It is a great moment when a dream becomes reality...
I formed Unplugged Adventures over the summer because I wanted to get kids off their devices and back to engaging the world - and their peers - in a fun, real way. The initial concept was to design and lead Amazing Race-inspired adventures that would challenge both the body and mind. Teams of kids would race to a mountain summit finish line by finding checkpoints and conquering physical and mental challenges. They would have a blast without realizing that they were also building critical problem-solving and communication skills, learning how to navigate and survive in the wilderness, and remembering the importance of teamwork. They would all have a real experience to share with their family and friends. Yesterday, atop Wachusett Mountain in Princeton, MA, I watched my dream become reality as two teams of girls raced neck-and-neck, with smiles blazing, to the Wachusett summit at the end of a 4-hour adventure.
The girls met at the Ellsworth-McAfee fields in Northboro for the 40 minute ride to Wachusett Mountain. The Unplugged Adventures advance team arrived first to finalize set-up of the race course - clue boxes were hidden, challenges were prepped and our Summit Camp was established.
The girls arrived at the summit after a stop at the Visitor’s Center for an Unplugged-led briefing that covered map-reading and the use of a compass/GPS for navigation. A favorite quote from the briefing, “I thought contour lines had something to do with makeup.” :-)
At the Summit Camp, the excitement was palpable. The girls were eager to start the expedition! After a review of the rules (no phones, except the team leaders) and a safety briefing, the girls formed teams Survivor-style - a blind selection of bandanas!
The teams were given 10 minutes to strategize, assign roles and complete an equipment check. Team leaders (thanks Brian and Chris) took their positions and the girls lined up at the starting line. With a final eye-brow raise and momentous “GO!”, Expedition Wachusett was underway!
Starting with a clue from the Summit Camp, the teams set off to decode a series of clues, navigate the web of hiking trails, discover checkpoints and mini-challenges located around the mountain, and be first to the Summit.
The teams headed out in different directions at first, but then quickly aligned on the location of the first clue box. Clearly, they were getting the hang of using GPS coordinates to find locations!
Here are some more shots from the first half of Expedition Wachusett:
Green Team building a marshmallow fire tower
Blue Team working out a checkpoint location
After a mandatory mid-point lunch break, the teams were separated by less than 10 minutes. You could see the girls getting more comfortable with navigation as both teams quickly found the correct route to the next challenge.
The second half of the race blazed the north and west sides of the mountain and was highlighted by a puzzle challenge with an amazing view of Mount Monadnock.
The Green Team found the puzzle challenge first, but the Blue Team made quick work of the puzzle and took the lead heading into the last checkpoint.
Teams used GPS to locate the final checkpoint within minutes of one another, setting the stage for a true race to the finish. Choosing different paths to the summit, it was either team’s race to win.
I took my position on the summit among bird watchers, hikers and drone fliers, to welcome the teams to the finish. I heard the girls before I saw them racing towards me. Here’s a shot of the winning Blue Team.
I couldn’t have asked for a better ending - after four hours, 6+ miles, 10 checkpoints and 6 challenges, the teams finished within seconds of one another. What an amazing end to a truly epic day! The girls faced every challenge with enthusiasm and worked together to overcome each obstacle and find their way to the summit.
We capped-off the day with a well-deserved rest in the shade and post-expedition discussion. The girls shared highlights from the day, funny stories, key lessons and most difficult moments. My favorite lesson learned was from the Blue Team - “Don’t eat all of the marshmallows before you read the challenge clue.” :-)
As we packed up the Summit Camp and made the long ride home, the girls’ final words echoed in my head - “Can we do this again???” Guess it’s time to start planning the next Unplugged adventure!!!
Until next time, get out there and make your own adventure.