On a hot summer day last year I yearned for water. Not to drink, and not the chlorinated kind you float in at a backyard or community pool. No, I wanted nature. For me and my 9-year-old son. The idea of slipping kayaks through shoals began to overtake me. I could see us, floating past trees, watching green leaves wave in the wind, languid birds flapping in a blue, blue sky. I could feel the water on my skin, see it beading up and rolling off my arms. The problem was, I don’t own a kayak or life jacket, or know the first thing about it, other than you need someone downstream to give you a ride back up to your car. Truth is, I’ve always wanted to spend more time outdoors, but since I did not grow up in (or marry into) an outdoorsy family, I figured my fate was sealed. And I hated that meant my son’s fate was sealed, too.
That’s a common thread among people who pick up the phone and call Bill Andrews at Treeline Expeditions. For six years now, Bill has been helping other people who want to get outside but don’t know how, or don’t want to deal with the expense and inconvenience of all the gear that goes with an outdoor lifestyle. He does all the planning, takes you out on the water (or the woods) and best of all, brings you back safely.
You might think Bill grew up an Eagle Scout, but you’d be wrong. Oh, he loved the outdoors growing up, but says he just never felt like he gelled with the Boy Scout pack he was a part of. He felt the same way at school.
“I was always the quietest kid in school,” he says, sitting in the small warehouse in Homewood that serves as his office, a classroom, and storeroom for all the kayaks, mountain bikes and backpacks you need to venture outdoors. “I was voted least likely to raise my hand in high school.”
But when he tried an out-of-state, month-long expedition program as a teen, he found a confidence he didn’t feel anywhere else. “I found I had leadership qualities. It really brought me out of the shell I was in,” he says. He discovered that other boys actually listened to him, and the idea was planted, even then, that’s what he wanted to do for other kids.
After graduating from Samford University, he started teaching fifth grade at Mountain Brook Elementary, and he’s been there for 20 years, helping the quiet kids—the daydreamers, like he was—find a way out of their shells. Bill says he knew early on that he wanted to create an outdoors program for the kids he saw in school, kids so in need of what nature can give them, but then he fell in love with fellow fifth grade teacher Suzanne. He wanted to marry her and adopt her two children, and that meant putting his dream company on the back burner. Which he happily did.
Somewhere around six years ago, when their kids were in high school, the itch came back. “Suzanne saw me googling, and said, ‘Let’s give it a go.’” So, they made the leap. The couple, now Homewood residents, started by leading a week-long guided trip with high school-age kids to the Pecos Wilderness near Santa Fe, New Mexico.
“All the right pieces fell into place,” Bill says. The people on the trip didn’t know each other, and Bill enjoyed watching them learn to work together and respect each other’s strengths. They hiked and camped and ate together, and he had a lightbulb moment: “I thought, ‘Okay, this is going to work.’”
Treeline Expeditions has been putting together week-long trips ever since, including an annual spring break trip to the Bahamas (Suzanne’s favorite), where they kayak by day and spend nights on uninhabited islands. “We snorkel, spear fish and chill on the beach, Bahamas style,” Bill says.
They even put together custom-made outings for companies who want a bonding experience in nature. They just tell him whether they want a day trip or overnight excursion, and Bill puts it all together. He’s also a Wilderness First Responder, which means he’s had significant training in first aid for guides.
During the school year, since he still teaches school, Bill holds afterschool programs, taking kids hiking, mountain biking and kayaking—as long as it’s warm enough. He picks up kids from central pickup points in Homewood and nearby areas, gets them out in nature and returns them to his Treeline Expeditions office. If the weather is bad, they work on S.T.E.A.M (Science Technology Engineering Arts and Math) projects in the Treeline Expedition classroom.
At first, he considered their company motto “Outdoors, Active, and Unplugged,” but more and more he wants to serve families who find it hard to break away from their phones and social media, and sees his mission as getting people to “Unplug and Connect” to each other.
“When you can take all that other stuff away and it’s just time to play Yahtzee by the fire or it’s time to just chill in the hammock and just enjoy each other’s company and talk and learn—that’s so needed today,” he says.
Watching kids build confidence, and families put down their cell phones and spend time totally focused on each other is his favorite part. “That’s why we do what we do,” he says.
Treeline Expeditions Trips
- Kayaking on the Coosa Day Trip
- Full Moon Paddling Trips on the Cahaba
- Full Moon Hiking Trips
Expeditions (4+ days)
- Sea Kayaking in the Bahamas
- Moab/Colorado Mountain Biking
- Yellowstone National Park
- Pecos Wilderness, New Mexico
- Parent + Son/Daughter Trips
- North Carolina Mountain Biking
- Adventures: Hiking, geocaching, orienteering, outdoor skills, and hands-on science and STEM activities
- Paddling: An afternoon on the Cahaba padding and swimming in this jewel of Alabama
- Mountain Biking: Pedal the trails at Oak Mountain State Park and Red Mountain Park
- Tinkering: Hands-on STEM science and engineering activities including coding, robotics, and other problem-solving scenarios
An introduction to leadership & problem-solving for businesses, parents, teachers, coaches, counselors, or anyone else who wants to enhance connections with others while teambuilding out in nature
To learn more, visit treeline-expeditions.com.