ESCAPE to Yosemite

Wrapping up the year with one last big adventure.

It’s surely been an odd year, but we made it again to our climactic trip of the year to Yosemite. Tons of planning goes into this trip–from clicking at 6:59:59am on three computers in January to get reservations, to getting fee waivers from the park, to shopping at Costco for six meals to feed everyone, to making sure everyone has tents and sleeping bags, and all the gear. So it’s pretty rewarding when we get to see the kids experience it. And of course, it’s no less rewarding to be in Yosemite ourselves.

After three years of us finding alternatives, construction and re-design in Mariposa Grove is finally complete, and we were able to visit first thing on Friday. The trails and boardwalks are nicer, and the shuttle system keeps the cars out. We went on an extended three-mile loop, which was fun…except for the chilly temps, snow on the ground, and the light showers that started to fall. We scurried through, and headed down into Wawona to set up camp.

Eggs, bacon, and coffee welcomed us Saturday morning, and we got ready for our day’s activities in the valley. But with a daunting weather forecast, we felt it prudent to cover up with as many tarps as possible. We were greeted in the valley with more chilly temps, but we found a place to park all the cars together (hooray), and headed up the Mist Trail to Vernal Falls. The hike went well enough, and we got to the top of the falls and back down. As usual, some were fast, and some were slow. And some, really slow. But we were proud of our group’s persistence and grit.

And then of course, as if to see if our leaders had the same qualities, the rain began.

It rained for the rest of our trip. All afternoon. All evening. Through the night. Packing up in the morning. Rain and more rain.

As mentioned, we were more “prepared” with tarps and such, and most of our sleeping bags and tents were reasonably dry. It was incredibly inconvenient, but we made do, huddling under makeshift canopies, cooking what we needed, trying to keep the fire out of the rain, but finding a way to move the smoke along. And in the end, we survived. 

We cancelled our usual Sunday activities, and packed up wet tents into wet bags. As we drove out of the park, we increased elevation, and it started to snow. It was beautiful. And slightly terrifying. But we were able to stop and snap a few photos, including one last shot of our little group. A bonus stop at the Bass Pro Shop in Manteca provided a final new outdoor experience for us.

To be honest, year #19 of the ESCAPE Club was certainly one of the most challenging years. We “only” went on seven trips rather than our usual nine. Our enrollment declined significantly through the year to numbers we’ve not seen since the very beginning. We got “smoked” out of one trip, rained/snowed out of two other dates, missed our Alamere Falls trip for the first time, had a death in our ESCAPE Club family, and got fineprinted out of financing for our kayaking trip. With neither Jason nor John at DeJean full time, communication and connection remain difficult.

Nevertheless, we are incredibly grateful for every student whose lives we were able share in, for the gracious community of teachers, staff, and families that chaperone and make these days happen, for the generous support we receive from many, and for the amazing things we were still able to see and do. We remain grateful for the opportunity to serve in this community that we find so precious. A look back through our photos and videos reminds us of the smiles and natural beauty we’ve seen, and we remember it’s all more than worth it.

And despite the challenges, we’ll be back at DeJean in the fall to begin our 20th year. Hard to believe. Thanks to all. To God be the glory. Talk to you soon. 

Trying something new again
for ESCAPE Club swag
with this year’s sweet logo: STICKERS!!!

See how we survived the weather!

ESCAPE in the Spring!

Two spring trips — one to the snow, and one to the beach!

It’s almost July, and it’s been a while since we’ve been in touch, but the club has been rolling along (sort of) as usual. We’ll do a quick spring summary here, and then another final update in a few days…

Spring was a bit odd in the ESCAPE Club. We had to postpone our snow trip in February twice due to weather and road conditions, but we finally got to squeeze the trip in at the end of March. It was a magnificent day, with sunshine and short sleeves. We enjoyed the ride on a charter bus again, courtesy of DeJean. We made our usual stops on the way home–In’N’Out and the state capitol in Sacramento. 

Normally, we would hike to Alamere Falls in Point Reyes in April, but due to our expiring grant for kayaking, and the scheduling complications in February, we decided to skip it this year. We’d done that trip every year for 18 years, so it was tough to cut it.

In April, it was time to return one more time to the coast and see the otters on Elkhorn Slough. There was a bit of a frustrating snafu around our grant for kayaking, but we went ahead with the trip. We began the day on the wharf in Santa Cruz, watching the sea lions nap on the beams, or play around in the surf. Lunch was on the beach in Moss Landing, as we anticipated our afternoon kayaking tour. Our numbers were smaller than expected, but we enjoyed seeing the otters, seals and birds and the two-mile round trip up the slough. And we wrapped up the day at a little taco truck, which was fun too.

A few celebrations of note over the spring–

Please join us in HUGE congratulations and appreciation to Mr. Lau, who’s now been with the club on 100 trips! Jason’s first trip with us was to the snow in 2004, and if you know him, you know how valuable he is to the program, and how much his impact is felt in this community. We celebrated by presenting him an ESCAPE Club-personalized YETI water bottle. Thank you so much, Jason!

Another fun fact is that one of our current chaperones, Felicia, was a student on that same snow trip in 2004. She’s returned to give back to her community and help make this program happen. Felicia is terrific with the kids, and we appreciate her so much.

Finally, we are loving our new shirts and hoodies, designed by our old ESCAPE Club friend, Ted Wu. Ted is a designer for the San Francisco Giants, and we couldn’t be more pleased and grateful for the design he created this year. (We do have a few leftover if you’re interested in repping this year’s club.)

Thanks so much for reading! Both videos are below, with lots more footage and photos and the full story of the day. We’ll be back soon with news of the Yosemite trip, and to wrap up the year.


Here’s the video from the snow…

…and from kayaking.

Escape to the Golden Gate

A whirlwind tour of San Francisco and around the Marin Headlands…

We always look forward to the trip we internally call “SF Tour”. It’s close by, there’s lots to see and do, and the kids are always really engaged. We decided to shake things up this year, and go to San Francisco and the Marin Headlands in January. It’s been a wetter winter than we’ve become accustomed to, so we’ve come to appreciate the sunshine on the past couple trips.

Our first stop was Lombard Street. We drove down, then hiked back up for a little more personal experience. The only disappointment was we didn’t see any parrots! Normally, we would then head down to Fort Point, but unfortunately the government shutdown took that opportunity from us this year. We replaced it by visiting the “Wave Organ” (better to visit during high tide, apparently), and spending a little more time at the Palace of Fine Arts. The highlight there was a busking accordionist who shared his bird seed with us. We spent a good half hour feeding the pigeons and enjoying walking around the pond and structures.

Walking on the Golden Gate Bridge is always an adventure, with thousands of tourists, and thousands of cars just a few feet away. But it’s such a unique experience, and it never really gets old. We waved at the cars and trucks, and cheered for every honk we got.

Our experience at The Marine Mammal Center was different this time. We were a little early to see elephant seals, and they were doing some work on the main pens. So part of our tour included a look at some of the back side pens, which we’d never had access to before. Silently, we crept along the wall, and peeked in on a few sea lions pups.

Finally, we ended our day above the Golden Gate at Battery Spencer. The traffic pattern on Conzelman Road has been re-configured to allow for more parking, so our walk was much shorter. We scrambled around among the ruins, jumped from building to building, and enjoyed the views from the headlands. As the sun disappeared behind the clouds, the temperatures dropped 10 degrees, and we were ready to head home.

We’ve been grateful for the rain, and the snow that we hope is piling up in the Sierras for next month’s sledding trip. Also grateful for wonderful chaperones, and several who continue to support us financially.

We trust you are well, and appreciate you following along with us as we adventure this year! Check out the video below if you have a minute–there’s a fun ukulele song in it that we love.

PS: T-shirt order time is upon us! Watch your inbox for this year’s amazing design, and your opportunity to order.

Talk to you soon!

You know the video is always fun!

ESCAPE the Smoke!

Plans for Slide Ranch foiled by the air quality lead us to a day of on-the-fly adventures…


Over the past 18 years and 150+ trips, we’ve had very few reasons to cancel a trip. Rescheduling a trip involves more paperwork and finding new chaperones. Canceling undercuts our goal of nine trips in a year, so we try to avoid both. We’ve had only a couple issues where we thought it best to do that. For our November trip to Slide Ranch, the air quality was so poor that our program understandably had to be canceled. When an outdoor education club can’t go outdoors, that causes a pretty big problem.

We schemed and plotted several options, but we thought it best to avoid the outdoors altogether, and play it safe indoors. We drove up to the Chabot Space & Science Center in the Oakland hills. It had been several years since the club had been there, and many of our kids and chaperones had never experienced the planetarium and large screen theater. But upon our arrival, they made the decision to close as well.

Free Solo was playing before noon in San Francisco, so we headed over the bridge, with plans to be back in Oakland for ice skating later. The movie is FANTASTIC– go see it! (The trailer is HERE if you don’t know about it.) In terms of its appeal to young teens– well, it is a documentary. Most stayed awake, and a few even enjoyed it. But as usual, kids are mostly glad to be out doing something together.

Back at the Oakland Ice Center, we found ourselves early for the open skating session, but conveniently, there was a hockey game going. We enjoyed watching until our session began. Pretty sure that was a new experience too!  Kids always are excited to ice skate, regardless of their ability, and this time was no different. We had a blast.

We’ll miss Slide Ranch and its unique set of experiences for our kids. But we salvaged the day, and made it another one to remember.

It’s a short one this time…