The 2024-2025 James River Leadership Expedition is off to a momentous start with our first leg – the Upper Expedition from Springwood Boat ramp to Snowden, a journey of 31 miles in canoes through rapids and backwoods! This is the 14th year of some iteration of the Expeditions program. 31 brave students have taken on the challenge of conquering the river over a week-long trip, and then committing to a year of learning more about the river and developing a capstone project to lead a group and make a positive change in the James River watershed. Together, they will learn to work as a team to conquer new challenges and learn about themselves and the river that runs through the heart of Virginia.

This blog will be updated each afternoon throughout the students’ journey on the river. This first week follows the journey of 8 students, 1 teacher, and 3 JRA staff as they navigate the Upper James. Stay tuned to get a glimpse into life on Expedition!

Matt Scott Stone, JRA Senior Education Manager

Monday, June 24th

Buchanan, Virginia – written by Henry and Helena

A great day on the river started with a sad departure from our beloved parents. We did a few icebreakers before diving into safety on the water – chiefly, how to not die. We learned about the usefulness of eddies and the danger of strainers. After generously applying sunscreen, we finally departed with our partners of choice.

After a few successful class 1 rapids, albeit a few learning moments included — swamping a boat and getting stuck on a few too many rocks — we enjoyed our way leisurely down the river with the aid of a pleasant breeze. We took a pause to learn about the importance of 3 points of contact while wading and identifying V-formations in swift moving water. The 3 points of contact are your feet and the paddle, you need to have at least 2 down at a time to avoid falling over. After a peaceful and slow 4 hour canoe ride we arrived at our campsite for the night. Today’s campground is owned by Jimmy, who generously allows us to use the finest toilet, and the only 2 beautiful showers of the trip!

Next, we set up camp, before going to the wonderful AC of a local church basement, where we began our Leadership program following the curriculum of InnerWill, a program spun out of Luck Stone Companies. We started off with a candy-filled activity to stretch our trade-not-take muscles. Next, we reflected on what makes us unique before sharing those answers to learn more about our expedition mates. Later, we discussed the different personality styles and the importance of being able to adapt to all of them.

We then learned about camp behavior/roles and were told who our partners were. Your lovely bloggers tonight are Henry and Helena. We ate a splendid meal of spaghetti and meat sauce prepared by Excellent Emma and Freddy. 

Analyzing the river for today are your marvelous Mathew and Cora. And of course, as expected, Olivia and Logan are jobless this evening. 

After our leadership program concluded for the day, we took some green time, or some time for ourselves and to do our designated roles. Finally, we ate dinner and shared company around the campfire. 

Tuesday, June 25th

Buchanan, Virginia to Arcadia Camp – written by Freddie and Emma

We woke up to a fresh dew over our tents this morning and indulged in a delicious breakfast of apples, bananas, and granola bars before setting off onto our longest day of paddling this week. After a quick stretching circle, we packed our things and got a quick lesson from our camp scientists, Logan and Olivia, about the river grass that helps the James flourish. Since today would be our first day with class two rapids, we each received our own helmet and a brief lesson on tackling intimidating rapids. After our safety lesson, we were off on our journey down the James!

When we got onto the river, we immediately dove into a class 1/ class 2 rapid to test our skills, and luckily we all managed to stay in our canoes. For further detail, today’s canoes were staffed by the week’s chore pairs: 1. Helena and Henry, 2. Freddie and Emma, 3. Matthew and Corah, 4. Logan and Olivia. Once past the rapids, we slowed things down a bit and relaxed by telling riddles about “Black Magic” and “Elephants” that two-thirds of us struggled desperately to solve. 

To give our minds a break from all that thinking, we stopped for lunch on the side of the river where we had wraps with tomatoes, bell peppers, hummus, turkey, carrots, and ham. While everyone ate, we gathered in a circle and continued to discuss the aforementioned riddles, which Freddie particularly despised. Once we reapplied our sunscreen and refilled our water bottles, we set off again for the last portion of our trip. Meanwhile, Freddie, Matthew, Gabe, and Charles wasted no chance to catch some bass and bluegills when no rapids were in sight.

In the blink of an eye, we rounded the bend and arrived at our campsite!

After a long day of padding, everyone was excited to hop out of the canoes and relax. The girls and boys separated to set up tents and organize our belongings. Afterwards, everyone hopped into the river to cool off, swim, and play some pool games. 

When everyone got out of the river, the pairs split off to complete their duties. Mathew and Corah took to the grill to make some delicious tacos, Logan and Olivia took some water samples on the bank of our camp, Helena and Henry acted as leaders to help everyone else out, and Freddie and Emma wrote this wonderful post!

Wednesday, June 26th

Arcadia to Back Run Camp – written by Matthew and Cora

After a gregarious fight against a rambunctious posse of raccoons last night, we awoke to a stunning view at Arcadia.

We devoured a delectable feast of breakfast burritos, parfaits, and fresh picked wineberries and blackberries by the infamous Matthew!

After our feast, we had a leisurely and tranquil paddle filled with delectable catch and releasing and a bodacious swim. Every inquiring mind caught a fish, as well as a stellar turtle caught by Cora! We did not catch all of the pictures of the fish that were caught, regardless of that, here are a few we did indeed catch.

 We stopped at Alpine for a scrumptious lunch of sandwiches, cherries, clementines, hummus, and guacamole. We were in dismay when we discovered the silverware and table were not brought to the function! We used our exceptional problem solving skills and used carrots and pocket knifes in place of silverware. Nevertheless, we demolished this delectable banquet. 

After that turn of events, while heading to Back Run campsite, we discovered a refreshing aqueduct! The aqueduct was built in 1789 in correspondence with the James River company which was founded in 1785.

We acted impossibly nonchalant as we expertly navigated the very chalant storm. We precariously bathed in the river with the assistance of our skylarky biodegradable 18-in-1 soap. We had some zen tent time transpiring the thunder which transformed us into terrific travelers. Our spontaneously immaculate chefs cooked burgers, hotdogs and quesadillas in addition to potato salad. We are in divine anticipation for our upcoming traverseification. This sublime message was curated by Matthew and Cora. 

Thursday, June 27th

Back Run to Balcony Falls – written by Olivia and Logan

Day 4 of expedition began with a nice breakfast of bagels and yogurt bowls. We to pack up only the things we needed for the night ahead as we were taking it all on the canoes with us! We went down 6 class 1 rapids and 4 class 2s. We stopped for lunch and enjoyed handcrafted wraps, once again with forgotten utensils. After another 30 minutes of paddling, we met up with Maya who surprised us with ice creams!

After some more paddling, and our most intense rapids so far, we arrived at our extremely remote campsite. We then went scouted out on foot to Balcony Falls, and watched Charles ‘shred the gnar’. Then we set up camp, before going an an Awe Walk to a waterfall where we saw watersnakes and fish. Earlier today we observed otters, bald eagles, and herring.

After coming back, some of us swam, some enjoyed the fire, and other continued fishing. Now we about to enjoy some delicious personal pizza cooked directly over the campfire. We ended the night with s’mores, and went to bed tired but ready to challenge the final hardest rapid tomorrow, Balcony Falls.

Friday, June 28th

Balcony Falls to Snowden – conclusion by Matt Scott Stone

The trip concluded with a run through Balcony Falls. Though some of our students dumped into the river, everyone emerged having gone through the gauntlet and paddled their way to victory!

Our students’ adventures continue through the year-long JRLE program, with their next official meetup in November at Presquile National Wildlife Refuge to start brainstorming a capstone environmental action project together. They’ll do this secluded at the James River Ecology School, spending the night on the James together and exploring a vast, protected island.

Tune in for the Middle Expedition Blog, coming in mid-July, as another group of students tackles the next section of Expedition.