Many years ago I had a friend who worked as a Woodland Firefighter for the federal government. This is arguably one of the manliest professions out there. It hits all the positives. It's outdoorsy. It involves tools, both manual and powered. It has an element of danger. And it's sole intent is to act as protector, both to the forests they manage and the private properties surrounding those forests. Of all the jobs out there this is definitely one of the more heroic.
During the off season, when my friend was in town, we'd train at my gym. And during our breaks my friend would tell stories, many of those revolved around his time on the fire line and around camp. Over time I began to recognize a number of themes to his stories, One of which, a favorite of mine, was New Guy Tales. These could be cautionary or educational, but the gist of New Guy Tales centered around a new guy and how he learned the ropes. These stories are helpful because if heeded they can save us costly or embarrassing mistakes.
One of my favorites involves a new guy in camp struggling to complete some task. New Guy says to a vet, "Hey, I'm trying to do this thing, but I can't make it work." Old Vet looks over and says, "Oh, I see what your problem is. You haven't got your Man Hands yet. Give it a while, you'll get them." The story then ends one of two ways. Either A) he takes over the task showing how easily it can be done with a proper set of man hands, or B) he walks away leaving the New Guy to struggle and thus develop his own set of man hands. How the story ends is entirely dependent on the nature and temperament of the New Guy in question. Does he need a healthy does of shame to motivate him past his self imposed obstacles or does he need to just sit with the problem a while longer?
True Man Hands are more than just physical strength. It's self reliance and tenacity. It's understanding that there are many ways to solve a problem and the only true requirement to success is to stick with it and see it through to completion. In the years following my introduction to these concepts I thought of many ways to teach them, especially to young men and boys. I am very excited to offer this latest version.
What is Man Hands?
Man Hands is a week long summer camp aimed at exposing boys 12 to 15 years old to the outdoors and a number of skills that will make the outdoors more engaging and fun. Camp will start at 10:00 am each morning at my house. From here we will gather whatever supplies we might need for the day. We'll take a short drive from my house to the trailhead and from there hike out into the Cahaba River Valley. Over the course of the week we will engage in activities aimed at stimulating a variety of virtues:
History and Historical Preservation - The areas surrounding my house were once part of the Alabama Fuel and Iron's Overton Mine which operated from 1924 until 1935. Remnants of railroad spurs and trails crisscross the land adjacent to the river. Here we can explore what work was like when when the boy's great grandfathers were their age and explore what remains of how and where they worked. All mine entrances were sealed back in the 30s as part of a WPA efffort, but can still be seen from the surface.
Community Service - The roads, railroad spurs, and game trails provide an opportunity to learn how to establish and maintain good hiking trails. This provides an opportunity for physical work that benefits not just the boys but anyone else looking to enjoy the beauty of the Cahaba and its surrounding woods. The boys will have the opportunity to see the parallels between their own work and that of those who came before them including both miners and the WPA.
Outdoor Skills - We will be spending the entire 4 hours of each day outside. During this time we'll work on skills that will aid us in not only our trail building, but navigating the woods in general. Alabama summers are hot. There will be an undeniable degree of discomfort but we'll work on skills that help us harmonize with our environment, learning how to make the most of our time. We'll work on knife skills, rope skills, and how to use hand tools safely and efficiently.
Environmental Science - To me, one of the most beautiful things about this are is that at one time it was an industrial site. Based on photographs and industrial practices of the last century this are was once devastated. To see how nature has restored itself over the bones of our industry is deeply informing. We can see the tenacity of nature and in that sight open ourselves to further questions of how best we as a species conduct ourselves alongside her. Are we conquerors as in ages past of perhaps is there a more harmonious relationship to be found?
Learning - I think learning is best done through self motivated curiosity and exploration. My goal is to sharpen my own skills with the Socratic Method by asking directed yet open ended questions that will get your boys thinking and lead to explorations that they direct. My job is to act as a guide providing a degree of security and a launchpad for exploration.
Risk Management - All of life is inherently risky. Even inactivity carries with it the inherent risks of diminished health, social isolation, lethargy, and depression. There are risks involved with going into the woods from minor ones like scrapes and bug bites to larger ones like falls and broken bones. Your child's resilience especially as an adult is tied to his ability to navigate risk wisely learning when to take chances and when discretion becomes the better part of valor.
What does a typical day look like?
10:00 am - Arrive at Alabama Sasquatch
10 - 10:30 am - Gather all tools, gear, water, and lunches and make the short drive to the trail head
10:30 - 11 am - Hike to the day's activity area
11 - noon - Work. Trail building, maintenance, and clean up
Noon - 1 pm - Hike down to the river for lunch, continued discussion, and skill development
1 - 1:30 pm - Swim/play in the river
1:30 - 2 pm - Hike out, return to Alabama Sasquatch, and await pick up
Each camper on his first day of camp will receive the following standard issue:
Morakniv (this is a 4.1 inch fixed blade knife. Each camper will finish the week with a thorough understanding of safe knife handling, sharpening, and basic knife skills
Hiking staff (each camper will be issued their own 1 1/4 inch pine dowel to customize as their own personal hiking staff)
Day pack (each camper will be expected to carry his own gear plus his share of tools and collective gear)
Water bottle (each camper will be issued his own 32 oz Nalgene, BPA free water bottle)
Email Dave@agogefit.com to for any inquiries or to reserve your child's spot.
Cash, check, and all major credit cards are accepted.