They say you don’t know how good you’ve got it until it’s gone. To prevent ourselves from looking back in the rear view mirror wondering how it all went so fast, we plan to spend our last month at Lakewood Lodge reflecting on how lucky we have been rather than hopelessly wishing our time here would never end.
We were only three or four weeks into our fantasy van life, before our dwindling bank account forced reality to set in. Turns out living out of a van isn’t as free as we had thought. If we wanted to continue this ramen noodle, PB&J, and cheap wine lifestyle we’d come to love, we were going to need to start bringing in some income. Originally, we planned to bounce from one region to another working seasonal farm jobs to fuel our adventures. Once we finally sat down to begin looking for work, however, we came across a job listing for two camp instructors at Lakewood Lodge. Looking back, it’s funny to think how oblivious we were to the impact this job was going to make on our lives.
Lakewood Lodge Adventure Farm Camp (or “the Lodge” to us instructors) operates very similar to Camp America. (At least this is what we were told in our interview, although Dana and I, ironically enough, had never actually heard of Camp America.) The majority of our clients are Kiwi (New Zealand) schools who typically arrive Tuesday morning with groups anywhere from 30 to 130 in size and usually range from eight to eleven in age. The kids’ four days at camp are filled to the brim with activities including kayaking, archery, rock climbing, ziplining, horse games, a low ropes course, frisbee golf, an iron person challenge, animal feeding, tug-of-war, a water slide, and many others as well. The nights are spent doing “evening activities” such as Games in the Hall (name games, team building games, etc.), Y-Games (a series of random challenges rewarded with seemingly arbitrary points in an indescribably chaotic, screaming environment), Spotlight (think Red Light Green Light, but in a pitch black forest), Burma Trail (blindfolded kids following a rope strung from tree to tree that winds through the forest while instructors, teachers, and parents are doing everything they can to scare them till they pee themselves), and on the final night they have their talent show and dance party. Once Friday rolls around, they are completely drained of energy, but wishing it never had to end. We hug and high-five them on the way to their buses, then wave them off as they pass down the driveway, energetically waving back with their tiny little faces smooshed against the windows.
It has been an interesting change of pace going from a nine-to-five workplace spent amongst mature adults to a workplace where I’ll spend every bit of the a work week surrounded by droves of children not just on the clock but during our breaks and days off as well. It’s a lifestyle the instructing team here has come to love (or at least tolerate) since almost all of us live on site. Our instructing team is composed of General Instructors, like Dana, and one Survival Instructor, like myself. General Instructors are responsible for conducting all of the amazing activities listed above while also making sure the Lodge remains clean and well maintained in the process. My role as the Survival Instructor is to conduct the camp’s Survival program. I have also become the camp’s primary maintenance man when the schools are not here. To pull back the curtain and take a closer look at what it is Dana and I have been doing these last several months, jump on over to our General Instructor (coming soon) and Survival Instructor posts for some additional reading!
As an unexpected bonus, our experience at the Lodge was influenced by more than just the children coming to camp. There were also countless memories made with the various parents and teachers that attended the camp. Given the ever-present sea of children, it was great when we were able to connect with adults and it helped to maintain our sanity throughout the week. Beyond those friendships that came and went each week, we were able to foster even deeper bonds with the other members of our instructing team. We formed countless memories with these people who quickly went from the coworkers we lived with to the family we could never get away from. Some of the highlights we will cherish forever will be the family dinners each Monday night, the family outings we took on the weekends, and who could forget (or remember) the nights we stayed up drinking and playing games like Stacker Cup and Tummy Sticks. Occasionally, we even found time to learn from each others’ differing perspectives. From time to time, we would find ourselves in conversations about the ways in which our countries handled social and economic issues. This allowed us all to gain a better understanding and an appreciation for how and why the different parts of the globe operate.
Leaving behind what has now become our home will surely be the toughest point in the trip to date. As our time here is nearly over, we are starting to set our sites on the next big adventures. We plan to leave New Zealand on April 14th to visit Fiji for a few weeks, then hop over to Australia to hangout with a great friend of ours who has recently moved there and hopefully get a few visits from some others coming over on holiday. It’s an exciting time when we get to start planning ahead again, but when we look back on our time here we will surely reminisce with foggy eyes and a wondering gaze.