Aspen High students reflect on themselves, nature in Utah |

Aspen High students reflect on themselves, nature in Utah

Robin B. SmithSpecial to The Aspen Times
From left, James Lamberti, Nate Marss, Kurt Barth, Laura Hatanaka, Zach Nichols and trip leader Jamie Hozack, rear, pedal between the Murphy Hogback and Hardscrabble Hill climbs in the Canyonlands of Utah. (Robin B. Smith photo)

By the first evening of Aspen High School’s mountain bike trip along the Utah Canyonlands’ White Rim Trail, the 11 teens and three leaders (myself included) felt as though they’d seen it all.We had descended 1,200 vertical feet from the mesa rim to the sandstone bench, and had pedaled 20 miles of the rocky, sandy and often treacherous 102-mile loop. We had endured the typical high-desert extremes – broiled by the midday sun, and then lashed by wind and rain as we hurriedly erected tents. When the storm cleared, teacher Jamie Hozack asked everyone to spread out along the bluffs for the nightly routine of journal writing and reflection.Freshman Beau Seguin recorded his visual impressions: “As I gaze into the wordless, beautiful canyon, I can still see the orange soaked into the high mesas when the sun has already set. The clouds still hold the orange as if it was their natural color.”

Junior Colin Bashant wrote about physical and mental challenges. “Today was the hardest day I’ve had. Today was also the longest I’ve ever been on a mountain bike in my life. I guess you could say that I’m proud of that. I’m also proud of myself for not quitting.”Between long stretches of slickrock and dry washes, our route climbed two steep passes, snaked down another 1,000 feet to the banks of the Green River and finished with a grueling climb back to the Island in the Sky mesa. The pace was taxing on both bodies and bicycles.”Today I had some troubles with my bike,” wrote sophomore Cory Parker. “But instead of getting frustrated and angry I had patience and I overcame those things and finally made it to camp. The thing that I learned about myself was that instead of getting mad over things, try to learn from your mistakes and soon things will go your way.”This strenuous adventure was just one of 27 trips offered in Experiential Education, the week-long Aspen High School program that promotes growth through physical, emotional, social, intellectual and artistic experiences.

“I think it’s one of the most important things we do,” said Andy Popinchalk, head of the Ex-Ed committee. “Ex-Ed defines the richness of this school and sets the tone for the rest of the year. The kids learn to communicate in a new way, to see teachers in a different light – to see them as being real, and vice versa.” “I’ve realized that there are many different kinds of people in the world. Everybody has different interests and personalities,” concluded junior Nate Marss.Hozack felt the week provided challenges and opportunities that would be difficult, if not impossible, to provide in a classroom.

The writer Edward Abbey, on a visit to the White Rim, was struck by “the splendor of the landscape, the perfection of the silence.” Two Aspen teens watched, listened and felt the same way.Wrote junior Peter Popinchalk: “Canyons present a certain power that I noticed today. The way they present themselves as being unenterable and uncontrollable, majestic and flowing. Protected.”Laura Hatanaka, another junior, arose early several mornings to sit quietly and write. At first she heard nothing, but then as she listened more closely she heard buzzing insects and then the sound of a passing bird in flight.”Finally, if you listen closely, if you close your eyes and really listen, you can hear the soft breeze of the wind. Its presence is not always around, but when it is there it lets you know by gently licking your face and making the scorching heat a little cooler,” she wrote. “There needs to be more silence. It is peaceful, and when it’s there you notice that it really is not silence, but the nature speaking. It is silent and loud at the same time, and suddenly when someone starts speaking the silence is obliterated.”

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