This is an epic adventure, 40 days in the northern reaches of Quebec, travelling with traditional tools including wood-canvas canoes and fire irons for cooking over an open fire. It is a trip filled with unknowns for me, but there is one thing of which I’m sure: the 11 young women I’m travelling with, nine of whom are teenagers, will not see each other at their best. They are bug-bitten, cold and boob-deep in muskeg bog and have to carry an incredibly heavy canoe on their heads.
At the heart of this story is a summer camp – but not the kind most people know. This one is called Keewaydin, the second-oldest operating summer camp in North America. Its vision hasn’t changed since it was established in 1893: “a program focused on wilderness canoe tripping, with minimum time spent in base camp”. In its first 105 years only boys got the chance to go tripping, but in the past two decades girls have joined the ranks. I’m interested in how something established more than a century ago to promote manliness and “roughing it in the woods” can be relevant for teenage girls today. I wonder what kind of teenage girl would want to forgo life’s luxuries to spend a summer in the wilderness – but also know that, as a teenager, I probably would have been one of them.
Having spent the past 10 hours paddling, lumbering and lumping our canoes and gear, we are beat. At the start of a dank and buggy portage we have decided to bushwhack our own campsite and I have found a hummock with a spot just big enough to fit my tent lengthways between two large mossy rocks. As I pitch my tent, I wonder what the point of it all is. Where is all the fun? Why are these teenagers here? Then through the bushes I hear one of the girls exclaim, “It’s perfect!” In that moment I realise two things. First, the camp spot they have just found is anything but perfect. And second, it’s all about perspective. I really admire these girls for their cheerful optimism – and their non-stop singing.
One day, mid-paddle, there’s a seminal moment when I take off my bra, deeming it surplus to requirements. Adios chafing! Slowly, I realise I’m beginning to feel comfortable with being uncomfortable. I’m not resisting any more. I’m finding my groove. Despite the hard work, I begin to enjoy canoe travel and the rhythm of life on water. From the seat of my canoe I am often fully immersed in introspective feelings, which leads to a lightness on my shoulders and an ebbing of my woes. With days following a pattern, we find our rhythm. Life becomes simple and fundamentally essential.
This page was last updated on 2020.08.04