Our First Descents Experience

by Chris Ohta

What do you think of when you hear the words, First Descents?  For me, I used to think of remote un-run rivers and un-touched mountains but that all changed this past June.

My wife, Heidi, and I had the honor of volunteering as photographers for First Descents Camp.  First Descents is a kayaking and outdoor recreation camp for young adults with cancer, which seeks to cure young adults from the emotional side effects of cancer and to empower them to regain control of their lives by experiencing whitewater kayaking and other challenging adventure sports in a safe, fun and supportive environment.  This is a story about our experience and what First Descents gave us.

We arrived at the Columbia River Gorge Hostel in Bingen, WA on the 16th of June, where we were greeted by “Smelly”.  I actually though I heard her wrong so I tried to pronounce it differently when she then corrected me and said “it’s Smelly”.  Smelly let us know that everyone goes by a nickname at camp so we would need nicknames too but not to worry as we would get them soon enough.  Our good friend Ditch showed up a short time later and back home we know him as Tobin but he will forever be Ditch to us now.  One thing that we could feel immediately from Smelly and everyone involved with First Descents was this incredible welcoming and warm energy, which could be felt through out the camp.  It was almost like this energy was calling us all to come home and to share ourselves.  The feeling is so hard to describe except to call it LOVE.

It wasn’t long before the first van showed up with campers from various parts of the country and then the second van wasn’t far behind.  We were given our nicknames of “Point and Shoot”, I am Point and Heidi is Shoot.  That first day was so incredible to watch and feel.  It was amazing how we had just been brought together but you could feel the First Descents energy begin to permeate all of us and within hours we transformed from strangers to family.  The energy that Smelly brings with her and the magic of the First Descents was already at work.  It was so magical to watch but it was even more incredible and indescribable to feel.  It is like something bigger just takes hold of you and gives you a big hug.  You can feel more, see more, share more, give more and life just seems so much clearer.

Every night we had “campfire” which was an opportunity for all of us to share our feelings and emotions from the day.  It is so inspiring to listen and share with everyone and campfire really helps to foster the family relationships and bonds that are formed.  Campfire is so special and we feel so lucky to have shared in that experience with our new First Descents family.

The kayaking was incredible and inspiring but what we found even more special was the familial bond that was formed through kayaking.  For us kayakers, we know that kayaking brings us closer and we form a closed knit group but this felt different.  You could feel that kayaking was allowing many of us to step out of our comfort zone and allowing us to open our eyes to living life while at the same time helping to create a family.   There was something greater than the kayaking itself that allowed us to share ourselves and to give all of our hearts to each other; it was LOVE.  It seems strange to say you LOVE someone that you just met and that you don’t even know their real name yet but this is the only way I can describe the feeling that First Descents gives to everyone involved.  First Descents shares LOVE!!!  The LOVE that First Descents shares allows us to break through personal barriers, to open ourselves up to new people and possibilities, and it gives us the strength and courage to really live life to the fullest.

We are so honored to be a part of the First Descents family and we are forever touched by the experience.  It feels so awesome to become part of a family in such a short period of time and to know that there are family members that we haven’t even met yet, but because of First Descents we LOVE them and would do anything for them.  We LOVE First Descents and all!