My River Runaways Part 1 of 3

Even two people on a month-long river canoe trip, take a couple of days to get into a good routine. Doing the trip with ten troubled-teenage boys can add a day or two to that equation. Wake up. Get the fire going. A few minutes to pray before getting the boys out of their tents. Breakfast. Load the canoes. Make your miles and set up the next camp somewhere off the riverbanks.

We would spend two weeks paddling down the Yadkin River until we got through High Rock Lake. Our resupply van from camp would pick us up and get us around Tuckertown Reservoir and Lake Tillery and put us back in the water for two more weeks on the PeeDee River.

Trips like this took months to plan. They were easier when you had a group of boys who had river canoe experience but, if the only goal was getting down the river, the most important element to a smooth trip was a well-functioning group. Translation: well-behaved boys.

Of course, getting down the river safely was a given, but the real goal of therapeutic camps is life transformation. Funny thing about transformation, it doesn’t usually happen when we spend all our time being well-behaved. It’s interesting the growth that can happen right after we make a mess of things. That’s how it worked out for Jimmy and Tommy (fictional names, real people).

Jimmy was new in the group, he did more inheriting of the trip than planning it. As it happens, we would be paddling right past his hometown of Salisbury, North Carolina. He was a quiet kid but plenty was churning inside him. The closer we got to Salisbury, the more his anxiety mounted. He hid it well from everyone but Tommy.

Tommy’s logical mind had a hard time catching up with is emotional mind sometimes. It often made life more difficult for him than necessary. Unbeknown to the rest of us, the two had been hatching a plan to ditch the group when we got to Salisbury.

The paddling day was over and time to set up camp. We had carried all the gear up off the river to a nice flat area. As was typical, we established a place for everything. Tent area here. Kitchen there. Tarp-gear there. Canoes, paddles and life jackets would go right there once the canoes were clean. Lastly, was the location for the latrine just far enough off the river and an appropriate distance from the rest of the campsite.

This far into the trip we had the routines down so we split up the group to expedite the process. A few boys with my co-“chief” down at the river washing out the canoes. A couple of boys getting everything out for supper. Jimmy and Tommy digging the latrine. I was spending my time going back and forth from the latrine site to the river to check on things.

As you might have guessed, on my second-round back to the latrine site, there lay the e-tool and a ziplock bag of toilet paper, but no boys anywhere in sight…


The sting of bad decisions make great incentives to learn. My awareness was increasing rapidly in that moment.

Have you had a few moments like that?

Part 2 tomorrow.




Rick Burris


Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.