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Camp My Way EST. 1988; To Strive – To Serve – To Seek – To Find — But Not To Yield

Moved earth and heaven; that which we are, we are; One equal temper of heroic hearts, Made weak by time and fate, but strong in will.

While you were sleeping we stole your car, sold the stereo then blew it up.

While you were at work, we broke into your home, made lunch and helped ourselves to your jewelry.

While you played with your friends, we stalked our enemies.

While you sat at the dinner table with your family, I smoked crack cocaine in an abandoned house escaping my reality, sadness and depression on mouldy floors, under a leaky roof, spray painted walls with shit in the corner trying to sleep on dirty rotten bug infested couches as the shadows of darkness consumed my mind, soul, and sanity .. my every waking breath.

Afraid to sleep while on the run, this life’s journey has just begun.

Why can’t I just be like everyone else ?

It’s not that I wanted to jump, beat and hurt you, this was just a mirror reflection of myself and the evil inside, I wasn’t born this way, society lied.

One night, we were out stealing cars when I spotted a Nissan Pulsar NX, a nice step up from the shitty old Datsun’s we had been getting. We cranked out the door, busted the ignition and zoom zoom, off we went!

Not even 20 minutes into our joyride, who gets behind us? Our old friend Johnny. The chase was on, we were outta there. But as we were ripping down the Lougheed Highway I saw two more cop cars ahead, making it 3 coppers chasing us. I don’t know how many lives I put at risk, but my stupid and dangerous driving put us near a townhouse complex. We pulled in, jumped out and started the foot chase. My heart pounding, I jumped into a back yard, laid down beside a bbq and kept quiet.

After 10 or 15 minutes of listening to the police dogs barking, I thought to myself, “Ah man, I gotta go.” I stood up and looked over the fence— it looked like the coast was clear. I leapt over the fence only to be tackled by a German Shepherd before I hit the ground. It pinned me down and barked viciously only centimetres from my face. I wasn’t going anywhere except off to jail … again.

Well, I was sitting in juvie once again after being strip-searched, handed my blue jumpsuit and led to my cell with my head hung in shame. My Ma absolutely refused to post bail for me. When I spoke to her on the phone and told her what I was in for, she just told me, “Enjoy your stay” and hung up on me.

Weeks went by, and I finally get to meet with my lawyer. The first words out of his mouth were, “You really fucked up kid. That car you stole? It was a judge’s car.”

I lowered my head into my hands and wanted to cry. He told me that I had two options. Option one was three years in juvie. Option two was 42 days at Maple Ridge Wilderness Boot Camp. You do the math—you bet your ass I’m going camping! Let’s go—how quick can we get there? We’re going caaaamping! Back at House of Concord, I was tooting my horn about how I beat the rap, the disrespectful, didn’t-know-better fuck-stick that I was.

Imma tell you something right now—my first day up in the mountains with those fifty other boys, I was on my hands and knees crying like a little girl. “Take me to jail for three years, please!”

We went up there in five buses and we all got a little speech before camp got started.

“OK boys, LISTEN UP! If you ever think about AWOLing from this program, we promise you we WILL catch you and you WILL do the time you were sentenced to and then come back and finish the program. No matter what you do, you will never get away from this and you MUST graduate from here to be free of your charges. On that note, let’s go boys… follow me!”

The leader started jogging and we all fell in jogging behind him, still wearing whatever we got off the bus in in snow up to our knees. We got about 400 feet from camp before some ass clown stopped running.

“OOOOHHH! BACK TO CAMP, BOYS! We’ll start again, and no stopping this time!”

We all ran back to camp and started over again. This time we were only 200 feet from camp before somebody cussed.

“OOOOHHH! BACK TO CAMP, BOYS! No cussing!”

We did this over and over for eight gruelling hours— probably 5 km altogether that day. As we got back to camp, the instructors were standing at the end of a dock with chainsaws, cutting all the ice from around the dock. We lined up on the wobbly dock and were told, “STRIP IT, BOYS!” We got naked in the -8° weather.

The instructor said, “OK, DIP TIME, BOYS! Grab the handles and hang in the water! Once you’re all in up to your shoulders, we’ll count to 60.”

We all crouched down, freezing ourselves silly as the sweat turned to ice. Unsurprisingly, not all of us wanted to do this and a couple of us rebelled. Those of us who did what we were told had to yell at them to FUCKIN’ GET IN, because the longer it took them, the longer we had to hang in the freezing water. After a couple of minutes, the instructor changed the rules so that we had to count to 100 instead of 60. Once all of us were in, we started counting: 1…2…3…4…. A few of the boys jumped out.

” OOOOHHH! Back to the beginning! ONE…TWO….”

Again, all of us were punished for the others’ mistakes—talk about building the team. The dip lasted for 1 1/2 hours of pure hell. Welcome to day one of the Maple Ridge Wilderness Program!

                  Article: Boyz ‘n’ the Wood  – 1991 

Maple Ridge Wilderness Program points young offenders in the right direction

By David Donaldson

Some people refer to them as “hoods in the woods” but the young men of Maple Ridge Wilderness Program at Porteau Camp have acquired the skills to save lives and the desire to use these skills to positively reinstate themselves in their communities.

The 42 day program teaches youths various outdoor and survival skills, but as they near graduation the kids discover they have learned something important about themselves, something that can change the way they live their lives.

“This program helped me to find the true person inside myself.” Said one camper in his graduation speech, “ but most of all not to take the easy way out because it will eventually catch up to you in the end.”

Young offenders are sent to Porteau Camp as a form of punishment- an alternative to custody or as a last resort when community service or parole has been ineffective. And punishment it is. They have no freedom, they are told what to do and must do it. They are made to preform odious tasks of labor- picking grass with their bare hands for three hours at a time, running two-and-a-half kilometers every morning and performing calisthenics, repairing structures around the camp. If a camper steps out of line it’s not just punishment for him but for his whole group. This is one of the ways the program builds a group dynamic, teaching the kids to support and rely on one another.

The goal of the program is to teach social values such as respect for property and respect for peoples opinions and privacy, and give them “a sense that when you work together you get more done than working by yourself,” says Mauro Conzatti, program director of the Maple Ridge Wilderness Program.

The program is divided into three stages. The goal of the first stage is to build a group process with positive peer culture. This is done in camp activities and work programs supervised by instructors. Activities include scenarios and role playing in first aid and fire suppression drills that add drama and give them the opportunity to pull together and work as a group. The groups do everything as one- eat, sleep, shower, even go to the bathroom. Secondary goals include improved physical fitness and acquired personal safety skills such as first aid and fire prevention. Teaching these skills is “a good way of helping kids recognize they can learn.” Says Conzatti. “ a lot of them have failed in school but because this is more of an experiential approach, they generally do much better in retaining useable information.”

Where the instructor was the driver, the leader in the first stage, he pulls back in the second stage to allow the groups to become more self-governing. Each member becomes “hut boss” for one day, putting them in the shoes of the leader where he will be asking himself “why isn’t that person listening to me? Why isn’t the job getting done?,” teaching him to be a better leader and team player.

The group becomes more self-determined and uses the skills it has acquired in safety and camp craft to go out on outdoor expeditions. They are introduced to planning and goal-setting, a thinking process they will be able to apply in any situation in the future.

In the third stage, the instructor pulls back again- as much as possible within the realms of safety- and allows the group to do its own planning for major expeditions. Past expeditions have been as long as 14 days, with campers climbing 10 different peaks or travelling more than 900 kilometers in voyager canoes. The goal of stage three is to provide a “landmark experience,” Conzatti says. ”At that point they have the skills, the social sense of the group… by doing the expedition we give them experiences they will remember forever.”

An important aspect of the program is teaching the youths about how their actions affect others. Many of them find themselves in the camp after they have been caught stealing or vandalizing, giving them reputations as bad kids in their communities. With work programs such as trail building in Garibaldi Provincial Park and volunteering at the Squamish Test of Metal mountain bike race, the campers are put in a position where they are recognized as contributing positively to a community. “it’s not a typical thing for a kid to do- to be appreciated by the community.” Conzatti says. “usually they’re just seen as lounging around and no contributing. By getting into an activity, with the appreciation they get from the work they do, they see themselves in different social sense… they get a lot out of that.”

The Maple Ridge Wilderness Program has been running for 12 years at Porteau Camp, which was a provincial young offenders camp for 15 years prior to that. The camp sees up to 300 youths a year and has an 80 percent completion rate. Non-completion usually results from medical reasons, new charges against the youth requiring him to go back to court, or running away.

Typically, one in 10 youth runs away, usually in the first few days of the program. Sometimes for reasons as simple as homesickness, but also because some kids are too criminally involved and more sophisticated than the program can deal with.

A recent review by an independent researcher of seven years worth of data from standardized testing of attitudes and behaviours of youths before and after they finish the program concluded “their ability to be attentive, their aggression and behavioural misconduct indicators and negative association with peers significantly improved in 100 percent of youths who completed the program, “ says Conzatii.

This was reflected in the speeches 14 graduates of the program made to their instructors and families Sunday.

The speeches were all written individually, but common themes ran through all: learning respect, how their actions affect people around them, how much they missed their homes and families. The speeches outlined a set of goals each person wished to accomplish in the next six months, again with the same ideas: finish school, stay away from crime, drugs and alcohol, and quit smoking.

Many of them expressed their gratitude to the camp and counsellors and their desire to never return. More than one said it was the most rewarding experience of his life but one he could never want to repeat.

“Hopefully we’ve given them the tools they need to take optional avenues in life,” says senior instructor Jono Willcocks. He says the camp experience is just as rewarding for the counsellors who broaden their horizons as equally as the camp youths.

“When I first arrived here at Porteau Camp the only thing on my mind was when my next cigarette would be or my next joint,” said one graduate in his speech. “But after spending a month here and completing this great program I’m looking forward to not smoking or doing any drugs.”

“I feel the most important part of the wilderness program is the instructors, because they helped me to understand what I should be achieving in life.”

Each boy who had completed the course, received a certificate from Magistrate A. Watts of West Vancouver.

One of the leaders, who lost thirty pounds taking the six week course along with the boys, said he was willing to testify it was a strenuous one. The course teaches self discipline, self confidence, helps a boy to improve his relationship with others and to answer the challenge of nature.

Highlights of each of the three divisions were presented by the boys. On one of the survival trips a boy caught a crow and ate it.

“I was tired of mussels,” he said, “so I baited my fish hook with one, laid it out and caught a crow. I skinned and cooked it. It was a change of diet.”

Laughter resounded when one of the mountaineering group commented on their difficulties with “hangovers…. I mean over hangs.” And another comment was that one got awfully tired of “fried fern roots a la mode and mussel mush.”

In the Bowron Lakes they covered 75 miles by canoe in seven days with portages up to two miles long.

Rogers Pass was chosen as the site for the mountaineering expedition as there is too much bushwhacking and not enough mountaineering in the coast range.

In presenting the certificates Magistrate Watts said “you have seen from the program and heard from the boys what has been accomplished. Having learned to search and how to lead, we can only have respect for the boys. With respect for them must go respect for the leaders who have worked with them.”

A Full Day

The day starts between 5:30-6:30am with early morning runs and dips in the sea, practicing on obstacle courses, calisthenics, rowing and swimming.

The obstacle course, build in the woods above the camp, contains climbing ropes, rope traverses, a Burma bridge, swings, logs and a wall which must be ascended.

Much time is spent learning and practicing civil defense rescue methods and life saving and first aid under qualified community instructors.

They learn and practice rock climbing, rappelling down 90 degree cliffs, survival techniques and how to live in the wilderness.

Fire suppression methods are taught and the trainees are on call for any fire emergency which might arise in their area. Training expeditions took them far afield to test the knowledge they had learned and community involved projects exposed them to other people with physical problems and ways of overcoming them as part of the search and compassion and concern for others.

A public service project, helping to develop the day camp site at Shadow Lake, helped them develop the concept of obligation to others without expecting payment in return.

After basic training the boys ended their courses with a 72 hour solo survival exercise in an isolated area and marathon expedition with specific objectives for each of the three groups.

Thirteen boys took the Civil Defense course and all passed the tests at headquarters in Vancouver. They are on call if required, from Civil Defense headquarters in their home areas.

All but three passed the fundaments of first aid with an exam set by the St. John Ambulance Association.

All but one, who was unable to complete the course, attained the required standards of the course. Six obtained merit standing and three earned special mention through extraordinary effort and determination.

All members rappelled 150 feet in two stages down 90 degree rock faces and canoed from Harrison Lake down the Harrison River into the Fraser River and down the Fraser to Haney.

All youths had three day sailing expeditions to various areas, and completed six hour hikes to Deeks Lake, the Lions and on Anvil Island.

All members also completely a three day and town night solo survival course on Anvil Island, Defense Island and the West Shore of Howe Sound as well as completing the log obstacle and rope courses, some as high as 40 feet.

In the service of others they worked on the day camp site visited Woodlands and the CNI for training of the blind. They helped reload a truck which had turned over, blocking traffic and entertained a group of Squamish boys with a sailboat excursion and canoeing.

93 Percent Successful

In evaluating the program, Corrections Branch personnel said they felt the incidence of only two probationers out of thirty who took last years S.A.L.T. course having further difficulties with the law, was phenomenal. It showed a record of 93 percent.

Dr.Matheson said he hoped the camp would be used for more programs of this type and he eventually hoped to see it used much more frequently.

Perhaps the best comments on the course come from some of the boys themselves. “it gives them a new feeling of reassurance and hope in themselves” and “you start to think of other people and helping others without being told.”

Actual Video “As Tall as the Mountains”
https://vimeo.com/291714372

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Thank you for taking the time to read these 2 articles I’ve cut and paste here. I feel this really paints a more precise picture as to where Camp My Way actually began for me, and the effects it would have on the next 33 years of my life ultimately leading us right to where we stand today – Striving,  Serving , Seeking, Finding and certainly not yielding.

Through this 42 day boot camp I was able to learn many things about myself, what I was capable of and most importantly “who I am”.

The MRWP gave me the confidence to know that no matter what troubles were ever to come onto my path, no matter how tall the mountains, or how cold the water, no matter how hungry, home or hopeless I may become, no matter if i’m crawling on my hands and knees begging for my life and the gruelling pain to stop while scratching the bloody dirt with the last of my cracked finger nails, soaked in tears, that with discipline, hard ass nose to the grind stone work and no excuses or hands being held I can and will adapt, overcome and survive.

Only 6 of us would graduate from this program back in 1988 and without writing an entire novel of the next 15 years I’ll leave that for the book itself and sum it up like this.

The only 1 tool the MRWP was missing, was how to manage our emotions.

Sadly, I would spend the next 15 years addicted to illegal substances, affiliate with organized crime, and made far to many wrong decisions than i’m able to list here right now.

When I was released from Prison back in 2001, I had made my way to Whistler BC to full fill my goals and dreams to start a family and become a fire fighter, or work with Search and Rescue.

A seed that had been planted from my experience at the Maple Ridge Wilderness Program.

It sure had been a very long road to get back there and it wasn’t until the Greyhound bus passed Porteau Cove that I remembered that I had once ran through these mountains, dipped in the ocean and found myself many times crawling on my hands and knees begging for my mommy to take me back to jail.

It’s a very strange life this is and much more enjoyable when we can look back at this path once taken, and each and every lesson along the way to be right where we are today in life applying the “intentions”, that we made through the power of positive thinking nearly 3 decades earlier.

As I peered out the window, I wondered if that dam camp was still up and running and remembered just what kind of hell that place was. The bus kept on driving and I’ll never forget sitting there asking myself, did such a time in my life even exist ?

Was it me that was really there ?

Was it just a bad dream ?

No, this was easily and by far one of the first reality checks of a complete and utterly insane nightmare I had to endure to be sure I had all of the tools I needed to have even survived the past 33 years up to this bus ride in 2002.

I swore one day, I’d go searching for this Camp, and see for myself if it was real or just a figment of my imagination or even better yet, was that “dimension” really on this same earth I roam today ?

—————

Just last summer ( Aug 2019 ) Jill and had just wrapped up first ever Camp My Way Youth Camp.

Each day of this camp was very special to me and reminded me so much of the Maple Ridge Wilderness Program.

We applied each and every tool I had learned 33 years ago, the only difference was, these kids were not being punished and the most vital tool that we added to Camp My Way Program that the MRWP did not offer , was the daily self care tools for the “emotional” part of our brain and a solid spiritual connection to ourselves, our consciousness and to our natural environment.

That my friends is the formula – this is the solution.

The minute Camp wrapped up, Jill and I headed off on a direct mission to find the old Porteau Cove Camp ground.

Nothing was going to stop us.

The smiles , laughter and new friendships we made with these kids, knowing that the positive effects this 7 days would have on the rest of their lives we were determined to find the old Camp site just to be sure my thoughts, memory and gut was leading us in the right direction for the future.

We pulled off the Sea to Sky highway 99 near Porteau Cove. I thought it would be a pretty easy find, all we needed to do was head down to the ocean.

We bush whacked for about an hour, picking our way through the forest stopping every few hundred feet looking for obstacles, or some sort of old rotten cabins.


We came to the train tracks and it sure felt like I had been here before but there was absolutely no sign of any human being here since the begining of time.

However, while walking the tracks we discovered a small glacier creek run off into the ocean so we decided to hike up and see if there was perhaps a place to have a dip, sit, and just think back to the old days.

To our surprise, this was our discovery.

As stoked as we were to find such a hidden oasis, I was a bit saddened not to have found our old base camp. Slowly my mind started telling itself that it all must have been just a dream, just another life, just another dimension – a place I was unsure really even existed.

On our way back through the nearby town of Squamish, we stopped in at the library to see if there were any old news paper articles written about the MRWP.

The woman who was helping us , took my email address and got back to us 2 weeks later after digging into the “accient” archives with a massive list of articles.

Maple Ridge Wilderness Program at Porteau Camp

I knew it was true, there was such a place , this wasn’t just a dream, this was as real as it gets.

In one article we read, it says that one of the 800 km expeditions from back in the late 70’s, states that they had once paddled across Anderson and Seton Lakes which is now Camp My Way’s actual location today.

Unbelievable if you ask me , this sort of stuff really helps make better sense of it all and allows all my thoughts to remain connected to a much higher level of consciousness. believe me when I say, there have been many times when I do just sit and think how real any of this actually is, the possibility of this dream being a reality like this boggles my mind more often than not to be right here, not only writing this story but living it sure is something I find to be pretty dam cool.

While reading article after article I would google search each and every name in hopes that just one of those program directors were still alive so I could reach out to them and Thank them for giving me all the lessons, tools and confidence that I needed to survive this life to be right here running a similar Camp for first responders, their families and the youth who run the same risks that once nearly cost me my “life” and had certainly buried most all others who walked the same path.

Convinced that Camp just had to be there, we were determined to find it and set out a few months later to seek and find anything that resembled our old Base Camp.

We pulled off the highway again, and started trudging through the thick forest for hours with no luck until just before we got back to a old path I saw the one thing that I knew was a hint we were going in the right direction.

A huge tree growing up beside a withered up old tire, 3/4 buried with old growth.

Like a blood hound chases a bank robber, we picked up the pace hot onto a new trail.

Oh man, the deeper and deeper into the forest we went, only to find ourselves in a place where there was just absolutely no way possible for a human to climb down the steep embankment.

But of coarse, when your with an adventure seeking bulldog like Jill, be sure there’s always a way down.

Out of nowhere, we see this old camper van spinning his tires in the mud. We asked ourselves, how on earth did that guy even get his truck down there”? There was no road, no path, what the ???

1/2 hour later, we had finally picked our way down with bloodied elbows and knees, arms slashed and fingers full of splinters determined to talk this ghostly man in a van.

“Hey there”, he says.

We gave him the quick 12 minute version of this boot camp I once attended, and although I had felt like a strange alien telling such a old story he just smiled the entire time and then pointed over my shoulder up above my head.

“You are here and have found what your looking for my Friend”,  he said in a thick french accent.

Slowly, kind of confused by what he was suggesting, I turned around and looked up.

( excuse me while I go wipe the tears from my eyes right now, this is by far the greatest story and moment of my entire life and it really makes me very happy to be alive today to share this with you . )

As I looked up, my knees about buckled out from beneath me.

33 very long years later, here is the one place on this earth that gave to me all that I needed to survive.

You think I write a lot ?

I’m sure your ears could only imagine the stories I had to share with Jill as we walked around for hours discovering what felt like finding the abandoned ruins of Machu Picchu.

I could write a book, produce a movie or even so much as spend the rest of my life trying to express just what this day meant to me.

Oh wait, that’s exactly what we are doing right here, right now !!

Are you ready for the best part cause believe me it’s about to get even more legit than one could ever imagine, in fact as I write this blog my hands shake with such excitement.

Not even Paramount Picture’s or Netflix could script a better Docuseries. ( said humbly with a smile and slight chuckle )

While reading all the articles that we got from the library, I had googled searched each and every name.

None of them looked familiar but wanted to try and at the least see if anyone was still alive.

See where they are today in life and just ask them how that camp may have had an impact on there decision making over the past 3 decades and even more excited to share all that it had done for me, and what I was able to endure to even still be alive myself to now run our own Camp Program similar to MRWP.

A few articles in, and there he is.

The one man’s name I will always remember and take with me to my grave .. Russ Brown.

Russ was my instructor back 1988, this warm tingly feeling came over my body as my mind flashed right back to 30 years ago. I could hear his voice hollering at us to get back in the water, again and again that voice echoed through my soul as if I was still hanging off the dock shivering my raisin bag off .

I found him on Facebook and sent him a private message.

“Is this the same Russ Brown from the Maple Ridge Wilderness Program” ?

He wrote back a few months later with, “yes, it is, those sure were some fun times eh”?

F – U – N  TIMES ??

Ahh man, I was so excited , is this really happening ?

Just so happened that Russ runs a white water rafting company in Chilliwack and just so happens that we were on our way give a presentation about Camp My Way and share our knowledge,education and bring a better understanding around PTSD at the Royal Canadian Mounted Police Training Headquarters for all of the Executive Directors of The British Columbia Search and Rescue team and senior RCMP officials just this past Feb 29 2020.

I had reached out to the Boss, Mr Jim Mac Callistar and asked him if we could allow Russ to join us at this presentation as I have not seen him in 33 years, and it would be such an honour to not just see him, but introduce him to all, and share our story and how everything has come around full circle to today.

Jim agreed, and I tell ya something right now, as I sit here writing this, still to this minute I can not even believe how this story unfolds like this.

There are just no words to explain, or effectively communicate this sort of experience.

What’s even more cool about this story, is after the presentation Russ invited us back to his house where we sat and talked about many things before a nice walk down to the river to where I was THIS close to convincing Russ to jump in the glacier fed river and do the same dips we did 33 years ago.

He made it clear that he certainly didn’t enjoy them in those days, and was not interested in doing them ever again either.

We had a good laugh and we shared many great stories.

I wish there was a better way to communicate this experience and just what it means to me and how much of a crystal clear picture it gives me into understanding to believe in the process – not the product.

Each of us has a story and a great experience to share, thank you for reading mine.

I will finish this story with this and express my deepest, most sincere gratitude to my dearest of Friends Ms. Jillian A Brown who has been sent here from the stars above not only to experience this journey together, but to have captured these historical moments in time.

This story wouldn’t have made much of any real sense to any of us other than just words if she hadn’t been their to photograph these experiences. Thank you Jill , for helping make this dream in my mind an absolute reality.

We can only hope that humans who read, see and experience this inspiration and full story in their hearts as something they to can achieve when we set our goals, embrace the pain and suffering, bust our ass and work hard with no expectations of anything other than Life in itself as a human experience.

To Seek – To Strive – To Find — But Not to Yield ,
Moved earth and heaven; that which we are, we are; One equal temper of heroic hearts, Made weak by time and fate, but strong in will.

Enjoy everything my Friends,  stay connected to all good things, and forgive everything.

Your Friend, Our Voice
Terrance J. Kosikar Ph.D.

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