We talk quite a bit about the Canadian as a hallmark moment in a NSC camper's career. Talk to NSC alumni who took the Quetico trip and they will tell you about the impact that the trip had on them. Years later, we see many of our former campers writing their college essays on the Canadian and the profound impact that it had on them.
In my years at North Star, I have been fortunate enough to go on five Canadians, once as a camper many moons ago and four additional times as a staff member. It is not an overstatement when I say that those Canadian trips rank amongst the highlights of my camp experiences. As a camper, the Canadian pushed me in ways that I did not realize was possible. To a 15-year old from Deerfield, IL, the trip posed physical and mental challenges that were never on my radar. It also brought me together with a group of four cabin mates and two counselors (yes, we had seven on our Quetico trip) and really helped me understand the true meaning of teamwork and friendship. Over 20 years later I can still remember late nights in the tent, talking about nothing important as we shared in this common experience. I still have a copy of my cabin Canadian journal as well as a framed poster of myself and Micah Rosenbloom paddling on Cirrus Lake with the sun setting behind us.
It was 12 years between Quetico trips for me, but being able to be a counselor on the trip helped me really understand the impact of the trip. As a camper, your blinders are on and you see the tasks at hand, not the bigger picture. The counselor/trip leader perspective allowed me to take a step back and see the growth that each kid was experiencing on the trip. The Canadian isn't easy and each person hits their wall. It is in those moments, when fellow cabinmates are their to pick each other up and be a support that the true lifting happens. Each camper can carry a canoe or a pack (whether they realize it or not), but the real work is in lifting up your cabinmates when the wind isn't at their back.
I wanted to share a picture that I took on the Canadian in 2004.
This campsite is on Russell Lake at the base of Chatterton Falls (for those who have been on the Canadian, this is the same lake with the infamous billygoat portage). Adjacent to the campsite was a massive rock outcrop overlooking the lake below. During our time at the campsite on Russell Lake we spent quite a bit of time as a group on this rock. We watched the sunset, played cards and just hung out. I look at this picture as the essence of the Canadian. At the end of a long day before another long day ahead there is time for reflection and fellowship. There are no distractions, just a group of guys hanging out, literally in the middle of nowhere. In a world seemingly overloaded with cellphones and video screens, there are still placed that we can go and experiences that our campers can have that brings them back to what is truly important.
As the Pine Manor campers go to bed tonight, the last night of their trip, they are undoubtedly filled with a sense of accomplishment and satisfaction. I vividly remember the last night of each Canadian that I took, sitting around the campfire, passing out all the excess food (lots of cookies), and relishing the sense of euphoria and accomplishment. Even though there may be a few more miles to paddle and one or two final portages, with the end in sight, that last day was a true victory lap. Seeing each group come back always brings back Canadian memories for myself and the other NSC staff who went to Canada themselves. For our Canadian alums, tomorrow another 24 campers will follow in your footsteps as they return from Atikokan to NSC.