A short story capturing a glimpse @ what NST 85 in Alabama looked like for the 9 students and 3 trainers.
New Staff Training, Outward Bound At-Risk
Jezzamine Bayou, Southern Alabama
11 September 2011 (10 years after 9/11)
“Gunnel Up!” they screamed. It was getting late as we drifted down the Tensaw River, we pulled our 6 canoes into a tight cluster. All 9 of us, the fresh Outward Bound At-Risk interns from 7 different states, squirming and struggling to throw our loose arms, legs, and paddles over the sides of the neighboring boats as they began drifting away in the strong current. I wrestled off my life jacket, holding one canoe with my left hand and one on with my right. A girl on my left began excitedly peeing off the side of her canoe screaming "DANGER," our signal to look away when someone is indecent. Boys have the option of a "Captain Jack Sparrow" triumphantly peeing off the bow of the boat standing upright, or if you are daring, a "Superman," crawling onto your stomach and peeing between two canoes with one leg balanced on each (Josh fell in while attempting a superman with his pants down at his ankles). The sun was setting quickly and cast an orange glow over our tired faces. We’d been paddling all day. I looked at the crumpled wet map with squinted eyes, looking for a narrow tributary on the left side of the river called the “Jezzamine Bayou.” “I think we passed it,” I said quietly.
The entrance to Jezzamine Bayou was hidden. Even under the buttery light of the full moon all we could see were shadows. We passed by once before having to turn around, paddle another mile against the current, and eventually found our way inside. Our 6 canoes in a straight-line convoy, silently cutting through the black water. It was dark inside the passageway, muffled sounds of bats and birds nesting in the wooded foliage above our heads. The branches and vines of cypress trees were low and scraped our faces as we paddled eagerly into the dark swamp. All lights were turned off. Every time a headlamp flicked on someone would scream “TURN IT OFF! You’re killing my night vision!” We hardly had to paddle, carried by the soft current. Long periods of silence allowed me to take in our surroundings; a full moon hiding behind thick braided vines, fist-sized yellow banana spiders crawling up trees and dangling in thick webs at face level, signs marking “HUNTING AREA-ALABAMA GUN CLUB” began to appear on old wooden signs, nailed to the trees. Terrifying. I saw a splash and the boat in front of us stopped abruptly.
“I think I just hit an alligator with my paddle!” Kacy shouted, her voice shaking. Then silence. A flash of white water shifted our canoes as the alligator swam to shore. I could feel my heart beating faster in my chest. Sam, the navigator in the stern of the lead canoe murmured under his breath “I hate these fucking spiders,” rifling his hands through his short hair and jerking his head around. There really was no avoiding the spiders. They were EVERYWHERE, thick sticky webs lying low to the water, enveloping our faces as we floated through. Screaming thrashing arms and fingers. “Fuck fuck fuck,” Matt shouted, moving around violently in the back of our canoe, threatening to tip us over. He dunked his head into the black water and soaked his arms and shoulders shuddering. I looked up to see a tarantula the size of my hand crawling up the vine beside my face, try not to look. We agreed that this felt like some sort of twisted haunted house ride. The adrenaline building in my system had me breathing quickly, excited. I looked up at the moon and smiled. Is this really going to be my job?
We got to our camp around midnight, eating dinner close to 1am. We all sat around a glowing red-lit water jug, “Can you imagine doing that shit with 11 at-risk kids? This job is going to be crazy!” and Off we go.