Alumni recall the stories behind the names of their big trips:
SURVIVAL BIG TRIP (1964)
We were going to make CN history by putting into Quetico Provincial Park on the Gunflint Trail and then taking out at the Boundary Waters Canoe Area on the Sawbill Trail. Our trip was going to encompass the two historic canoe country access roads.
The weather was against us from day one. As we crossed the Saganaga Lake expanse, an annoying headwind became a howling, threatening force by afternoon. There were periods when it was clear that we were making zero headway. It was an anxious time for the counselors, who were usually not much given to anxiety. We finally got the slight let-up we needed, allowing us to struggle into Cache Bay and set up a campsite. Day two was our best weather window, but we couldn’t take advantage of it. Tony Frankel popped a get-this-boy-to-a-doctor respiratory infection, and we had to sit tight on Cache Bay while Dave Lass backtracked to Grand Marais Hospital with Tony.
On day three, the fierce wind returned and we were pinned down at Cache Bay for the better part of a week. It dropped below freezing early one morning, and dusted us with snow for a few minutes; the campers slept through it. When the wind subsided and we were able to make our escape, the rains began, day after day. We found a way to call CN and make arrangements to be picked up at Moose Lake. We only managed to cover about half the distance envisioned in our robust original plan.
THE OKEFENOKEE BIG TRIP (1976)
Planning a Big Trip involved many things: food, route, understanding the capabilities of the campers. Of course, once on trail there are many unknowns. On the trip I led, I was quite certain I would have a wonderful and memorable experience. Great kids, great route, and most of the weather looked great. But then, once you get out into the wilderness, seemingly small errors build to larger events. On the map, what looked like a perfectly matched stream towards a portage ended up being a bog-filled swamp adventure. Once we were convinced this stream was in fact not leading to the portage, our 90-minute trek had to be reversed. One could have easily viewed this diversion as an error, but we decided to embrace the bog. I mean how often do you spend quality time waist deep in a swamp while at camp? Hence, The Okefenokee Big Trip.
DARK SIDE OF THE LOON BIG TRIP (1977)
We did two mammoth night paddles on the trip. One was the entire length of Agnes. During these paddles, the loons were singing the whole time. Spectacular! A couple of days later while sitting around the “Have a smoke” portage, discussing what to name the trip, Steve Rivkin mentioned the Pink Floyd album that was so popular then (and now)—Dark Side of the Moon. Tim Werthan put the loon in place of moon, and we knew that we had the name. The plaque was easy. Matches the album cover.
In 1982 Camp offered a “Long Trip” for the first time, a 27-day canoe adventure to Canada’s Quetico Provincial Park. Nine of us went. It was the longest wilderness trip Camp had ever offered, and it turned out to be an incredible experience for everyone. We named our trip TRIP. We wrote TRIP in extra large letters, on a short, but much wider than normal Big Trip plaque. We cut the plaque extra wide to symbolize the length of our expedition. We also wrote some other information in smaller font, including our names, a number of hard-to-believe things that we claimed happened while out, and our oft repeated Long Trip slogan: “We Paddle, We Eat, We Sleep.”
Partly we named it TRIP because we thought that would make for an amusing and unique name. But more than that, the 27-day experience was a huge deal for all of us. It was the most significant undertaking of our lives at that point. We saw amazing sights, endured many challenges, and experienced some very high highs and low lows. We were all changed by our time on Long Trip. In the end we felt no name could convey the nature of our experience and do it justice. Once someone suggested TRIP, we quickly rallied around it.
THE MURPHY’S LAW BIG TRIP (1983)
My first trip to Isle Royale was on my eighth grade big trip—the 1978 “Out Foxed Big Trip,” named for the foxes that made their way into one of our backpacks and ate the GORP right after we landed on the island. When I returned to Isle Royale four years later as a junior trip staff counselor, our senior counselor convinced the rest of us that washing mold off beef sticks on day 11 of the trip would make them safe to eat. Naturally, most of us started vomiting in the middle of the night all over the camp ground called Daisy Farm—thus it became the “The Curse of Daisy Farm Big Trip.” So when I had a third opportunity to lead a trip to Isle Royale as a senior counselor, I figured it would be a perfect 13 days, just based on statistics.
And it was, until the large metal hull boat that tendered us from the Grand Portage, MN to Windigo, Isle Royale landed on the island. From then on, as our trip name implies, everything that could go wrong, did. But who cares? The low point of the trip was an illness that tore through the group and forced several days of base camp. David Hirsch, the junior counselor, eventually got such a high fever that he had to be flown out on a sea plane, and Scott Diamond was flown in to replace him. The most dramatically ill was Mike Gordon, who was very allergic to a bee or hornet that stung him. I remember holding the epi-pen, ready to inject, but not administering it because Mike was breathing just fine. With him being sick plus the allergic reaction, he looked like death warmed over. All that being said, it was still lots of fun, and the majority of the guys on this trip are still life-long friends!
I NEED A MAALOX BIG TRIP (1989)
The name was chosen because each member of the trip, including Jon Star and me, got some sort of stomach ailment during the trip, and it seemed that more days than not, someone was dealing with these gastronomical issues. This made some of the days very long, especially when camping and paddling in Quantico where there are no boxes to go to the bathroom at campsites (unlike the BWCA in the U.S.). We almost went through all of the toilet paper, all of the antacids, and all of the diarrhea medication in the medicine kit. The source of all of the problems was two things: First, we caught and ate a lot of fish. However, I remember one night Jon and I tried to take various ingredients (including some dried vegetable packets and whatever else we had leftover) and make a fish stew because we were at the end of the trip and everyone was tired of pasta and Rice-A-Roni after ten days. Second, we had another meal in the middle of the trip that consisted only of dehydrated ingredients, including dehydrated tofu and beans. This also did not go over well with our stomachs.
END OF THE RAINBOW BIG TRIP (2000)
I was lucky to lead a handful of Big Trips, and usually the weather in Quetico in early August is perfect—day time temps in the high 70s and overnights in the mid 60s. But August 2000 was a different story; it was wet and rainy. Of all the Quetico trips that I was part of, the 2000 Big Trip was the bleakest weather-wise, and I wasn’t the only one to notice it. John Kramer was the senior trip staffer, and he agreed. Our six campers were all relatively experienced trippers, and they too were surprised by how wet it was. I think I ended up reading five or six books on trail because of how much time we had to spend in our tents to stay dry. Despite the weather, the trip itself was not dreary. Everyone was in good spirits, and there was that unavoidable bittersweet feeling of ‘the end being in sight’ that characterizes so many ninth-grade Queticos.
In any case, around day 10 or 12, the weather finally broke, and we were paddling down a small lake in the southern part of the Park, somewhere near Sarah Lake. As the sun came out, we saw a rainbow that looked like it emanated directly from the water—we actually got to see the end of the rainbow. Nothing comes that easily though, and right where the light met water we saw a different site: where there should have been a pot of gold, there was a dead moose lying in the water. The campers thought the moose was headless (though, in hindsight, I doubt it). As I recall, all of us thought that the image summed up the bittersweet feelings we had about the trip—enthusiasm despite the bad weather, anxiety and excitement for the end of the campers ninth-grade summers, early nostalgia for something that would be soon gone.