Evacuation OA

I am not an exciting person. But perhaps exciting things happen to me. Or around me. Which is great, because I can write about them.

As part of its first year orientation program, Pomona College organizes these trips – more often than not, camping trips – divides the freshmen into various groups of their choice (but sometimes not) and sends them off for 4 days. It’s called Orientation Adventure (OA).

I happened to be part of the River OA this year, along with more or less 30 other people. Our 5 total leaders were also (older) students; no faculty involved. The plan was to camp at the banks of the Kern River. We’d spend one of the days rafting, another day paddle-boarding and doing community service, and another day rock-climbing. (In actuality, we climbed a wall, not a rock.)

Photo courtesy of Brittany Chen. See me in the back with the shades on? 🙂

Let me tell you something, okay? We left like 4 days after I arrived in America, and I was freaking jetlagged for the first few days, waking up between 3am and 4am.  Just when I was adjusting to the schedule and beginning to wake up at 7, I was told that the bus for my OA was supposed to leave at 4am…so I better wake up at 3am to make the bus. Go figure. The trip was 3 hours long, though, so it made sense.

Rafting was super fun, though. And in the middle of it, we jumped off a very tall rock and it was terrifying and exhilarating at the same time.

Photo courtesy of Brittany Chen. Behold, the climbing wall

Note: When I first arrived in California, a family friend who came to pick my mum and I up from the airport told us, on the drive back to her house, that forest fires were a regular occurrence, that they could get pretty bad, and that one had broken out recently. I didn’t see any way how this could have directly affected me, but this world is full of the most amazing surprises.

Our OA leaders told us that the people at Pomona’s Outdoor Education Centre (with whom they were in contact), had told them that the forest fire was spreading away from us. Never mind the fact that it was still spreading. But I, in my fantastic hopeful pessimism, after a fun day of rafting and jumping off a very high rock, was repeating, by the end of the day to my new friends, Brittany, Karla and Devin, the sentence: “I hope we get evacuated!” Of course, at the time, it didn’t seem likely, given that we still believed (the lie) that the fire was going in the opposite direction from us.

Before I continue with the fire saga, there is one thing I believe to be more than worthy of mention. If you say these two words to anyone who went on River OA, the chances are they might break into either a smile or a laugh: “Peach Cobbler.”

Some people, like me, did not know what this food was, beyond its name, and had never tasted it. I am quite sad (not really) to say that we did not have the best first experience of what I am sure must be a delicacy, when prepared the way it’s meant to be prepared, with adequate resources. We did not have adequate resources. What we did have was a small Dutch oven, an inadequate number of fire coals, and a handbook with very shady instructions. Long story short, something that was supposed to take 40 minutes to make took 2 hours. And it came out spectacularly, such that the “peach cobbler” in truth had very few peaches (we thought we had only 4 cans of peaches and used what we had. Well after we’d emptied its contents into the tiny oven, some resourceful person happened to find more peach cans – but by then, it was too late), some parts large clumps of butter, and other parts large clumps of flour. Shout-out to master chef and OA leader, Adam! J That day was not your day, but I’d love to try making peach cobbler with you in an actual kitchen.

Back to the fire chronicles. The next day, after I’d gone through a morning of rock-climbing (read: wall climbing) and taken a trip to the river-beach, I decided to take a nap. I can’t remember how long I was asleep for, but I woke up and there was smoke everywhere. The sky was turning gray at like 3pm, and the sun had itself hidden behind clouds of smoke. It was absolutely fascinating. About an hour later, we saw a beautiful blazing sunset just on the horizon beyond the mountains. But it was 4pm. And then we saw the sun…somewhere else. That “sunset” was a freaking fire that was so clearly not moving away from us.

Eventually, we had to make dinner. Out in the open, of course, because it’s a camping trip, and we had nowhere else to be. There noor, ash started falling from the skies, into our hair, clothes and food. Did we still eat it? Heck yes.

So by this time, our OA leaders had realized that there was a problem that needed to be solved; they called Pomona and then they sent a bus for us. As we were packing up our tents and bags, a few of us suddenly noticed deer running in the opposite direction of the mountains. I made a comment about how, whenever you see wildlife fleeing, it’s probably wise to flee too. Someone told me I probably shouldn’t have pointed that out, out loud. LOL

Photo courtesy of Brittany Chen. Don’t we look super cool wearing masks because our lives and lungs are in danger? 🙂

So yeah, we were evacuated. The only OA group that was evacuated. And we ended up reaching Pomona at 1:30am. To compensate for having a half-trip, we had a pool day, movie night, and an entire day of riding roller coasters at Knotts Berry Farm nearby.

Needless to say, my OA was the best (and most adventurous) OA.