I can talk about adventurous escapades in the mountains all day. Not to mention, the forest is teeming with organisms that fascinate all who venture in. But today, a cautionary tale. When I was bright-eyed, bushy-tailed, and baby-faced, the upcoming end of the year field trip was all my students and I could talk about.
However, saturated in naivete, I failed to recognize the warning signs of a grade level partner that had been teaching too long. I can’t prove it, but there is plenty of implicit evidence that, in lieu of teaching, he popped in earphones and listened to murder mystery stories. All. Day.
He offered to let me take the luggage truck (essentially an unmarked Uhaul) and he would ride the bus with the kids. The hormone-stricken, amped out of their minds, pre-teens… And I caught none of these red flags. I filled out the online slip to get cleared to drive the truck, and didn’t think twice about it. Nor did I realize this was the day I would stare death in the face… and scream like a little girl.
Before leaving, the bus driver laid out the directions like a speed talker. His whiskers spilled over into his mouth, muffling his words. To make matters worse, he paid no attention to my wide-eyed gaze, giving nonverbal cues that I had no idea what he was talking about.
My colleagues finished taking attendance, and with a quick wave they were off, expecting me to find my way. Unfortunately, the online directions to our destination were in quotations. Basically, if you haven’t been there before, good luck. As a directionally challenged individual, I knew I had to stay with the buses at all costs.
In the city where I live, temperatures can reach upwards of 100 degrees, even in the spring. The luggage truck had no air conditioner, no radio, no phone charger, and no shock absorbers. Within minutes I was more wet than dry, sitting in an oven for the next three hours. If the sweat stinging my eyes wasn’t bad enough, every microscopic pebble in the street skyrocketed me into the ceiling of the truck. The pothole on the 99 freeway… Let’s just say it paved the way for a trail of expensive chiropractic bills.
Nonetheless, I was determined. Just don’t lose the buses. Just don’t lose the buses. The luggage truck topped out at 53 mph, and neither pushing the pedal into the floorboards, nor squeezing the wheel tighter made a bit of difference. Try as I might, the buses slowly faded from sight. And I have to say, our fellow motorists had some choice words and gestures to help me understand how terrible of a human being I was for driving so slow on the freeway. At least, now I know.
I got lost for a while. The biker gang cruising in a “Flying V” never came to save the day like I thought they would. Still, I was grateful for the townspeople that tried to get me back on course.
Next, an unlikely and ironic miracle. Traffic. Poking above the other cars were the familiar yellow and black colors. I had found the buses! Relieved, I wove in and out until I was directly behind one of the buses. I tailgated as long as I could, not seeing the “T” intersection coming up… or the train tracks.
Without warning, the red lights flashed and the wishbone crossing gate began to close on the bus in front of me! The gate literally got stuck on the midsection of a public school bus with a train coming. I had a split decision to make. Should I risk my life to avoid getting lost? Or should I pump the brakes to ensure my safety? I chose the former. With milliseconds to spare, I glued myself to the bus and watched my students scream through the tinted glass. My fingers went numb and my heart pounded through my chest. I was a goner.
I finally felt my ears pop and a curvy incline approached up ahead. I was on the right track.
In the nick of time, I pulled onto the shoulder of the road and was met with an ear shattering blare of a horn and a robust train engine. According to the students and me, I was 0.0000341 seconds away from being a traumatic memory. According to my colleagues, it was more like 20 seconds. I’ll let you decide.
Oncoming traffic at the intersection separated us yet again. Another hour of wrong and right turns, I finally felt my ears pop and a curvy incline approached up ahead. I was on the right track. Unfortunately, the luggage truck didn’t enjoy having to work so hard. Every hill that I climbed sparked a warning light on the dashboard. The truck wanted to quit. I tried going slower, sweet-talking… nothing helped.
Eventually, the luggage truck overheated, exhaled, and stalled. The best part — my phone was dead. It was during this time on the shoulder of the road that I found there is nothing creepier than a man standing in front of a giant unmarked truck trying to stop unsuspecting onlookers. I’m not sure what the man that stopped to help did for a living, but the dirt under his fingernails and calloused hands were enough for me. Whatever magic he did, worked. I thanked him profusely and cautiously continued up the mountain.
At long last, I could see the camp. By this point in the journey I was over two hours late, and the students and chaperones seemed to have been practicing looks of disappointment that entire time.
As I pulled in, it was my colleague, my teaching partner and supposed friend, that took the cake. Reclined in a lawn chair and a miniature umbrella, I could see the slightest smirk below his blackout shades. He repositioned his earphones, and all I could mumble was, “well played, Jeff, well played.”
The lesson here is simple. When a veteran teacher offers you the “easier” option, don’t believe it for a minute, and do not sign that online slip of regret!
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