Mailgabber — A 9th Grader Reflects

Mailgabber features writing by members of the Camp Family. This month, we present an excerpt from a school paper written by graduated 9th-grade camper Gabe Sloan-Garcia, as reflects on a poignant moment from his last summer as a camper. Interested in submitting for Mailgabber? Send submissions to Louis.

By Gabe Sloan-Garcia

Every summer since I was in 5th grade, I’ve gone to a summer camp in the North Woods called Nebagamon. It’s an all-boys camp in Wisconsin that specializes in making your summer the best parent-free summer possible. When I’m there, I forget Albuquerque and school and all the hardships that I face every year. I just live, every moment recognized and appreciated, in total and utter ecstasy. I love it there. It is my safe haven. It is the place where I can be myself.

Gabe (far right) returns from his Quetico Big Trip

Every grade, 2nd through 9th, gets its own arsenal of camping trips that they can go on. For 8th graders, a trip called Isle Royale is offered, a 14-day trek around an island in the middle of Lake Supperior. It was the best two weeks of my life, until I came back to camp as a 9th grader. As 9th graders, there is a kind of graduation ceremony in the form of a trip. It’s a 14-day canoeing trip in Canada called Quetico. It is the mark of becoming a man and I loved every second of it. My best memories, hardest challenges, and the proudest I’ve ever been of myself have all happened there. Every day is at least 20 miles of canoeing and portaging. It was hard for the first few days because our packs had over 10 days’ worth of food for seven fifteen-year-old boys stuffed inside of them. Each pack was at least 80 pounds not counting the weight of a canoe when we had to take a canoe and a pack (A.K.A double-packing) at the same time. We had some easier days and some harder days but on the 8th day, we came to our longest portage of the trip, a 1.5-mile beast filled with waist-deep mud, overgrown trees, and perilous descents and climbs. It was called “Eat em’ up” after a 150-foot-long mud pit that put you belly button deep in mud. Halfway through the mud pit, I felt like I was going to die. It was sweltering hot, my clothes were dirty beyond recognition, and my body was exhausted. The mud was taxing, physically and mentally. I would press forward for a couple of feet and then stop, breathing heavily and barely holding up the 80-pound canoe above my head. When it became almost unbearable, I heard laughing from behind me. My friend Nate had taken his pack off and was jumping into the mud from a vine on the bank of the mud river. He looked like he was having a blast as he swung and jumped into the mud. Soon enough, my friend Ben dropped his gear and joined him, their laughter drowning out the voice in the back of my head telling me to quit, to just fall so I put my pack down, rolling the canoe off my shoulders. I climbed slowly out of the mud and got in line to jump and, after Ben went, it was my turn. I grabbed the vine, stepped back, and sprinted, jumping without hesitation. I flew through the air, a few glorious seconds of freedom, before slamming into the mud. I immediately sank up to my thighs and slowly kept sinking. But I didn’t care. I was laughing too much, having completely forgotten my morose thoughts only moments before. The feeling of hitting the mud was jarring at first but then was like nothing I had ever felt before. I can only describe it as the feeling of pushing your hand into Oobleck but with your whole body. For about thirty minutes, we just played in the mud and then we pushed through the rest of the portage in under twenty minutes. We killed it just because of a little break with some fun and laughter.