Final Day - Friday, June 28

Unfortunately, our time together on this incredible trip has come to an end. As we woke up this morning in our beautiful cabin, we ate a quick breakfast and got on the road. We had a long haul from Lake Fort Smith to Mountain View, Arkansas for our high ropes adventure.

When we arrived, we got paperwork sorted out and ate a quick lunch before jumping into our activities. We spent our first two hours on a low ropes course exploring different teamwork activities and helping us bond even more as a group. We specifically focused on communication skills and what it means to be a good teammate. After finishing low ropes, we got up in the trees and did a high ropes course! It was so fun to be navigating through the forest together as a team.

Upon finishing high ropes, we had the opportunity to spend some time on what they call the “tower." Each student could choose to zip line, free fall, or rock climb! It was a fun experience and a great way to end the trip.

We piled back into the van and began the five hour journey back home to St. Louis. As we arrived back in town, we were happy to be home but sad the adventure had come to an end. This week was filled with laughs, growth, and deepening relationships. We are all thankful for this experience and very much looking forward to next year!

With Love,
The Zug Crew

Day Five - Thursday, June 27

We had one of our very best days yet as we sadly come towards the end of our time together. Waking up in the morning, the boys broke down the tents and began packing up the van as Will and Zach cooked pancakes and sausage for breakfast. Once everyone had eaten, we headed down to the marina of the state park and rented a boat!

The whole Zug Crew climbed aboard our 18-foot pontoon and set sail on Lake Fort Smith. We drove all around the lake searching for good views and fishing spots. All of the boys got to drive the pontoon and had the time of their lives doing it. We spent four hours on the boat cruising all over the lake.

When we got back to the main land, we busted out our three person water balloon launcher and took target practice on some different objects around the lake. Taking turns launching balloons, we spent hours laughing and smashing different targets.

As the brutally hot day wound down, we checked into our lodge for the night. After many nights of sleeping on the ground, it was awesome to have a bed and some air conditioning. Lucky for us, our lodge had a private basketball court and we all played for hours. 

We cooked spicy tacos for dinner and at them all. It was a great meal! After dinner, we held a ceremony to commemorate our trip coming to a close. We went around the circle telling each other what we value about each person. We all got matching bracelets cut from the same rope to help evoke some memories from this incredible experience. 

We then hung out and played more basketball before heading to bed, as we have an early morning tomorrow. We are excited to hit the high ropes course and climb through the arching canopies of Arkansas!

The Zug Crew

Day Four - Wednesday, June 26

Today we woke up at our new campsite at Lake Fort Smith State Park! We had a slow and restful morning as we hit the mid point of our journey together. We cooked up a hearty breakfast, showered up, and headed down to the lake where we had a water balloon fight!

After adequately soaking each other, we pulled out a water balloon launcher and worked as a team to shoot water balloons at targets. It was a great afternoon laughing and developing teamwork.

After eating lunch we headed to the pool, as it was a very hot day. Playing and splashing, we swam the day away to beat the heat. After a great day at the pool, we went back to camp to cook up a delicious dinner of pork steaks and potatoes. We devoured it all! After dinner we decided to play yard games and ended up teaching the kids a game called flimsy. We got in teams of two and played for almost two hours!

We wound down to night with a campfire and s’mores, preparing for a fun day on the pontoon tomorrow! We are having the best time and miss you all very much!

The Zug Crew

Day Three - Tuesday, June 25

It was a great third day on the Arkansas Adventure. We woke up and broke camp for the first time. The students did an amazing job packing up the tents and helping cook breakfast before we headed down to Fayetteville for our tour of University of Arkansas. 

When we arrived on campus, the students were blown away by the football stadium, the gymnasium, and how big the campus was. Our tour guide was awesome. She showed us all around campus and helped our students picture themselves taking the next step in their learning there. 

We ate lunch on campus to experience life like a true college student and then had the chance to play basketball in the gym! It was a really cool experience the students will likely never forget. Shoutout to University of Arkansas for giving us a great tour and letting us play basketball in their gym!

After hitting the gym, we made our way to our next campsite. We are camping at Lake Fort Smith State Park, a scenic park right on gorgeous Lake Fort Smith. Upon our arrival, we set up camp and immediately got in the water. We took time to swim and hang out before heading back to camp for dinner. 

We cooked a delicious dinner of chicken Alfredo and then headed down to the state park visitor center to go on an “Owl Prowl” with a park interpreter. We hiked around the park in the dark for a while looking for owls and other wildlife, and ended up seeing a screech owl! For many of us this was our first time seeing one and it was very exciting. 

We finished the hike by walking around the lake at sunset which was incredibly beautiful. This has been such a fun week and we are excited to continue making memories!

The Zug Crew

Day Two - Monday, June 24

Our first day waking up in tents! Super fun to wake up to a beautiful day and cook chocolate chip pancakes on the camp stove. After getting a big breakfast in, we headed to a local park in Arkansas to play basketball and swim.

We played basketball as a group for two hours before jumping into the pool. The park had an awesome public pool with diving boards that we used to their full potential; flipping, spinning, and cannon balling all day. 

We grabbed a quick bite for lunch then headed straight back to the pool; playing catch and making memories. Exhausted from balling and swimming all day, we headed back to our campsite to cook dinner. DC cooked us delicious cheeseburgers as Joseph made bacon and the campfire. JJ took a fishing pole down to the Elk River and tried his luck at catching a fish. 

After devouring a delicious dinner, we sat around the campfire for hours. Topics ranged from, “if you were an animal, what animal would you be?” to “have you ever seen a ghost?” It was a great campfire and we all crashed afterwards.

We are excited to be touring University of Arkansas tomorrow and heading to a new campsite! Check in soon. Thanks for all the support!

The Zug Team

Day One - Sunday, June 23

Today we kicked off our Arkansas Adventure. We began picking up the kids in our trusty 15 passenger van around 9am and had the whole crew set by 10am. We decided to start the trip with a quick game of basketball, leaders vs. students. The students dominated.

Setting sail and getting on the road we played games, ate snacks, and sung along to music. After stopping for a quick lunch, we headed to the wild world of Bass Pro Shops. The students were blown away by how big it was and it's multiple aquariums. After Bass Pro Shops, we stopped to do a food shop. Daniel and Joseph were our “Cook Crew,” so we had them pick out meals and list the ingredients we would need. We got all the food needed for the next few days meals. Meal planning and grocery shopping are two of the many skills the students will be working on this week.

Then we went to camp. Arriving at our slightly drenched campsite around 7pm, we quickly set up the tents to avoid getting rained on. We camped on the mighty Elk River, which was very flooded and almost took over our campsite as it continued to rise overnight. As we cooked up our dinner of pork chops, potatoes, and fruit, we saw a wild armadillo and its family coming out of the river. This was a first time and very cool experience for the whole group.

After eating dinner and cleaning up, we played cards before heading to bed. This was a good end to a great first day. We are excited to play basketball, go swimming, and explore the Elk River tomorrow!

Thanks for keep up with us. We appreciate you all!

The Zug Team

Hello to all the family and friends following along on the maiden voyage of The Zugunruhe Experience!

We are excited to be on our very first trip and happy to have all of you along for the ride. As we set sail for this journey we have 5 young men along with us. Hailing from East St. Louis we have JJ, Joseph, Daniel, DC, and Kendrick. They are excited to be a part of Zugunruhe’s inaugural trip as we head out to Arkansas.

Highlights of the trip include floating the Elk River, a campus tour of The University of Arkansas, Fishing at Lake Fort Smith, one night camping in the back country, a high ropes course, and many laughs and smiles along the way.

We will keep you all updated as we break ground in our first ever trip and are excited to have you following along. Thanks again for the support and you will be hearing from us soon.


The Zugunruhe Team

By Zach Smelcer

I’ve had a passion for working with students from a young age. My desire for teaching others was the driving force in becoming an education major. What really changed for me after acquiring my education degree was discovering that the classroom isn’t the only place we can learn, grow, and develop.

Little did I know, that in 2010 when I embarked on my first journey overseas that my life would be changed forever. This trip pushed me further out of my comfort zone than I could have ever dreamed. A spark ignited within me and it didn’t take long to recognize that all those studying along with me were also being provided their own unique opportunity to grow. This in itself was very different from my own.

I had to ask myself the question, “Why were all these exchange students being provided this life altering experience?”

The answer was simple: We had all come from a background that afforded us this opportunity.

What once was a spark is now a burning passion and why Zugunruhe is doing what it is today. How can we provide opportunities to explore the world through experiential learning to students from all different kinds of socioeconomic backgrounds?

After pondering this question for over six years, 32 countries, and five jobs, I designed Zugunruhe Experiences to begin providing these very opportunities while hopefully turning this into so much more.

There have been many ups and downs since deciding to embark on this adventure a few years ago. I’ve learned to be patient and ‘trust the process’. I know there will be more obstacles to overcome, but I’ve been preparing for this opportunity since the first day I set foot on an airplane eight years ago. This journey has provided me laughter, tears, triumph, defeat, challenge, growth and most of all smiles and new relationships. I’m ready to bring all of this and more to the next generation and show them what it means to be a citizen of the world.

By Dalton Charest

Greetings! I’m Dalton Charest and I jumped aboard Zugunruhe Experiences in the Summer of 2018. The many hats I wear may seem to be endless. I am a teacher, international trip leader, freelance writer and journalist, guide, rock climber, mountain biker, skier, and diver. Being born and raised in the sovereign granite hills of small town New Hampshire, this lifestyle was made possible by making the world my playground from a very young age.

After leaving the 'Live Free or Die' state sometime ago, I now live in Bend, Oregon, still tending to lead the life of a nomad on a never ending search for the next great story, experience, or lesson. My life led me to recently begin placing roots in amazing communities like Central Oregon and I am now splitting my time working with Zugunruhe Experience and toiling away in the writing factory as a freelance journalist.

My first solo adventure outside of the United States came to be when I studied abroad in Cusco, Peru, back in 2013. From that very day, travel found its place to stay in my life. Since then, I’ve worked as science teacher in the high desert of Southern California and partnered with organizations such as Rustic Pathways, Putney Student Travel, and National Geographic Student Expeditions, marketing and leading high school student travel programs around the world. My work has taken me as far away as South East Asia and the South Pacific, and as close to home as Yosemite National Park and Lake Tahoe.

There are so many experiences and reasons that define what it is we aim to do here at Zugunruhe Experience. I grew up with far away dreams of distant and foreign lands in the kind of family where my aunts and uncles only live a few miles down the road from me. Attending high school in a community that lacked proper funding, I found it to be somewhat of a “pipedream” for students to even imagine the possibilities of traveling to locations such as Thailand or Peru, or even just venturing into the wilderness in the search for something more.

I was lucky enough to figure out a way of breaking that pattern, but not until I discovered how to do that sometime in college. Looking back, there are so many of my friends and classmates from high school that I know that would have loved the opportunity to be able to share some of the same amazing and life-changing experiences that I’ve been so grateful to live through while abroad or trampling through the wilderness.   

Zugunruhe Experience is one way that allows us to deliver those travel opportunities to the students that never had the same opportunity. We don’t hope to just send students down similar paths that we’ve gone down; we hope to show them that there are a variety of different possibilities and directions that the world can offer them as they pass through this life and it is all for the taking if they choose. Whether it be camping under the stars in the wild, collecting as many country stamps in your passport that you can or just looking to get outside your comfort zone in a safe yet challenging way, we believe that Zugunruhe Experience is another gateway for opening up the door to students searching for a different kind of world from the one they currently live in. We are simply just the conduit to the change they seek.  

By Will Earley

I have been involved with Zugunruhe Experience since the summer of 2017. I met our founder, Zach Smelcer, while working together for a San Francisco based travel company and we instantly hit it off and connected on the idea to make outdoor and travel education more accessible for everyone. Since that time we have been working together to make Zugunruhe Experiences the high impact experience we know it can be.

Since I was in 8th grade I knew I wanted to be an educator. I saw the way my teachers could make meaningful relationships with us as students and knew it was the job for me. This was the driving force behind me studying education in college as I wanted to have an impact on the world around me. As I’ve progressed through my career and had different teaching experiences I’ve seen how learning can take many different shapes.

I have been fortunate enough to have had learning and teaching moments all over the world. I know how impactful my travel and outdoor experience have been for my personal development and I want to help students gain access to those same experiences.

While the traditional classroom works for some, it often doesn’t work for all or even most learners. When I think back on the meaningful, deep learning experiences I’ve had, none of them are in a classroom. This is why I feel Zugunruhe is so important. As a society we must do a better job providing all students opportunities to get outside of the traditional learning model and have deep learning moments.

I am currently a 9th grade math teacher at a public school in Minneapolis and my desire is for all students to be able to have the resources and opportunities to have experiences currently reserved for a small portion of students.

My hope is to help Zugunruhe grow and develop and eventually work full time with the non-profit and it’s students. I am excited about the direction we are headed in and ready to take the next step in this adventure!

By Danielle Smecler

As an adult I love nature.  I love what it does to my soul.  When the distractions of work, social obligations and technology feel overwhelming,  I go for a hike. There has been no better learned medicine that breathing in and experiencing nature.  It refreshes. It creates better perspective. It allows for peace. I learned to appreciate this when I was very young.  My family was a camping family.

When I was about 10-years-old I went on a camping trip with my family and several family friends.  This was by no means my first camping trip, nor would it be my last. It was, however, memorable. I had been allowed to bring my best friend Hannah along, as the other families with us only had boys.  I needed someone to hang with and boys had cooties. We were tent camping on the lake for three days. We had delicious food to cook over the fire, swimming suits, a boat, and all the sunshine we could ever want.  It was going to be a great trip.

  On the first day Hannah and I spent nearly every second on the beach.  We stopped for nothing and no one. I have no doubt that I was asked to put on sunscreen multiple times but alas I was having way too much fun.  To my detriment, I ended day 1 with a terrible sunburn. The kind that feels like it’s burning all night while you roll around in your sleeping bag in a hopeless attempt to get comfortable.  It was miserable. The next day, I humiliatingly had to where a t-shirt the entire time I played outside. As a 10-year-old, this is very uncool.

On day 2, we went boating.  This was the best. Going fast across the lake, wind in your hair, and water all around you.  I dare say there is nothing better. We took the boats all the way to the other side of the lake where we found a great spot to stop and cliff jump or swing on a rope swing.  Now, I am not the most coordinated of girls. My first (and last) attempt on the rope swing ended with me dragging my legs across the water before slowly sinking in. I can remember my dad on the boat just shaking his head.  I was then convinced to climb to the top of the cliff face and jump off. My memory still holds that the cliff was nearly the size of a ten-story building. This is for sure not true and I imagine it was maybe 15-20 feet in reality.  To my 10-year-old self, however, it was enormous. I was terrified. And yet, I was not about to back down with my brothers and their friends watching. Not to mention Hannah had already jumped and landed into the water beautifully. I took a deep breath, jumped, and then screamed bloody murder all the way down.

Once in the water all I could think about was the pain.  I had landed with my legs straight out. And my, oh my, did it hurt.  Under the water I slowly reminded myself of how to move and to get to the surface.  It felt like slow motion. When I finally made it to the surface I was met with silence and stares from everyone there.  Suddenly, my mom’s voice came into focus and I could hear her yelling, “Dani! Are you OK?!”

 I responded with a nod and a soft yes.

I climbed back into the boat and my dad said, “Did you really think that was a good idea after the rope swing?”

 He made a good point.  I spent the remainder of that day and the final day of our camping trip trying to make myself comfortable with a terrible sunburn and limp because of the knee I wounded with that cliff jump.

I left that camping trip with a smile.  Not because I was feeling all better, but because I had just spent three days outside breathing fresh air with no distractions and with people that have a lot of fun.  I learned about nature by playing in the sand, swimming in water, and recognizing that the sun can be real nasty if you don’t take precautions. I learned to take risks.  And with that how to deal with the fallback when those risks don’t pan out QUITE like you imagined. I engaged with the fish when I detached one from a fishing line, I learned how to build a fire and how mesmerizing the flames can be.  I fell asleep peacefully to the sounds of water, wind, and rustling branches on trees. I was refreshed. I had a great perspective on how fun life can be when it’s just you and people and trees. I was content and I was at peace.

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