Notes From the Road: Surf ‘n’ Turf Quest

Today’s post is written by Tawonga camper and Quester, Josie Almond. Images from the Surf ‘n’ Turf Quest as well as from Session III activities are featured below.

Why Quest Is the Best
By Josie Almond


Going on Tawonga’s Surf n Turf Quest this summer was my back-up plan when Session II was full. Turns out, this was the best back-up plan ever! 


Quests are much less structured, much more improvised programs than sessions at Tawonga. We had plenty of planned adventures, like kayaking in sea caves around Santa Cruz Island (super cool and eerie!) and learning how to surf (slightly painful, but exhilarating!). But we also were able to be spontaneous. If we saw something cool – like elephant seals cavorting on a beach – we could pull over and watch these giant blubbery animals in action. 


Sometimes our Wilderness leaders would let us do something special, like heading off for what we called “Town Time,” which just meant we got to explore a downtown area with lots of shops. It was fun to window shop and really gave us a sense of, “I’m independent, but also very safe.”


Even the drive time in the vans offered cool experiences. In fact, the vans were where the most bonding happened, simply because chatting and joking helped us pass the time. And while we talked, we would begin to make connections and think, “Hey, this person is very cool!”


We also alternated being the “co-pilot,” who sat in the front passenger seat. The co-pilot would help our super cool leaders (Sarah and Logan) with directions, and make sure all the lights were working. Best of all, you got to be lead DJ. This was a time where we really felt we were needed by the group. 


I loved the drive through Big Sur especially. We were on a long, winding road and the ocean, with its purplish glow, stretched out to the horizon. If you were in our van, “Jesse’s Girl” was probably on the stereo. The whole thing was just magical. Where else do you get to sit in a car full of friends, with great tunes blasting, stunning views out every window and an adventure ahead of you? 


Our days were relaxed but energizing. You could chill and read, you could join a water balloon fight, you could talk with other Questers. It was sort of like those choose-your-own- adventure books. But whatever we chose, we knew that it would be fun, and right for us. It was really empowering to get to make your own decisions like that. It felt like being an adult while being a teen. 


On Quest, you also have the feeling that you’re really helping keep the Quest going. You and your work group alternate helping with cooking, dishes, setting and packing up the campsite. Each job is essential. If you don’t help, it won’t get done. You also get a chance to develop new skills on Quest – for instance, I learned how to chop an onion, without even crying. 


Quest also helped us learn to make decisions. On my Quest, we were allowed to plan out the Shabbat dinner and activities. My group decided that for our activity, we wanted to hold a gratitude circle, where everyone would say some things that they had seen or done on the trip so far that they were grateful for. It was really great to hear everyone speak.


Most of all, the Quest experience taught us how to push through challenges and not give up. On my Quest, the backpacking was a big challenge for most people. It was half uphill, and five miles long. But our Wilderness Leaders encouraged us, and we encouraged each other, providing support to tired friends. 


When we reached our campsite, everyone was so proud. We had walked five miles with giant backpacks on! It was an awesome moment. We had just met each other a few days ago, and here we were, celebrating our achievement together. 


Quest may have ended a week ago, but I think all of us took home those feelings of accomplishment, friendship, freedom and fun.

Josie Almond likes reading, writing, science and going to Camp Tawonga, especially Quest! She lives with her crazy family outside Boston and hopes to be back next summer.

Josie’s dad, Steve Almond, is a Tawonga alum and New York Times best-selling author. You can read his reflections on Tawonga here in Southwest Magazine and here on our Keshet Family Camp.