Adam's Summer Updates

Happy Trails

Camp is a different kind of a place today. As of about fifteen minutes ago, when a Swamper cabin trip departed, there are 113 kids out in the wilderness…“On Trail,” as we like to say. With wilderness experiences ranging from short cabin trips that are intended to give our youngest campers their first tastes of living in the woods, to classic journeys into the Boundary Waters Canoe Area, to canoe trips on some of the beautiful and scenic rivers in the area, to our more ambitious Big Trips that involve campers spending two full weeks either in the woods of Canada’s Quetico Provincial Park or Isle Royale National Park in the middle of Lake Superior, this is the time of year when our tripping program really shines.


If you will indulge me to toot our own horn a bit, I think that the opportunity for our kids to get a chance to spend so much time out in the woods is one of the more truly unique and wonderful items on the menu for our campers every summer. If you think about the Nebagamon experience as an opportunity for boys to learn about independence and self reliance, then there is no clearer embodiment and enactment of these goals than the wilderness tripping program. A wilderness trip involves a group of folks venturing off into the woods with absolutely everything that they need to survive on their backs, on their bikes, or in their canoes. When you are off on a trip, your shelter is only as good as you make it, your bed is only as soft as you make it, and your food is only as good as you make it. There can be no better vehicle for fostering independence and self reliance than this. And the boys absolutely eat it up. Our tripping program has never been as popular and in as high demand as it is today.


If I can get a bit academic, a couple of years ago, I read a book called Boys Adrift by Leonard Sax. While I am not sure I wholly subscribe to all of his points in the book, there is one point that really seemed to me to have great relevance and meaning. He spoke about how boys today suffer to some extent from the lack of ways for them to be “macho” in socially acceptable ways. The role models of this machismo today often are extraordinarily violent movie stars, athletes with dubious extra-curricular lives, and often vulgar music icons. The adults in boys’ lives make it clear to them (appropriately in my opinion) that these are not desirable embodiments of what “macho” should be.


On the other hand…wilderness trips are the perfect vehicle to allow the boys to explore this. After all, what is more tough and macho than climbing a summit with a 50 pound backpack, or biking a particularly hilly stretch of 40 miles with a loaded up bicycle, or carrying a canoe over a mile long portage, or braving a thunderstorm when out in the woods? To watch the boys puff up with pride when describing their “on trail” challenges and accomplishments is a wonderful thing. In my mind, this is “macho” at its best and most desirable form.


Additionally, our tripping program provides opportunities for boys to undertake some of the classic camp “safe risks” that we talk about so often here. I am sure that it comes as no surprise to many of you that many of our boys come from communities and situations in which the concept of “wilderness” is nothing but that….a concept. They sometimes look at photos of the wilderness, sometimes are forced to read writings about the wilderness in school, and sometimes watch “Man versus Wild” on television. In fact, for many of our boys Wilderness is nothing but the second best water park in the Wisconsin Dells! (My kids are Great Wolf fans….) For these kids, the idea of heading off into the woods with nothing but the packs on their backs, or the gear stowed in their canoes is….frankly…..scary. The wilderness is legitimately scary to them. It is where there are animals, bugs, exposure to the elements, and…well….the unknown. And we all know that the unknown can be scary. For these boys, the mere act of signing up for the trip in the first place is a huge deal. Simply putting their names down on that list takes a good deal of courage. And then, when they head out into the wilderness, some of them are afraid. And when they return……having conquered the animals, the bugs, the elements, and their fears…..these boys feel invincible. Even if they decide that wilderness tripping is not their thing, they feel a huge sense of accomplishment. Because facing fear head on and defeating it is indeed a huge accomplishment……


But perhaps the best part about the wilderness tripping program are those campfires….. every night another campfire. Imagine all of the world’s problems that our boys will solve sitting around a campfire. Imagine all of the sports arguments that will rage. Imagine all the reliving of camp memories that will go on. Here is the one time during the summer that I am like all of you. I need to live vicariously through the stories I am told about the trips and the places my imagination takes me as I think about them. I tell you, it is frustrating. I wish I could go…. I guess I know how you feel!


Our smaller numbers in camp also create some great opportunities for the boys that are here. That M.O.C.A. (our cooking program) horse-n-goggle that is normally so huge, becomes much smaller. There are ALWAYS spots in riflery, no matter what period you want to attend. And the feeling of an even smaller camp just deepens the already great feeling of community that exists here. Opportunities abound…


All is well in the North Woods…