Open Road Exploration: A summer camp for teens | Kids Out and About Phoenix

Open Road Exploration: A summer camp for teens

Debra Ross, KidsOutAndAbout's publisher, interviews Alicia Hall, owner and founder of Open Road Exploration

Open Road Exploration is a special kind of summer camp for teens. It's a 3-week summer adventure program that combines experiences for the body and for the brain. We asked Alicia Hall, Open Road's owner, to tell us more about it.

KOAA: Alicia, there are a lot of teen summer biking programs, but yours is the only one I’ve seen that combines exploring the open road with a different kind of adventure entirely. Can you give us a brief description of what your program is about, and the main mission/philosophy behind it?

Alicia: There are many studies that show that when kids are more physically active they learn and retain information better. They also have better attention spans and become more socially active with their peers and others. So we created Open Road Exploration to be much more than just a summer bike program. Because we have an additional learning component, we are able to offer a more enriching experience.


KOAA: So you're combining biking and... art? How does that work?

Alicia: Our 2014 Pacific Northwest Art Tour will begin in Vancouver, BC and finish in Portland, OR. Along the way, we will learn and create art together; teens will take workshops taught by area artists, visit their studios, view demos, visit galleries and museums and create and develop a thesis.

In addition to the learning aspect of the tour, the kids will also learn to cook, camp under the stars, navigate using a map, take turns leading the group, and learn about how to fix their own bikes. We believe in teaching and helping these kids to become more self-sufficient and confident in life to better prepare them for the future.

Part of the purpose of these tours is that when you are growing up (and even as a college student or adult) you are constantly told what life will be like when you get older, especially when it comes to careers. We want to show them, let them see with their own eyes, ask questions from people who have experienced it, and make their own assessments.


KOAA: For what age(s) is Open Road Exploration geared?

Alicia: The optimal age for this experience is 13-17.

KOAA: How long (how many days) is a tour?

Alicia: The Pacific Northwest Art Tour will be 22 days long (10 rest days with minimal riding while visiting big cities and 12 days of riding).

KOAA: Is biking the main experience, or are the extra activities the main experience, or are they about equal?

Alicia: I feel that they are about equal. In the big cities; Vancouver, Seattle and Portland, we will be staying there for 3 days each to take full advantage of each city. During these days, the mileage we cover by bike is low. All other days of the trip, the mileage is usually between 20-40 miles.

Regardless of how many miles we travel, each day we will work in our travel journals/ sketchpads, discuss art, visit galleries and art schools, take studio tours, participate in workshops, and/ or view artist demos. Our goal is to incorporate art directly into our daily routines. I want the Explorers to view art differently and notice that it is all around us.


KOAA: It seems to me from the outside that your art tour is about a lot more than just the experience of art or the study of art history, but also about all aspects of creating are in the 21st century—the business and personal aspects. Is that accurate? Tell me more.

Alicia: Yes, that is accurate. I want the Explorers to know what a professional art career can look like in all of its vastly different ways.

When I went to college to become a Toy Designer (that’s right, you can major in Toy Design!), I was told what the business would be like. When I graduated and started working in the industry, I realized it was something completely different. I found out that there were a lot more meetings and negotiating over the cost of the product than I had ever wanted. I wanted to be creative and design without so much restraint, but in that particular job, I could not. Had I seen it more closely or seen the other ways in which I could become an artist, I believe I would have benefited.

The professional artists we visit on the tour will all talk about how they started their careers and how they have evolved over time, and they'll talk about the trials and tribulations of being an artist, and things they wish they would have known when they first began their career. The Explorers will also see the different ways in which the artists choose to work, what inspires them, the different kinds of mediums one can use and the things that can be created by these mediums. From handmade paper lanterns to digital illustration and animation, these Explorers will sure get their fill!


KOAA: What are the days like on your tours? Where do the kids sleep/eat?

Alicia: On riding days, we will be doing most of our sleeping in campgrounds. Each morning we will wake up, fix breakfast, have quiet time to draw or write in our travel journals, pack up, and get on the road. Along the way, we will take several breaks for water, food, photo ops, ice cream, grocery shopping, and to sightsee. Lunch is usually picnic style under a shady tree enjoying the beautiful scenery. There will be a brief art discussion and open table for anyone willing to share something they are working on or want to discuss. After lunch and appropriate time for digesting, we are back on the road. We like to take a moderate pace; not too fast, not too slow, let everyone feel comfortable.

Our afternoons and evenings are spent taking workshops, watching demos, visiting galleries, touring art schools, creating art or visiting local artists. By early afternoon, we are setting up camp in one of the many beautiful state parks along the route. Explorers will work in groups to plan, cook (with leader assistance), and clean up dinner. During the evening down-time, Explorers can work on their thesis or just hang out with their new friends. Campfires are a great way to wind down; during this time, we will play games and reflect on our day. S’mores or other campfire delights (I’ve got quite a few in mind!) will be consumed. Explorers sleep soundly in their tents.

On city days it is similar to riding days minus the mileage. Explorers will stay in award-winning hostels or hotels. There will be lots of fun sightseeing and exploring to be had in the cities of Vancouver, Seattle and Portland! Usually we take a little break from cooking and dine in the local restaurants for either dinner or lunch. Hostels offer great cooking experiences as well with all of the tools for cooking including an oven; it allows us to do a little more than when we are on the road. It’s fun to watch the teens get creative with food as their art form. Explorers always sleep well in the comforts of the hostel.


KOAA: From your applicants, how do you determine who is appropriate for the program? Are participants typically from a specific area or do you draw from applicants all over?

Alicia: While it makes sense to focus on applicants closest to the start or finish of the tour to save them on the cost of travel, we will accept applicants from anywhere as long as they are an appropriate fit for the program.

When we look at applicants, we are trying to find out if they, the teen, are interested in taking the tour or if it is just something that the parents/ guardians want them to do (sometimes its fun to relive our lives through our kids). We want them to be excited. We want them to have an interest in art. The application process isn’t difficult, it’s more of a process of getting to know them.


KOAA: Once accepted, how does a teen prepare for a tour?

Alicia: Once a teen has been accepted, we will share with them our prep packet. Inside the packet are useful links to bike maintenance (you don’t need to have knowledge before the trip, but it certainly doesn't hurt to learn beforehand), tips on how to prepare for longer rides, packing lists, safety rules, artists we will refer to during the trip, how to pack their bike and much more. We usually recommend that they take rides that are about 10-15 miles with their friends or family before the tour. It doesn't take long at all for teens to feel comfortable on their bikes once on the trip, though. Usually by day 2 or 3 they are old pros.


KOAA: What happens if a teen is injured or has a problem during the camp?

Alicia: All applicants must be medically insured during the trip. All leaders are trained and certified in CPR and First Aid. Accidents happen and usually they are minor. In the event that an Explorer is more seriously injured, professional medical attention will be sought, and they will be treated accordingly. If they are cleared by a physician and want to continue on the tour, they are welcome. If they are unfit to continue, we will take the appropriate steps with the parents/ guardian to arrange travel back home. Further details of this are outlined in our policy statement that parents will sign upon approval.

Parents/guardians and teen applicants will also sign the behavior policy upon approval into the program. They will agree to certain rules of conduct while on the trip, or be sent home at the cost to the parent. These rules are pretty standard: no alcoholic beverages, no smoking, no malicious behavior, no disobeying or disregarding safety rules, etc. Other problems are on a case-by-case basis. If a parent has a concern about something before the trip, I am more than happy to go over our policy with them and answer any questions they might have. It is our mission to make sure the Explorers are enjoying themselves and that they are safe.


KOAA: Has anything ever happened either during the tour or as an outcome that you, as tour leader, didn't expect?

Alicia: I never expected how hooked I would get on bike touring after my first tour! There is something about bike touring that you just don’t experience in anything else you do. It really gets a hold of you.


KOAA: What are the main benefits to teens coming out of the program? How does it typically change/affect them?

Alicia: Teens coming out of the program gain a better sense of self. They are usually more confident, have higher self-esteem, are more physically fit, are happier, and more energetic. They also have a greater sense of their world and different cultures. They typically want to continue their exploration and travel to new places, eat new things and meet new people. Artistically, they emerge more creative and they will be inspired to continue creating. 

For more information about Open Road Exploration, go to