Choosing the Challenge

By Adam Kaplan

My eldest son, Joshua, is currently off on one of those adventures that compel all of us parents to say, “When I come back in my next life, I want to come back as MY CHILD!” This year he took a “gap year” before starting college next fall. He spent the first half of the year working at the Boise Discovery Center (our local children’s science museum) to make some money to finance this current adventure. (And, yes, in Boise, Idaho, the science museum does have more advanced exhibits than ones that tout the incredible new invention of the automobile!) On February 1st, he left for a six-week walkabout/vision quest/corps of discovery tour all across Europe. This trip is entirely solo…no group, no BFFs, no organized program. Just Josh, a backpack, way too much wool clothing, the itinerary that he created in 20 minutes because his mom said he was not allowed to go unless he turned one in to her (!!!), and whatever funds his six-month $9/hour job wound up totaling.

While this is an adventure he was excited about, it is also an experience about which he was quite nervous. It took quite a while to get him to actually commit to taking the trip. He hemmed and hawed about whether he really wanted to do it and what part of the planet he should travel to. He seemed daunted by the planning required for such an excursion. He was frankly a little bit scared. He speaks some marginal Spanish (and to date has not entered the only Spanish speaking country on this trip!), but he does not know the language in virtually every country to which he has travelled and will be travelling. He has no real plans (see above fake news itinerary he presented us!), and he is completely on his own…forced to figure out everything without parental assistance (and this for a kid that loses his car keys when they are in his pocket!). The uncertainty of it all was a little nerve wracking…he had no idea what to expect. Yet, eventually, he decided that the trip was something he wanted to do….and that it was important that he do it. He CHOSE these challenges. He CHOSE to go somewhere he has never been before, to an alien landscape, to experience something new. He CHOSE to push himself to discover another part of himself.

Thus far the trip has gone well for him. Josh has described parts of his trip as difficult such as navigating train schedules, learning to be by himself, finding hostels in large cities, and finding ways to connect with other travelers who not only don’t always speak English but are also often at least a couple of years older than him. While he has described it as difficult at times, he also has commented that it is probably the best thing he has ever done in his life. (I am assuming he is not remembering the time I took him to a Utah Jazz playoff game!) He is having a great time and he describes the challenges that he is facing as both interesting and teaching him that he is more capable than he knew (and certainly more capable than his dad gives him credit for being!)


Because I only rarely divert my attention from all things Nebagamon to trivial things like family, his trip has gotten me thinking a great deal about our tripping program and the parallels. I know that for many of the boys that come to camp, the idea of a wilderness trip is indeed an intimidating one. For many of these boys the mere act of electing to come to camp in the first place pushed them very far out of their comfort zones of solo bedrooms, home-cooked meals tailored to their individual liking, and parents’ consistent attention and guidance. Now, on top of that major leap of courage, to go on trail they have to make the additional adjustment of temporarily moving out of their cabins and being exposed to the elements, eating food that is only as good as they prepare it, and sleeping in a tent that they themselves erect. In a very real way, they don’t speak the language and they will be in an alien land…the uncertainty of it all. They have no idea what to expect.

Yet, last summer we sent out nearly 80 trips. That means about 700 trip slots were filled with boys that, despite the uncertainty and fear, decided that these trips were something they wanted to do…and that it was important that they do it. Certainly, trips come with challenges. There are hills to hike up that feel never-ending. There are big lakes to paddle across with winds that seem to cruelly force canoes backwards despite the most intense paddling efforts. There are portages with mud puddles that seem impossible to cross. And then, sometimes, there is a mosquito or two.

But our campers CHOOSE these challenges. They CHOOSE to go somewhere that they have never been before, to an alien landscape, to experience something new. They CHOOSE to push themselves to discover what they are capable of. And, in virtually all cases, they come back and say that BECAUSE of those challenges (and the incredible camaraderie that develops from shared experiences…and, oh yeah, the gorgeous places they get to visit!), these trips wind up being the best experiences of their summers, and sometimes their lives. (So, you can save the money on those Jazz playoff tickets!)

Our tripping program is indeed one of the most special, educational, and life changing aspects of our special, educational and life changing Camp Nebagamon experience.

As we speak, Joshua is currently dealing with a very late train that will land him in Slovenia past the time when he is allowed to check into his hostel. He tells me he will figure it out and that I don’t need to worry…and I am sure he will.