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|"This was a worthwhile experience for him. He has been excited about it since being home." from Foster Parent|
|Foster Care, Kinship
|LGBT Youth||Families w/ Children with
|At-Risk Youth||Other Trips||Trip Stories||Testimonials|
2012 Quebec in Winter Trip
After introductions, we made it a full four minutes down the road before our first bathroom break...To be fair, this was planned. Winter trips add a few additional challenges to overcome and one of them is how much to use the bus’ bathroom. Lets calculate – 18 people times 1 bus times 4 days = well let’s just say finding public bathrooms when possible keeps everyone happy. Before too long though we were headed back north and towards Canada. We arrived at the Canadian Border at 1:00 pm and crossed over quickly with just a few routine questions. Directly passed the entrance station is...drum-roll..another public restroom and a great place to stop for lunch.
Along with the bathroom issue, winter trips also add a challenge in regard to meals as we are typically confined to being indoors in the bus. This, in my opinion, has resulted in better food. (A change that we will keep in place for future trips.) Alyssa has spent a bit of the winter during “downtime” finding and testing recipes that are trip friendly. Many of these new recipes require some precooked ingredients and for others we utilize crock pots. (Oh yeah, did I mention that some of the crew helped to get a chocolate cake cooking in a crock pot when we left Augusta and that we had been smelling it cooking for the last three hours?) The introduction of more and more “home cooked” meals has not only been tasty but has made a difference in the overall trip. This first lunch was Mexican roll-ups.
From the border it was another 2 hours to Quebec City. The bus had been running great (and mostly on vegetable oil) but as we slowed in traffic entering the city an engine warning light came on. We proceeded with our fingers crossed to our planned parking spot below the old city. While the kids got ready for our first walk in town I checked fluids and made a couple of calls regarding the potential mechanical problem. We concluded that the most likely problem was a touchy sensor and that it, although annoying, was not a big problem. Our walk was pleasant and a great introduction to this foreign land. We walked through Quartier Petit Champlain below the walled city and then made our way up to the Chateau Frontenac. We spent a couple of hours wandering before returning to the bus for dinner.
When we arrived back at the bus I made the decision to “test” the bus by driving it to the University of Laval, where we were scheduled to swim later that evening, so that I could figure out sooner, rather than later, if we were going to have problems with the bus. We arrived at the PEPS Center’s parking lot without any problem and proceeded to have dinner. Our dinner was an SWA traditional first night staple of spaghetti, garlic bread and salad. Again, this may seem simple enough, but cooking for 18 hungry people at once in a bus always poses some hurdles. In this case it is our rather inadequate hot plate that we use to boil water. In fact, in order to get the water to boil quicker, we use electric tea pots to initially heat water and then dump it into the larger pot. But once again the dinner crew came through like a finely trained kitchen staff and we ate well - finally getting to enjoy the chocolate cake that we had been smelling since Maine. Delicious.
After dinner we entered the University’s large sports complex to swim. We muddled our way through the registration process with the addition of the French language challenge and found ourselves in an environment that would prove to be an experience all in itself – a college locker room. To many of the campers I could see the locker room was a bit more than they bargained for. There was no room for modesty. But with a little work we made it to the pool, only to find out that what we thought was free swim was actually lap swim. Within a few minutes of chatting with the lifeguard we had come to a compromise and they let us use the shallow end of the pool. First though, we needed to rent swim caps. I think it is safe to say that stretching a tight elastic swim cap over our heads was a first for most of us and was the source of much amusement. Once in the pool we played some ball and joked around in the shallow end until the high dives opened at 8:30. This was the first opportunity of the trip for the kids to challenge their bravery. I did not know that the pool had high dives. I did not know we would be allowed to use them. But it was a great opportunity to come together as a supportive group and for kids to individually find success. It is a treat to watch someone achieve a goal and surmount a fear.
I think it may be important to add some additional information here about a part of our introduction talk that happens at the beginning of the trips. We explain that the goal of the trip is to have fun and that all of our actions should stem from this mission. We then continue that, like life, we can never be sure of what we may encounter at a any particular time and that we will all need to be flexible. To this end we use a Central American saying “Pura Vida”.The saying can be simply translated as“It is all good” or “It will all work out” or “Great life”. And as we initially stood on the deck of the pool, unsure of what the night's swimming fate held, a returning camper drawing on perhaps past experience called out a reassuring “Pura Vida”.
As we left the pool we had our third challenge of winter trips – “winter camping” which is really just parking. I had spent a bit of time over the last few months attempting to find a place to “camp” for the night that would be safe, legal and ideally have a bathroom. What I found was a small truck stop just a few minutes from University Laval. It was not much to look at when we arrived but we were all tired and it would fit the bill. We did one last bathroom run into the store and then off to sleep. Between the hum of the generator and the warmth of the heaters the bus was comfortable and cozy.
I awoke early, honestly in part due to some concern over needing to get the warning light checked, and found a light snow falling outside. Slowly the bus came alive around me with campers making their way out of their bunks. While breakfast was being enjoyed (pancakes) I made some phone calls to locate a mechanic shop that could plug into the bus’ engine and read what had caused the code light to come on. Our plan was to arrive at a food pantry at 9:30 am to volunteer our assistance prior to going tubing at Valcartier Village. The mechanic I found was a short distance away and offered to come to our “campground”. It was only 8:30 when he arrived and as the mechanic and I made attempts at reading the codes, the rest of the crew worked on getting ready for the days activities. Unfortunately the mechanic did not have the correct adapter so we followed him the short distance to their shop. Once at the shop they continued to have an issue finding the correct adapter but eventually we were successful and confirmed our suspicion that the problem was a bad sensor and that there was nothing to be immediately done.
By the time we arrived at the food pantry it was 10:30 and there was a very long line of individuals waiting to receive food. This food pantry is one of the largest in the city and serves some 600 people on Thursdays. Each kid was placed directly on the “line” where they were required to hand out food and were challenged to communicate as best they could with the language barrier. The reception we received and the opportunity to have such personal interaction was phenomenal. Prior to entering the facility we discussed why we include volunteering on our trips and the value in seeing our ability to help others and the need to look outside of ourselves without judgment. Claude, our liaison at the food pantry, was both incredibly appreciative of our help but also clearly proud of the great work that their program offers. As we went to leave, Claude made a point of thanking us for our help and commented on both the smiles he saw on those that we helped but also on each of our faces.
From the food pantry we switched gears and drove the half hour to Valcartier Village tubing park. As it was 12:45 when we arrived we decided to do lunch before tubing – grill cheese on HOMEMADE bread and warm tomato soup. I could write pages on the tubing park alone as it is sledding like you have never seen anywhere else. Imagine a ski mountain with tubes, and full-size whitewater rafts, instead of skis and snowboards. Many of the runs you can go down either on a tube by yourself or as a group of up to 8 tubes “rafted” together. The weather was unbelievably nice and the thrills were abundant. We had all day (park closed at 10:00 pm) so we tried to pace ourselves and eventually took a long break for dinner. I know you are all wondering what was for dinner – tacos! Night tubing is even better than during the day under the lights with less crowds and icier, faster slopes. We also took advantage of their nightly campfire and brought out our supplies for s’mores. What better way to end a day of sledding! As an extra bonus, we decided to upgrade our “campground” and worked out staying the night at Valcartier Village.
We awoke on Friday morning to a beautifully clear and chilly day. The scenery was great from the parking lot at Valcartier and we went through the morning routine like we had been doing it for weeks. Bathroom run to a store, eggs, toast and fresh pineapple, and then got our personal gear stowed for travel. The crew made a game plan for the day that included in order; 1st) hike and explore the Chute de Montmerency (waterfall), 2nd) wander around the old city and stop at a souvenir shop; 3) ice skating at the town park in the old city; 4th) shower at the locker rooms at the University of Laval; 5th) watch the Remparts Hockey Game at Colisee Pepsi; 6th) find the night’s “campground” and sleep. The Chutes de Montmerency was a breathtaking as ever. One of the highlights, and challenges for those that are frightened of heights, is the suspension bridge that crosses over the waterfall. From the waterfall we returned to the old city to visit some souvenir shops in the small area just below the Chateau Frontenac. Along with a little shopping we also took some time to view a couple large murals painted on the side of the buildings.
With our souvenirs in hand we returned to the bus to have lunch and regroup before making the trek to the ice skating rink. As we arrived at the bus I attempted to start the generator to cook and found that the battery was dead. (the generator's battery – not the main bus batteries.) Humm... The crew loaded the bus and continued to get themselves prepared while I investigated the problem. I quickly found a wire connector to the alternator that had broken which answered the question of why the battery was dead. Now to solve the problem. Lucky I had a new wire connector in my tool bag and before long had reconnected the wire. This however, did not solve the result of this problem - the dead battery. So, Gerry & I disconnected and removed one of the large 120 lb. house batteries, set it up on the cooler beside the bus and connected it to the generator in order to get it running and make lunch. Ok, to recap – fixed wire to alternator, got the generator running temporarily with a battery on the sidewalk beside the bus, but still needed to somehow get the real generator battery re-hooked and charging, and we had no jumper cables. (The jumper cables were in the pile to get put under the bus before the trip but...) So, I took a short walk and found a Coast Guard station and a very nice person willing to loan me his jumper cables. In the end we had the generator running and everything put back together within 45 minutes and lunch had been served. (Homemade crock pot Mac & Cheese that Alyssa had cooking that morning..)
I just realized that I have neglected up to this point to mention Alexis, our volunteer youth counselor. Alexis had contacted us a couple of months prior to the trip and expressed an interest in helping with a trips as part of her Senior Project. Luckily, we decided to go ahead and give it a try. And she was wonderful! Although we have thanked her personally for her help and contribution on this trip, it would be a mistake for me to not additionally mention her in this trip synopsis. We have often thought of having a youth counselor on trips, and if Alexis is any indication, it is something to be replicated. (We hope to have her again on another trip in the future.)
As we left the bus after lunch it seemed important to recognize what we had accomplished with the generator and that I saw it as a potential for a learning experience. The learning experience that I wanted to convey was not necessarily how to reattach a wire to an alternator, but rather the importance of breaking down a problem into more manageable parts so that you have somewhere to begin. It is often not reasonable to just ignore “real” life problems but there is always some answer. What did I know? The battery was dead. What charges a battery (no I am not a mechanic I just play one occasionally on TV)? The alternator. Can I see anything wrong with the alternator? Why yes this loose wire seems particularly close to the alternator and perhaps it should be connected. Can I reconnect it?....you get the point. I am grateful that I was able to fix the problem, but I am also grateful for the opportunity these things present on how to triumph in the face of adversity. (Thank you again to the kind Coaster Guard that lent us his jumper cables too.) Pura Vida.
As we walked back up the hill and through the old city toward the outdoor skating rink, we made a quick stop at La Petite Cabane A Sucre De Quebec (a sugar shack) for some fresh maple taffy. (If you have never had it, it is a must. Fresh syrup pored over snow to cool and immediately rolled onto a popsicle stick.) Yum. The skating rink was equally wonderful. Any physical activity is usually a good one and this was no exception. Many had never skated before and everyone did great. It went so well in fact that soon we found ourselves needing to make the decision between continuing to skate longer or rushing to fit in showers before the hockey game. There was some struggle with the decision but in the end we decided that it was best to enjoy what we were doing.
After skating we walked for our final time through the old city on our way back to the bus (there may have been a little complaining by this time about walking..) and had dinner. (Burrito quesadillas, sweet potatoes and homemade fresh cranberry sauce.) When we were ready we made our way back to Colisee Pepsi, but this time with a lot more traffic as the hockey games attracts over 10,000 spectators. The Colisee is big, and the language barrier was tricky but we did find the row where our seats were supposed to be and prepared to settle in to watch the game. “What’s that you say, you do not have a seat? Of course you do, just sit down. Oh you mean that the physical part of the chair known as the seat is missing from half of our designated seats? What the heck?” If you have ever seen the movie Planes, Trains & Automobiles there is a scene in which Steve Martin rents a car at an airport and when he gets off the shuttle bus in the large rental car parking lot he finds that there is no car in the parking space where his rental car is supposed to be. This is a bit how I felt – “You mean to tell me we were sold tickets to seats that do not exist?” As you may be able to imagine, this was not a completely easy situation for our group to adapt to and although we shuffled to some other nearby seats, I spent the entire first half of the game panicking every time someone came towards us out of a concern that we were now in their seats and how the conversation would resolve itself with the language difference. Luckily no one ever came to claim the seats that we had commandeered. The game was exciting and everyone seemed to enjoy it. As we exited the Colisee we were shocked to find a blizzard had come to town about half way through the game. There was a solid 6 inches on the ground and we still needed to get to “camp”. We had picked out a Walmart parking lot earlier in the day during our travels and proceeding to slowly make our way there. Throughout the night we continued to hear plow trucks clearing the parking lot and could only imagine the amount of snow that was accumulating.
Part of the interest at staying at Walmart’s, apart from their policy of allowing overnight RV parking, is the use of bathrooms in the morning. Unfortunately this particular Walmart did not open until 8:00 am and we really need it to be 7:00. So, we proceeded in the snow to search out a store that opened earlier and preferably one where we could buy some more bread and eggs for french toast. Mostly all we accomplished to do though was drive around in a snowstorm for an hour with our legs tightly crossed but we did eventually find a grocery store to stop at. After breakfast we went to the PEPS Center again at the University and gave the kids the option of showering. I was one of the ones that decided to wait until I got home to shower and as we waited at the bus we looked out the window to see a very large snow bank that looked perfect for some impromptu sledding. The six of us that had stayed back had some of the best time of the trip playing in the snow beside this very large parking lot and were a bit disappointed when the others returned and we needed to leave.
As we left we all said our goodbyes to Quebec City and settled into our positions in the bus. The main roads were for the most part clear on the way back to Maine and our trip to the border went smoothly. We knew that this crossing back into the United State would be more significant than our entrance in to Canada and everyone needed to go into the office. In the office everyone's documents were examined and we were cleared to re-enter. Just past the border we pulled over for lunch and to begin our closing of the trip. (English muffin pizzas..)
We arrived back in Augusta at 5:02 pm. (I try so hard to be on time and we did say 5:00.) As we planned this winter trip in our new bus, and as we realized that we would have a crew of 18, we had our reservations, but it was a trip to be remembered. This trip is always a favorite of mine as I think it has a great blend of components. There is a bit of travel but not too much. We get to experience a border crossing. We get to see a different country and Quebec City really makes you feel this. The tubing park is unbelievably fun. The food pantry is a great organization and placing us on the line allowed a meaningful connection to a foreign place that we might not otherwise have found. This crew was great and I am sure that I will personally treasure this trip and the experience of sharing it with all of them.
It would be impossible to recreate an SWA trip in a story but I do hope this gives at least a glimpse.
Quotes from camper questionnaire -
“Ice skating was definitely my top fav but second place would have most likely been volunteering at the food cupboard. It felt nice lending a hand and learning new French words.”
“When we went to the tubing place it was like nothing I'd ever had imagined and I had a great time. It was so much fun.”
“I liked how no one was excluded during the trip. I also liked how safe it felt on the bus. We all had our own space and no one was ever given more than anyone else.”
“It was calm & fun as I expected it would be but I did not expect how many different people were there, all with their own story and own strengths.”
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