts and the girls were determined to keep up.
On the days we didn’t have a day trip planned, we spent hours on the lake. At one point we brought a cooler of sandwiches down to the dock with a poker table and some much-needed sunscreen so we could stay out longer. Kayaking, paddle boarding, and the occasional poker game brought constant entertainment. Some afternoons my friend’s aunt would come pick up the whole lot of us on her pontoon boat and take us to her house, where we could jump off her boat house into the lake, go tubing with the speedboat, and fish off the side of her dock. We were essentially hosting a 6-day lake party that never really stopped.
At night, we would sit by the fire or all lay on the dock, listening to the wake splash up against the pilings and watching the satellites, constellations, and shooting stars become more visible as the skies became darker. I wanted to just close my eyes and soak in every minute of it. I guess I felt like if I enjoyed every moment of the week as deeply and as vividly as I could, it would last longer.
I felt sorry for the graduates who went down to the beach to stand in lines and soak in the hot sand because I spent my week having one of the greatest adventures, surrounded by some entertaining and genuine friends, who weren’t scared of showering in the lake or taking the dare to skinny-dip once it got dark enough. I got to watch the fellas take on cooking all week (and was genuinely amazed at some of the incredible meals that came from that kitchen). I got to spend my mornings gearing up for a morning hike rather than worrying about my hair or my face, which was a vacation in and of itself. But most importantly, I got to spend a week agreeing to be bold and leaving my fears behind, to forget about the risks and just jump, literally and figuratively. This week I learned that 1) The simplest adventures can be the most amazing ones. 2) The guys can cook like Rachael Ray. 3) Friends don’t let friends jump off houses alone. And 4) The best trips never really end.
As my friend, Don, would say, “Something I’ve learned is that there is no such thing as an adult. I thought I had to go have this life with a career and a wife and a house and a dog, but once I had all of it, I realized it wasn’t what I wanted to do. I had spent my whole life doing what I thought I was supposed to do rather than what I wanted to be doing. I guess my advice for you is to stop trying to be an adult and to do what you want to do. Anything else is a waste of time.”