January 30th, 2018. It’s my first day back from one of the most exciting expeditions that I’ve been on yet. My name is Gianluca, a participant of the SOAR Gap Year Program, and someone who is very interested in the outdoors and cannot help but listen to Lady Gaga while writing this. Everything about the outdoors amazes me, from the simplest things, like the smell you get when you walk through a pine forest, or the feeling of the sand from Zion National Park between you and your sleeping bag. I feel like the name “Star Sleepers” is a perfect name for this year’s Gap Year group, because at every opportunity that we get, we make the conscious decision to sleep under the stars. Nothing compares to seeing Orion’s Belt and the rest of the galaxy in the middle of a national park with only your teammates around you and it has an unbelievable effect. I love the idea of how small we really are in the universe. It really puts who I am as a person in perspective. Did you know that we have a very small percentage of star dust inside of us? It’s pretty cool if you think about it because we are made up of the same thing as everything else around us. We just came back from our 4th expedition totaling 13 days. If you think that planning a 2 week trip is easy, then you are wrong. It takes an incredible amount of dedication, time, energy and protein.
For our 4th expedition, we went to Arizona and visited plenty of beautiful places on the way including Utah, Nevada and the Colorado River. Our expedition started off with the long car rides to get to Salt Lake City where we spent the first few nights in BLM land (Bureau of Land Management) and we woke up to absolutely breathtaking (and below freezing) views. Next, we made the long trek to the border of Nevada and Arizona, specifically to the Hoover Dam, to begin our four day canoeing trip down the Colorado River in the Black Canyon. Not only was this one of the most beautiful things that I have been able to experience, but it was also a huge learning experience for me. I learned about so many different species of birds, different types of rocks, and about the Hoover Dam, how it was made, and how people lived back when it was first made. We canoed about 16 miles to Willow Beach. Along the way, we saw so many different hot springs, different types of wildlife, we even got to meet a new friend Roy, the rubber duck! : ) We brought him into caves and went on beautiful day hikes through canyons and beaches and to say we all, including Roy, had fun and learned a lot is an understatement.
After the 4 day excursion through the Black Canyon, we started heading towards Arizona. Along the way we saw many beautiful campgrounds, lakes, deserts, vegetation, and again, the wildlife. I have never seen so many cacti in my life! Once we were in Arizona, we headed towards Tucson to visit The University of Arizona, where the renowned SALT Program is located. Its a program that is dedicated specifically to people with Learning Disabilities. They provide so many amazing tools to help their student like free tutoring and essay assistance (they actually help you write them and they work with you to improve on your writing). We got a tour of the beautiful university. It is gigantic and has so many different types of people in the 43,000 student population. The people on the campus are friendly and helpful, and we even got to meet a previous Gap Year participant, Collin. A big thanks to Collin for giving us some well needed advice and some insight into how we can change and grow as individuals. After some yummy pizza and a spa day for Big Booty Judy, our well named 15 passenger van, we headed to Phoenix where we had an incredible tour of the ABC15 studio thanks to a friend of one of the participants, Koh. We got to see where they film the broadcast, and meet Stephanie, one of the News Anchors, who was super friendly and even had a past working with children with learning disabilities. And finally, to end that amazing night, we treated ourselves to amazing Mexican food at a place called “Rosita’s Place” which filled our bellies up with the yummiest (Mexican) food that I have ever had. That evening we slept in Phoenix and were able to feel the heat. When we were in Tucson, we had this amazing rock climbing experience at Barnum Rock. Personally, I am afraid of heights, so climbing was a challenge, but overcoming it felt amazing.
Once we finished in Phoenix, our journey back to good ol’ Dubois began. Going from the heat to the cold is not a fun experience, but it was still amazing (especially the views) and the campgrounds. Camping in tents is something that I think everyone should try because it is really fun and has a different feeling than a bed, and personally I sleep much better with the fresh air! But overall, the journey back home gave us some time to reflect on what we learned through this expedition. We had time to think about the hard work we had to put in and think about how we can use the experiences on expeditions in our lives at home. Some things that I learned from this expedition is to expect the unexpected. Even though we went to the desert, it was very cold and at times it even rained, which goes to show that you need to prepare for the worst, whether that’s very hot or very cold.
Our first week back on base has been an exciting one! We have a new participant, Derek, who has been able to make the transition to the Gap Year very smoothly, and has been the most helpful person I know. We are also going to be welcoming a new participant Sarah this weekend, which is another super exciting addition to the group!
There have been so many things happening around the Eagle View Ranch and I’m really excited to see what will happen in the next few weeks. For example, we will be going to Belize at the end of February and we are all very excited! We are back to volunteering on base and class starts next week! I recently started volunteering at the Boys and Girls Club and I am so excited to be working with children. I simply adore children and I think that they have a lot to learn from me and Koh (my volunteer buddy). There are so many more opportunities and experiences that are waiting to happen here at SOAR, and I cannot wait to share these experiences, along with other members here at the Gap Year, and hope that you found a little bit of interest while reading this, but yeah thanks for reading, until next time! Happy adventuring amici miei!