- Associated Press - Sunday, March 27, 2016

CENTRALIA, Wash. (AP) - Girl Scouts are famous for their seasonally ubiquitous cookies. When local outdoors enthusiast Jillian Fuss went to join the Scouts on a campout though, she decided there was just entirely too much singing for her tastes.

So instead of singing campfire songs and redistributing mass-produced packages of cookies, Fuss has found herself a different outlet into the wild world of outdoors adventuring. Through the summer camp outfit Adventure Treks, Fuss has found herself on top of mountains, scrambling on rocky beachfronts and kayaking raging rivers, just to name a few of the disparate terrains she has conquered.

Fuss, 14, is a freshman at Napavine High School. She is an honor roll student who also finds time to act in the drama club and compete in track and field, soccer and the Knowledge Bowl.

Although she is passionate about the experiences and lessons at hand in the great outdoors, Fuss was not always a nature aficionado. Two years ago, though, an adventure trek took her to the crater-creased summit of Mount St. Helens, and now there’s no looking back for the intrepid traveler, except perhaps to compare newly minted memories to those tales from yesteryear.

During her first set of adventure treks, Fuss hiked and paddled across vast swaths of Washington, including the famous volcano. Last summer, though, Fuss took her show on the road to Colorado.

“Colorado was a lot different than I would have expected,” said Fuss, who noted that she hyperventilated at one point while ascending a tall peak during a strenuous hike. “Probably the hardest part was all the altitude change.”

The Adventure Trek outings are supervised by qualified instructors in order to ensure safe and successful outings for boys and girls of similar ages from all over the country. Trips are offered for children from 8-18 years of age, and a number of aspiring adventurers even arrive from outside the country.

Trips include hiking, camping, backpacking, canoeing, kayaking and wall climbing. The most advanced offering includes ice picking in Alaska. Trips last 20 days, and participants are not allowed access to their electronic devices during the entirety of the trek. Instead the adventurers are allowed two six-minute phone calls to their parents, and camp counselors mail detailed postcards back to nervous parents every three days or so.

Last year while making that mile high march across Colorado, Fuss and her newfound friends came across a picturesque waterfall and took the opportunity to frolic under its refreshing flow.

“I hadn’t bathed in like 11 days so the waterfall was a blessing,” remembered Fuss with an effervescent fondness.

Intermittent postcards are not the only writing that the youthful adventurers undertake though. During their trek the kids pen themselves a letter detailing their experiences, hopes and fears and then hand the notes over to their councilors. The following winter those letters are sent home to the campers as a reminder of all they experienced the summer before. As it so happens, Fuss recently received her letter to herself in the mail.

“I was thankful for that because there was a lot of stuff that I didn’t remember,” said Fuss.

Fuss said that prior to receiving the letter she was unsure if she was going to sign up for another summer of adventuring. Now though, there is no doubt.

This summer Fuss will be attending a trek in British Columbia. She says she has come to use the promise of summer time adventure as a figurative carrot to keep her moving toward the finish line during the inevitable lulls of the school year. “Once you accomplish something tough you’re sure you can accomplish anything,” said Fuss.

That heroic can-do attitude comes with a healthy dose of reality bestowed by the various camp councilors that Fuss has encountered at camp. “They are normal people who can do amazing things, and I think that is important for a role model,” noted Fuss. “I look up to people like that.”

Of all the diversified skills that Fuss and her globe-trotting friends have honed during their adventuring, perhaps the most useful was their freedom from a fear of failure.

“I think it’s OK for young people to see that you can do all these things but you don’t have to be great at them all,” said Fuss, who acknowledged it can be difficult explaining her hard-earned love of the outdoors to her peers back at home. “Most of my friends think, ‘Why would you do this? It looks miserable and crazy.’”

For Fuss though, the grimy struggle and exhilarating exertion is all part of the fun. She described the experience as, “empowering”.

“Once you climb a mountain, leaving is the hardest part,” said Fuss.

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Information from: The Chronicle, http://www.chronline.com

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