While many of their peers were hunkered down in their air-conditioned homes, engaged in Fortnite battles or Snapchat conversations, a group of middle school students braved the elements to experience a side of Kentucky few people ever see.

The members of Trail Life USA Troop KY-4:13 joined their counterparts from Troop IN-4:13 from Charlestown, Indiana, and Troop KY-2510 from Spencer County, Kentucky, for a week of canoeing down the Green River and camping and cave exploration at Mammoth Cave National Park.

Seven boys and eight adult leaders from Troop KY-4:13 embarked upon the adventure Sunday, June 10, and returned home Saturday, June 16. During the week they endured rain and steamy conditions, but were rewarded with an up-close look at the beautiful terrain along the Green River in central Kentucky, beginning 18 miles upriver from Munfordville. Along the way they stopped to fish, eat and camp.

“Without a doubt it was an adventure,” said Ron Smith, an adult leader who serves as the troop’s charter organizational representative. “The boys learned to appreciate the outdoors, and they learned about working together. Relationships were built.”

That also was a takeaway for Alan Hoyle of the Spencer County troop, who went on the outing with his son, Grady, who turned 15 while on the trip.

“It was a great vehicle for relationship building,” Hoyle said. “Once we finally got the hang of steering the canoe, we had such a great time. We saw a bald eagle and had a blue heron follow us down the river. It was such a beautiful experience. We saw so many things that you just don’t see when you drive to work and sit at a desk all day.”

In addition to fishing and Dutch oven treats, there was a spiritual component to their journey. Each night, Trailmen—the proper name for Trail Life participants—and leaders gathered around the campfire for a devotion.

“Spiritual growth is an important component of what we do,” Smith said. “The leaders bring to the boys’ attention that the outdoors is what God has given to us to enjoy.”

The challenging trip also helped to instill confidence and self-reliance in the 13- and 14-year-old boys, Smith said.

“They learn to fish, prepare meals and take care of themselves,” Smith said. “When they want to fill up their water bottle, they can’t just go to the faucet and fill it up like they would if they were at home. They learn some basic survival skills that will come in handy in whatever they might face in life.”

Hoyle said that was the case the first night, when lightning forced the group off the water. They had to scale a muddy hillside, nearly 40 feet tall, in the driving rain, to reach the campsite.

“One person climbed ahead and threw down a rope, and we had to haul up all the canoes and gear because there is no way we could’ve gotten it all up that muddy hill,” Hoyle recalled. “It was quite a challenge, but afterward, as we were starting to dry out and prepare for a devotion, there was quite a sense of accomplishment.”

The rigors of a week in the outdoors, with rain, rationed food, heat and a multitude of insects isn’t for everyone, but Smith said such experiences tend to forge resilient adventurers with a strong connection to nature.

“If you go on an adventure like this and survive it, you can’t wait until the next adventure,” Smith said.

While the troop won’t convene again until late August, individual patrols hold summertime hikes and events centered around heritage, science and technology.

Students and leaders interested in joining Trail Life are invited to attend an open house that will be held Monday, Aug. 20, in the lower Fellowship Hall at Southeast Christian Church’s Blankenbaker Campus.

For additional information about the Southeast-chartered troop, visit www.traillifeky413.com.