Adam's Summer Updates

Into the woods…

Greetings from Camp!

To be sure, this is high tripping season around here. One need only set foot into Rec Valley to notice that the din of the place has lessened a bit these days. As I write this, there are nearly 100 people out on various wilderness excursions. There are boys hiking along the Superior Hiking Trail. (Look it up…GORGEOUS!) There are others on their three-day cabin trips down the Brule and Namekagon rivers. (Look them up…GORGEOUS!) Still others are paddling in the Boundary Waters Canoe Area, considered by most to be as good of canoe country as there is on the planet. (Look it up…GORGEOUS!) We’ve got a crew conquering the Sleeping Giant Provincial Park in Canada. (Look it up…GORGEOUS!) And then there are our Lumberjacks on their Big Trips that pull them out of camp for as long as fourteen days in Quetico Provincial Park in Ontario. (Look it up…GORGEOUS!) (I guess my penchant for repetition is not limited to comedic strategy but also for braggadocios!)

If you can remember back to when I came to your home (or we shared that Zoom call) to talk to you about what your son can expect if he becomes a camper at Nebagamon, you will remember that I bragged a good deal about our wilderness tripping program. I advised your son to take advantage of the wilderness tripping opportunities offered at camp because this was likely the only time that these opportunities would present themselves to him. I mean, let’s be honest here, how often does someone appear at your dining room table and offer you a six-day canoe trip with your best friends in the world to a place where the water is so clean that you can sometimes literally drink straight from the lake? (Don’t worry…we make the choice to filter all the water these days.) I am betting it has been a while, but here, these offers come frequently.

If you will allow 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. Our wilderness tripping program is, in my opinion, unparalleled in the field. When staff members join our tripping program for the first time, most of them comment that it is much more “hardcore” than they expected. That is to say, what we do out there is truly a legitimate wilderness experience. If you think about the Nebagamon experience as an opportunity for boys to learn about independence, interdependence, and grit, 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, or in their canoes. On their trip, their shelter is only as good as they make it, their beds are only as soft as they prepare them, and their food is only as good as they cook it. There can be no better vehicle for fostering the aforementioned “soft skills” 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.

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 “Naked and Afraid” on television. In fact, for many of our boys, wilderness is nothing but the second-best water park in the Wisconsin Dells! (My family was always 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 unknown 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.

On the philosophical side, as a modern parent myself, my commitment to my children is complete. They tend to be to focus of both my days and nights. (Except for the two months a year when YOUR children are the focus of both my days and nights!)  When they were younger, I would plan their after-school lives, their meals, even their free time for them! And…I have always protected them…fiercely protected them. When things went wrong at school, I often intervened. When things went wrong with friends, I occasionally intervened. When things seemed wrong on the soccer team, I occasionally intervened. Even now that most of my own children have flown the nest, I still get involved at times when I shouldn’t. While I do this because I love my kids so much it hurts, I realize that I am making a mistake most of the time. All of this intervention on my part is problematic. You see, with all of this effort to protect them, they miss out on some things. When I called the coach, and the teacher, and their friends’ parents (!), I denied them the opportunity to truly be their own advocates…a huge loss (but an idea for another article sometime).

The other loss resulting from all of my protectiveness is that life becomes too easy for my kids. I cannot bear to think of my kid going through stress when I could alleviate that stress. I cannot bear to think of my kid going through struggles when I could solve those struggles. I cannot bear to think of my kid going through sadness when I can make that sadness vanish. So, too often, I step in and solve those situations for my children. And life is easy…BUT, what does that teach them? We all know that life will throw them curveballs and they need to have learned the skills necessary to resolve those curveballs on their own and be able to self-regulate the resulting emotions that are bound to come from those curveballs. And the best time to get that practice is while they are young, and the curveballs are generally a lot smaller than later in life.

One of the really interesting facets of our in-high-demand tripping program is that sometimes things are REALLY difficult on trips. Portages can be long and the air can be thick with mosquitos. Add a canoe on your back or two heavy Duluth packs, and it ain’t easy going. Those hills you have to mount with a 50-pound backpack can feel endless and practically vertical. But the boys learn they CAN do things that are hard; things that they (and perhaps their parents) never thought they were capable of. 

But perhaps the best part about the wilderness tripping program is the campfires…every night another campfire. Imagine all of the world’s problems that our boys solve sitting around a campfire. Imagine all of the sports arguments that rage. Imagine all the reliving of camp memories that go on. Everything looks different when you are sitting around a campfire. The world looks different, your friends faces look different, your whole outlook can look different.  There is just nothing like a campfire…

Camp’s wilderness tripping program is the one aspect of the summer when I can really relate with all of you readers. 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 finally know how you all feel!

All is well in the North Woods…