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Two years ago at summer camp, I hiked the better part of the Northville-Lake Placid Trail.
No one from camp had gone on this trip since some time in the seventies, so we had a certain air of bravado. We were a group of 14 and 15 year olds attempting to match the endurance of what were, according to camp lore, seven foot giants with beards like rhododendrons.
When it rains in the Adirondacks, water cascades in wholly indecent chunks. If you’re on a trail, you cover up as best you can and keep going; there’s naught else to do. Your pack absorbs water, as does anything in it that hasn’t been waterproofed. Boots will stay dry, but only if you keep to the shallow puddles. If you have to sleep in a tent, you aren’t going to enjoy it.
Operations commenced well and ended wet, tired, and with the unmistakable odor of a dozen teenagers who hadn’t bathed in a week.
To maintain the trails over swamp, long logs are split in half and laid in pairs across what the path ought to be. When wet, these logs are slippery, and when slippery, oversized football players have a tendency to slip on them.
Incidentally, one such footballer was on our trip. George slipped, bellowed in pain, and punched open a small tree. The new source pain didn’t seem to distract him much.
In these situations, standard procedure is for most able counselor and most able camper to find help. An hour or two later, once George was safely propped in a tent a off the path, my counselor Chad and I embarked on an eighteen mile stroll to the local ranger station; through mud and ferns and the occasional flooded stream.
Eighteen miles in post-rain dreariness is a long time. When we left, George was no longer writhing in agony, which did surprisingly little to alleviate our concern. The foliage wasn’t particularly interesting, which left us six hours of talking about anything and everything to distract us from the gravity of a wounded camper in a wilderness zone.
So I heard about paper chemistry, where a project was to make a boat sail from a few cubic inches of wood. About a professor who taught genetics but would call in teaching assistants for evolution—he didn’t hold with such nonsense. And there was Pearl Jam, Chad’s favorite band at the time, our shared appreciation of The Clash, and my favorites of Queen and Led Zeppelin.
The ranger station was empty, but we got a ride from a resident in the direction of town. Halfway there, a familiar van stopped us and we met the camp driver. Camp knew what happened to George about twenty minutes after we left: a hiker had come by with a satellite phone. We were driven to camp to spend the night, and the next morning were flown in by the same seaplane that would carry George out.
Walking out the second time, over a period of two more days, really rankled. But that was just something that had to be dealt with.
That trail was the nascence of a quiet confidence. The nagging voices in the back of my mind are farther now from casting doubt, and instead suggest that my potential is far from limited. I know myself a little better, know that I can handle tough situations. There was no overwhelming difficulty, just a task that needed doing.
And while I still don’t have a flowery beard, for a little while I felt a lot more than seven feet tall.
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