Click this link to find out how you can make your own headlines in 2019.
You never know what kind of unique opportunities might happen on a MindStretch Travel Adventures trip. Here are four examples where we’ve made local headlines during some of our past journeys. Click each photo and check out the caption for each photo to get the back story.
Click this link to find out how you can make your own headlines in 2019.
If you've read the last MTA newsletter or kept up with us via Facebook and/or other outlets, you know that we had a phenomenal response to the 2018 European adventure planned for next June.
Our other trip will be a seven-day trip to the Virginia Highlands in July. Usually the short trips don't start to build a roster until mid-fall once everyone is back in school a few weeks. So it is exciting to get our first four boys on the roster for the 2018 Virginia Highlands trip. Click this link to learn more about this full-filled week that's close to home.
With the 2016 trips full (both have been for months), we decided to go ahead and put together thoughts for our next two seasons. Many parents appreciate the opportunity to know our dates well in advance so that they can make plans for their sons' participation in a MTA experience.
Right now we only have trips, dates, and basic info ready for you to check out. We've chosen to return to some of our favorite destinations including the Virginia Mountains and the Colorado Rockies in 2017 and Europe and the North Carolina Mountains in 2018. Full details for the 2017 trips will be ready in just a few months. We already have over two dozen boys express "very" early interest.
Check out the info by clicking here.
It's half-way between the Virginia Mountains trip ending and the start of our two weeks in New England. This group pictured above, 23 boys, was our largest ever and I must say…their behavior was nothing short of impressive. Boys earn treats when they get a sincere compliment given to us by a complete stranger. I've had trips where this never happened, trips where it happened one or twice, and trips where it happened several times throughout the program. But the boys above set new MTA records. For starters, they got six or seven compliments the very first day. That has never happened. All total, I think they must have picked up 15-18 compliments throughout the week. And if that's not impressive enough…here's another first. On two occasions, managers followed us out of their businesses to tell us what a great group we had. We were so proud of these boys and I think they were proud of themselves.
Don't think that this number of boys can't be noisy. They can make a tremendous amount of noise, especially in an indoor pool or in some restaurants. But they are also good about toning it down when asked. They were great at saying "please & thank you," and they were just good!
The New England trip boys have big shoes to fill. I will present them this challenge on our first gathering at the airport. Check our blog and photo pages to see how often you see them enjoying a tasty treat. We leave on Sunday.
Click to check out photos from the Virginia trip and this is the same link for the upcoming new photos.
This was our last day of activities. And already I’m starting to miss this commotion of non-stop activity, noise, and fun. It has been a wild week…and a good one. We’ve had perfect weather with mostly sunny days and relatively mild summer temperatures. The only rain we’ve had of this writing was about ten minutes worth during the drive into Waynesboro on the first day and a sprinkle of a couple of minutes this evening as we were walking to dinner.
Our main activity today was a 17-mile bike trip on the Virginia Creeper Trail. Several riders actually added another four miles or so to their total because they decided to backtrack and ride another section over again just because they were a speedy group. The ride went through mostly forested countryside as we crossed 32 trestles. The Virginia Creeper is a “rails-to-trails” conversion where unused railroad beds are deeded over as biker, hiker, and equestrian trails. Users get miles of relatively flat (or in our case downhill) trails without the worry of encountering automobile traffic. It makes for a relaxing and enjoyable ride. Our route took us from White Top to Damascus which is about half the total trail.
After lunch we had one of our treats for “compliments” at Dairy Queen and returned to the hotel after a drive through Abingdon to check it out. Boys got to swim before dinner and after our dinner we conluded the evening with our Chapman Mann Junk-Food Party. No worries parents – the boys didn’t eat as much as you might have expected.
Tomorrow, we’re home. Did I say I will miss this group of boys?
Click to see the latest photos.
Thursday was another all-day set of adventures for this group of non-stop boys. After leaving our Waynesboro hotel we headed an hour closer to home for our first stop – Natural Bridge Park. After a short hike we arrived at the bridge, which is truly a natural wonder. It’s hard to show it in pictures, but they will at least give you an idea of what we saw. From the bridge we hiked another few hundred yards to a “Monacan Indian Village” which was a recreation of an area tribe that had lived in this region. The interpreters made it interesting and we enjoyed learning a bit of history. We dined in the park’s Summer House café by the river, which offered sandwiches (hamburgers, chicken, vegetarian, etc.), before driving a couple of miles to the Natural Bridge Caverns. Here the boys had a guided tour down into the depths of Eastern America’s deepest cavern. It wasn’t a particularly large cavern, but fun just the same. Boys who have never been in a cavern were particularly impressed.
Next up was our trip to Virginia Safari Park, a large drive-through and walk-through live animal exhibit. We loved it. Lots of animals would come right up to our van windows looking for a free handout. The camels were especially funny as they would attempt to grab the feed bucket right out your hands. This happens so frequently that a park sign warns of this occurrence and actually says, “it’s okay” if they do steel your bucket.
The walk through part of the park was just as fun and boys especially enjoyed feeding the birds.
After our Thursday activities we headed to our Abingdon hotel and walked to dinner at a pizza place for a late-evening dinner.
It was another good day. We’ve had nothing but perfect weather so far on this trip. The only rain we had was driving through a fifteen-minute storm before we reached our first hotel.
Right: Peter feeding a bird with a feeding stick.
Andy Lammers, a middle school teacher at Carolina Day School (Asheville), writes about his experience as a leader on our Virginia trip. This was too good not to share.
What a lucky life I lead. Former colleague and legendary Carolina Day School and now Christ Church Episcopal School teacher Mark Levin asked me to come along on a week-long road trip with twenty-three 11 to 13 year old boys. Maybe it’s not your idea of a grand time, but I jumped at the chance. So here I am, in Virginia’s Shenandoah Valley on an adventure. Making the deal even sweeter, my son Jackson is along for the ride. Boy time!
I didn’t think this would be a big learning experience, just spending the week with wild, goofball boys and running amok outside, but quickly I realized that if I paid attention, I could be reminded of some really cool stuff about boys.
Yesterday I was reminded that boys still say wow.
Out on a hike in Shenandoah National Park we came across millipedes creeping across damp ground and the boys said wow. They said quiet wows when we hiked up to the rocks and looked down to see vultures soaring below us.
The boys winced with disgust and said wow when I held up the tick I found climbing on my calf. They uttered curious wows as they peppered Appalachian Trail through-hikers with questions. They said wow when we nibbled wild blueberries growing along the trail.
The boys murmured puzzled wows as we inspected iron bars that had been pounded into stone, creating some sort of support for a long-gone bridge. They screamed WOW! when we saw a black bear rooting for grubs along the roadside.
At every stop they took in the world around them, faces lit with curiosity.
I think we forget how curious and engaged boys can be. We see them glued to the Xbox or some device and wonder if they’ve lost something, if boys these days have changed. We see them sluggish, ambivalent at best about their school work and more than a little resistant to picking up a book. We worry and wonder if they are going to be OK.
But I think the boys are already alright. Everybody take a deep breath. The boys still say wow; I’ve heard them.
Maybe it’s up to us to find a few more chances for them to let their wows out.
Click to check out recent photos from our adventures.
There’s no such thing as a non-busy day on our adventures. We started Wednesday with a trip to the Frontier Culture Museum in nearby Staunton, Virginia. But before we left I must report that the sales manager of our hotel came out to say that we’ve been the best youth group they’ve ever had. Of course that’s music to my ears and was a cause for celebration. The kids have been great, but that’s not to mean they don’t have their moments of complete bedlam, like tonight at dinner. But that’s another story.
We spent nearly four hours at the Frontier Culture Museum, about two hours more than we had planned. Some boys wanted to stay longer but lunch was calling. This is a living history center with costumed interpreters telling us how Virginia and other parts of the US came to be settled.
We visited authentic restored houses of an English family and a German family and learned about life in those countries before the families came to the United States. The German interpreter was actually a transplanted Austrian and he enjoyed a few brief moments speaking German to our two German boys, Henri and Samuel. Then we learned about the Native Americans and their lives as part of this wilderness of the Shenandoah Mountains. The boys got to play a Native American game, which they enjoyed a lot.
Next came a couple of 1800’s farmsteads and the boys learned about life in the early settlements in the United States. They got to help carve wooden handles for use in axes, etc. and we finished with a visit to another 1800’s farm where they learned about life in these colonies and states. The boys also got to learn about old home remedies in a little play-acting routine.
We visited the gift shop (of course) after our guided tour and had lunch in Staunton. After lunch we decided we needed an hour of chill time, which included a few minutes for swimming.
Our late afternoon was bowling and we had a blast. We ended up throwing in some real “dough” as a little extra incentive.
We ended our evening with a couple of team-building games to help settle the boys down after a rather rambunctious dinner at Golden Corral which included an all-you-can-eat buffet. I think things would have been fine except this all-you-can-eat deal included desserts and that was a bit too much.
We wind down our Waynesboro portion of the trip tomorrow morning as we head down to Abingdon for the last bit of fun….and do we ever have a lot planned!
At left, bringing home the bacon.
Tubing a river, eating ice cream, and watching a ballgame. What could be better?
We had another busy, fulfilling, and fun day on Tuesday. What else could we expect?
We drove up to Bentonville to go tubing on the Shenandoah River through the Shenandoah River State Park. It was a relaxing three-mile ride with just a few ripples. Boys saw herons, snakes, turtles, etc. The guys enjoyed the tube float and had opportunities to swim here and there along the way.
Click to see the latest photos.
We returned to our hotel in late afternoon, but not before stopping for an ice cream treat as one of their compliment prizes. We had just enough late-afternoon time for either a little swimming or a little room chillin’ before heading out to see a baseball game. We watched the Waynesboro Generals take on rival Front Royal Cardinals. This is a NCAA sanctioned wood bat league of college players hoping to make it to professional ball. It was a true slice of Americana and nothing like being up close and personal. Some of our boys came away with baseballs, autographs, and Ian even won a door prize. And if that’s not all, I got to be interviewed in front of the “crowd” about what we were doing up in Waynesboro. We got several thank-yous from the baseball officials and locals for coming to the game and supporting the home team. And oh yeah, the Generals won!
It was our day to spend in Shenandoah National Park today and we had a great time. We picked up food for a trail lunch so that we wouldn't have to worry about rushing to finish up our hiking to get to lunch. It was a good thing because our hike took longer than we were expecting. But this is par for the course. We're not in a race and today was a good example.
We entered the park and and found our trailhead. Everyone packed their lunches and gathered up for a quick lesson in trail etiquette. As it ended up, we had the trail virtually to ourselves. We hiked approximately four miles roundtrip including a small section of the Appalachian Trail. During lunch a National Park Service ranger came through our lunch site and we got a private fifteen minute naturalist program on "leave no trace" hiking. The ranger was a friendly guy and I think he sized us up as a group that believed in what he was preaching. We left our lunch location spotless.
We hiked across Calvary Rocks to Chimney Rock. There were many impressive views and some boys saw an impressive lizard and some saw a small snake.
After our hike we drove a few more miles on Skyland Drive in the Park to a park store for a treat...one of the paybacks for such a great day of compliments yesterday. Most of the boys had an ice cream cone while some chose a different treat.
But the real treat came a few minutes later as we were heading home through the park. We were treated to two different bear sightings approximately ten minutes and a couple of miles apart. The second one was amazing. The juvenile bear was foraging for food in the woods just 100 feet or so from the car. All the boys saw both the bears and this second bear was going no place soon and we were able to observe for three minutes or so before we decided better not hold up traffic too long. Some boys also saw a deer, a turkey, and other assorted creatures.
It was a great day in Shenandoah.
We returned to the hotel for swimming and resting and then had a nice dinner of pizza at a local establishment.
Here's video footage of the second bear of the day.
And don't forget to check out all our photos from Monday.
I never imagined that when I started taking kids on travel trips in 1978 that I would still be taking trips today! It has been a great ride and I'm looking forward to more.