Where to even begin, about 5 months ago, I was trolling around the Internet, checking out No Barriers website, looking at all of the amazing outdoor adventures being had by people of all abilities. Somewhere, I came across a program called Push America, which was offering a paddling trip in Wisconsin at the Apostle Islands, and Superior National Lakeshore. Recalling my paddling trips with and for UVMs Outing Club, I decided to get more information about this event, I registered almost immediately, after writing to the organization, and receiving an emphatic email about the planned trip. As soon as I registered, I expected to get a fundraising packet. Instead, I got a t-shirt, and a letter about the organization. At that time, I was focused on making my trip to Colorado come together, and neglected to absorb any of the initial treading about the organization. Months passed, and I realized I should figure out how to get myself to Minneapolis to meet the group inJuly. About that time, I received an email declaring that since I'd been the first participant to sign up, they had funding, To provide my airfare. A week later, I received a ticket to MN, which was one of the most surreal experiences, to have plane ticket appear in my inbox. It was at that point, I freaked out about not having done enough research, and started to look more into the organization. I never had any bad feelings regarding my interactions with the organization, but the immensely overwhelming concern from my friends and family, made me feel like I needed to not rely on my faith in the positive experiences I'd had with dealing with this organization.
As the date got closer, I got more and more excited, I just didn't make a difference to me whether or not I personally knew anyone. If you can tell someone who you are, they are more inclined to tell who they are. Obviously, it's not this easy in every situation, but in my experience with people who enjoy the outdoors, it's much less intimidating.
I'd been told someone named Abbi, would meet me at my gate when I landed, and I stepped out of the gate and found myself in. Front of Kyle, who I recognized, as he'd been the point person of this entire program, and had helped me with my travel plans. I was so relieved to see someone I recognized, I gave him a gig hug, and then, realizing I didn't really know him, I felt like a creeper, and apologized, which wasn't necessary, but I always feel like I need to qualify my actions, when I'm out in the world. Let's face it, I've missed a lot, these past few years.
Once we had my bag, I met the rest of the people who'd arrived, Lonnie and Abbi. Lonnie was twirling Abbi around while singing the the theme song from 'Top Gun'. I have to admit, you might as well make the most of the most of the time you spend waiting. Lonnie was great with that throughout the entire weekend, and had a real ability to get all of the ladies to dance with him. But seriously, when a man is twirling you around, singing 'you've Lost that lovin' feeling', how can you say no? Slowly, others trickled in, and we made our way to the van labeled 'Wilderness Inquiry,' tossed our bags into the trailer and climbed in. We spent the next 4 hours in the van, getting to know each other, and sleeping. I will never know why sitting around, doing nothing, is so exhausting.
Once at camp, we met the people who'd elected to drive, and I recall being relatively surprised by the enormous variance of people there. Although, despite seemingly insurmountable differences, we all got to know one another pretty well. And, desperately hope we're able to pull off a reunion of this crew.
I went to sleep immediately after dinner that night. I'd opted not to bring a sleeping pad, as I'd read paperwork stating, I could use on of the camps. Unfortunately, I didn't realize the difference it would make, until I woke up the next morning, every joint aching. I officially realized I was no longer a spry kid in that moment. Oddly, I was one of the first ones awake and ready to start the day (usually, I'm one of the last) and I eagerly wolfed down oatmeal, as if it was my first meal in 3 days. And, even though I'd been one of the first to rise, I was probably the last to finish eating. That was Friday morning, and after breakfast we headed down to the warehouse to get outfitted for wetsuits and life preservers. I always seem to forget what an enormous difficulty it is to squeeze yourself into a wetsuit, I think I needed 3 people's help, to pull it on, and zip it. The cohesiveness of this group was incredible. In the past 5 years, I've never really had a group outdoor experience where I felt so at ease, with the level of help I was receiving. This entire trip was challenge by choice, which meant if I needed assistance, I received it, when I asked. And no one made me feel guilty, or like an imposition if I wanted to try to get something for myself. My tent mates, Abbbi, and Jen,were both fully abled young women, and yet, extremely patient with my need for independence. Everyone was extremely courteous and mindful of each others needs, but not overly so.
After fitting, we all headed to the lakeshore for what is referred to as a tip test. This is is when you get into a kayak, and tip it over. This is a common safety precaution to make sure that everyone is able escape from a submerged kayak, before you go out into the open waters. Alex was my tip-test partner, and protocol is to ask each other if you're okay, when you come up. But, I stood up, and was immediately distracted by the choking/coughing sounds Alex was making. I stood there frozen, knowing that if I did need to help him, I might not be big or strong enough to get water out of his lungs. I hated watching him struggle to catch his breath, and expectorate all of that water, because I unexpectedly tripped, wile walking through a river recently, and my face went in the water, when I wasn't expecting it to. You know you're fine, but your body makes you cough so violently, it makes your lungs ache. Not cool. I just wanted to help, but there's nothing to do, but watch. A minute probably went by, and he was good, and we all retreated to lunch, which was deli meat, sliced veggies , hummus, and bread. And of course cookies, which no one is shy fighting about. After lunch, we parted ways. I had ended up on the canoeing trip that day. I don't really care for canoes, or paddling them, because I have a random nerve impingement problem, in my right shoulder. I've had this problem forever. A doctor I saw, when I was 15 called it bursitis, and told me not to bear weight above my head, and that there is nothing they can do. I learned to climb without putting weight on my arms above my head, and never thought about it again. Except, the rare time I've found myself in a canoe, it just burns, and I get upset from the pain, and also because I'm not pulling my weight. My standards are ridiculous, because i try to be be patient with others needs , but I an never patient with my own needs, especially now, that they're different. Seeing how we all had to find our commonalities on this trip, helped me to realize I need to do more of that in my actual life. Look for the commonalities, as opposed to the reasons why I will stand out. One of the most profound life skills I learned in college, was to jump in full throttle, to situations I believed in. I will always believe in outdoor recreation, and I hope that I will never turn my back on an experience simply because I don't know anyone prior to going. 5 days ago, we'd never met these folks, today, I'd gladly help any one I met on that trip, in every way I could. That is what I love about outdoor experiential education. It puts the human element back in your life, because you have to work together to accomplish goals.
I'm willing to bet we all got in touch with the kids we once were, sitting around the campfire that night, regaling our most embarrassing or ridiculous outdoor/travel tales. I have a plethora of them, from my days at UVM, with the Outing Club, as well as traveling in central America and Europe. Being on the poot, has never been a strong suit of mine, and I was able to tell my tale, although, I hate how self conscious I've become , about how my voice sounds. In theory, I have a plethora of the most ridiculously embarrassing stories, from on and off the trail, from my days at UVM. My friend remember every stupid moment I had, I remember nothing. Convenient, I suppose, but that combined with my voice makes me the worst storyteller imaginable, at least, in physical person. After a grand night around the camp fire, we all retired to our tents. That night, I thoroughly appreciated the therma rest, I'd borrowed from the camp.
The next morning, it was dark, and gray, and also, our last day to paddle. We all went for a gander at the National Lakeshore Visitor center. Which is, ironically, not really even within view of the lake. Pretty odd location, if you ask me.
Upon arrival, we realized that if we filled out a survey, we could get a free postcard. The lure of a free artifact speaks to me every time. However the woman at the desk grew busy with others, and I eventually grew tired of waiting for her, and walked to the postcard rack to help myself to one. At this point Abbi walks by holding a postcard, and ask to seer what she picked out. Her postcard was a picture of the brown building were standing in. This is when I realized I wasn't meant to help myself to a free postcard. Oops. Instead, I did help myself to a free coffee, and stepped in to the film area. Strangely, I was immediately bored watching logs in a river, listening to Lake Superiors Historical facts. This prompted me to dump my coffee, and move on to something I found entertaining. Fortunately, that's not difficult, as I began to peruse the exhibits. I love the kid oriented exhibits, as I'm needlessly amused by holograms, and intense magnification, just like I was, at the age of 7... But, at least I have reason; my brain hasn't been visually capable of understanding those types of images, and now I spend as long as it takes for my brain to make sense of these images. I'm sure that seems boring, but it never is, as I'm aware of what a miracle it is that I can see, period. On that note, I felt so blessed to no longer need my glasses or contacts, Yayy!
After lunch, in the visitor center, we parted ways, and it was my turn to go kayaking. I partnered with one of the Wilderness Inquiry leaders, Clancy. I really enjoyed being able to hear the little facts, and curious bits of knowledge about the lakeshore. I also hoped it might mean we'd be a bit more adventurous than other boats. I didn't count on how adventurous though, until I found myself lying flat on the kayak, with about 3 inches between my face, and the rock tunnel we were squeezing through. That was pretty awesome! Although, slightly uncomfortable as I couldn't raise my head to see how much further we had to go. When we came out, it was such a relief to sit up. Around that time another participant became extremely distressed, as the red rock formations seemed to illicit PTSD for him, in regards to trauma he'd experienced during his time in Iraq. Fortunately, his boat-mate, Abbi, was able to take over, and paddle them both back to the beach. In moments like that, you realize how extraordinary, this group is, for pursuing their dream of bringing all abilities to an equal playing field.
When we got back, I was immediately dismayed that our adventure was basically over, at least, the water part.
We returned to camp for dinner, and, later s'mores around the campfire while reflecting on the weekends events. Sharing our highlights, and favored memories of the weekend. This was a real challenge for me, as I enjoyed every moment in equal parts. I can't recall walking Into a group of unknown people, who were so genuinely accommodating.