First Annual Wet Planet ‘First Descents’ a success!
In the past, when I would hear the words “first descents”, my mind would immediately jump to words like, “waterfall”, “gnarly rapids”, “who?, where?, When?”, but now when I hear those words – “First Descents” – they hold an entirely different meaning.
The organization, ‘First Descents’ was started by professional kayaker, Brad Ludden, in 2001. This organization provides whitewater kayaking and other outdoor adventure experiences to promote emotional, psychological and physical healing for young adults with cancer (http://www.firstdescents.org).
For several years, a team of Wet Planet kayakers have been competing in the Eddy Flower Challenge which raises money for First Descents, and so the idea of possibly running a camp here was brought up.
At the same time, a few people from the Portland kayaking community approached me and asked if I knew of any way to get this organization into the Columbia River Gorge – as it had camps currently in Montana, Wisconsin, Colorado . . . We got a hold of Brad and Whitney from FD and they informed us that FD was, in fact, looking for a few new places to host camps.
Wet Planet and First Descents jointly created a blue print for a camp in the Columbia Gorge. Once approved – which was a no-brainer for FD since WP donated the full cost of the course! – , we were well on our way to making things happen. The planning process was actually fairly easy, as we had more volunteers than needed and organizations stepped up to the plate.
Wet Planet has been involved in almost every local river community event that I know of. One of the reasons I work for Wet Planet is because they care . . . Wet Planet honestly appreciates opportunities to give back to our community! Besides running a professional outfit introducing many visitors to our rivers and hence being one of the largest employers in the area, Wet Planet also thrives to be involved in events and organizations that impact the community, the river and lives of people involved. Many of our staff had already been fundraising for the First Descents organization, so it only made sense that when First Descents considered our area as a potential location for a new camp, that Wet Planet stepped up to the plate to make it happen, seeing it as an awesome way to give to those in need what we enjoy doing so much ourselves – kayaking and being out on the river. WP is the first outfitter to donate 100% of their time, instructors, gear, transportation, permit use, food, etc – everything involved in running a class. I am so proud to be working for such a great business. Big props to you, Wet Planet.
Part of the concept of the First Descents camp is welcoming community involvement. Participants flew in from all over the country and stayed at the Bingen Hostel, which provided the perfect “home” for this week. Community members were invited to volunteer by providing assistance on the river, as well as in form of cooking up meals at the hostel. A BIG THANK YOU to Christie Glissmeyer, Corey and Devon Morton, Paul Kuthe, Melissa DeCarlo for helping out on the river. And an equal BIG THANKS go out to Lloyd Dekay with wife and neighbors, Bob & Patty Collins, Bernadette Williams and Scott Zagarino for cooking up some delicious breakfasts and dinners.
As a lead counselor for the FD camp, I had the pleasure of being with the camp and campers 24/7. We kayaked 4 out of the 5 days – Rowland Lake, White Salmon and the Klickitat River (different sections). Our off the river day, took us into Hood River, to enjoy some shopping and SUP boarding. We all got to head out on a boat for a fast ride and a plunge into the cold waters of the White Salmon River mouth.
Each evening, we reflected on our day, our time together, and our lives. We would join in our ‘campfire circle’ and one at a time, we would talk about what our most favorite part of the day was and why we were at this camp. Though a few of us got emotional during this campfire (yes, me – as my mother had battled cancer over 5 years ago), the ‘First Descent’ camp isn’t designed to focus on each of the campers cancer. But, instead, give them a ‘break’ from dealing with and focusing on it. Like “Smelly” said, “Less talk, more play!”.
It has been over a month since this camp was held. Now, most of the campers and staff from FD in the Gorge, are friends on Face Book. I read postings daily, if not more than once during the day, where campers are talking with other campers. I get regular “Hi Cotton Candy (my nickname at the camp), how is your Tuesday?” posts. It is amazing how just 5 days has created life-long relationships. We are already talking about a “reunion”. And not only are there already talks about a reunion, we have also already started talking about potentially do TWO camps here next summer!
I feel so lucky, so proud to be a part of Wet Planet. A part of an organization that supports and encourages their staff to make a difference in other peoples lives. Thanks WP! And major thanks First Descents, Whitney, Smelly for bringing FD to the Gorge and for allowing us to be part of what you do! Let’s do it again next year!
Team Wet Planet