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We came as strangers, and left as friends
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By Tauna

We asked participants to write about their experience on Girl Scout canoe trips through Lakes and Pines' Northern Lakes Canoe Base in Ely, MN.  Here is what Janice Hamachek (Girl Scouts of Manitou; Participant 2008, 2009, 2010; Guide-In-Training 2011, 2012) had to say:


We came as strangers, and left as friends.

 

As I drive up in the van, I am surrounded by people I have known for only a couple hours. We make small talk, but no deep conversations. After this ride, I know everyone’s name, where they are from, and a couple random facts about them. As we make the final turn into camp, I see the Northern Lakes Canoe Base and the road is filled with a bunch of people jumping, screaming, and waving. I think to myself, “What have I signed myself up for?”

 

After unloading the van, we move into the Program Center. They give us a little time to talk at first, but it is still awkward. I look around who to sit with and I decide to sit by the people I sat by on the van. They seemed pretty nice. We don’t say much and it is small talk. The people who were lining the roads come into the Program Center. They introduce themselves, and I realize that they are from all over, just like this group of people is. I notice how close they seem to be, but I think that is farfetched from how close this group will be. “They have spent more time together than we will,” I think to myself. Then, they say that I will be spending the next 10 days in the woods with these people, and I will be led by two guides. As I look at them, they seem like they have two completely different personalities.

 

That night, we crawl into our tents. We divide up randomly, because none of us are close enough to make up our mind, besides the two people that came together. We get into the tent and arrange ourselves. We keep everyone’s stuff separated because we don’t want to touch anyone else’s stuff. We sit and talk, and begin to find out more about each other. We begin to learn about every one’s family and where they came from. I begin to find similarities between us, and it is nice to know this. Eventually, we all fall asleep.

 

The next morning we are woken up with songs sung by the energetic guides. As I crawl out of my sleeping bag, I am half asleep. I have no idea how people can be so awake this early in the morning. As I get ready, I begin to talk to the person that I slept next to. We don’t say much, but it is understandable because neither of us are awake. We go to breakfast, and we begin to talk more to everyone else. We find out how they slept, and how much experience they have had with this stuff. I learn that no one has done much, just like I have. Then, the guides tell us we will be having a training session today, so it does not matter that we do not know what to do!

 

While we are doing our training, I begin to get a feel of how everyone else is going to do. When it is my turn to put the canoe on my shoulders, I do not think I can do it. The canoe looks heavy, and I do not think I am strong enough to do it. When I am about to say I can’t do it, someone whispers to me, “I know you can do it!” I walk up to the canoe, and get it put on my shoulders for the first time. It feels heavy and I can’t balance it properly. As I take steps, I stumble. However, the person who told me I can do it once again tells me to keep going, that I am doing a great job. Everyone else chimes in, and I continue on. I take a couple more steps and I feel more confident. As training continues, I talk more to everyone and learn more about them. By that night I am talking to everyone. I still am not 100% comfortable with everyone but it has improved since the night before. When we go to bed that night, everyone is talking and we have to be told multiple times to go to sleep because we have a long day ahead of us. It is the first day of our trip and we need to be well rested.

 

The next morning, we begin our actual canoe trip. I am extremely nervous, but I don’t show it because I don’t want to seem weak in front of anyone else. When the guides ask us who wants to do what, no one volunteers. Everyone just stares at them. Eventually they assign jobs, and we begin our trip. Some of the staff we met yesterday will stay back at the base. We say goodbye and begin to paddle away. With three of us in each canoe I begin to learn more about the other people. I learn about where they go to school in San Diego and Washington D.C. I find it interesting because my school has less people in it than they have in their grade. When we get to our first portage (a trail between two lakes) everyone gets out. People begin to volunteer for the easy jobs, and I do too because I do not think I am ready to carry the canoe. I volunteer to be a partner for the person carrying the canoe to help them out if they need it. When they need help I help them, and I continued to encourage the whole time. Eventually, we had to switch because the person carrying the canoe was tired. Even though I didn’t think I could do it, with encouragement I was able to. As I got to the end of the portage, I felt extremely accomplished. I felt a bond to the person who helped me through because we had pushed through it together. The first lunch was interesting. Everyone was still careful about interrupting each other and putting input into others conversations. By the time we got to our first camp, we were talking more and remembering what happened throughout the day.

 

The next couple of days were just like the first, but better. We saw some amazing sights, went through some difficult portages, and had some long paddles. However, we did it all together. No one person did more than another and no one’s job was less important. When someone felt they were not doing enough to help because they were not strong enough to do something and started crying, everyone tried their best to make that person feel better. We encouraged her and made sure that she felt like she was contributing the same as everyone else. Everyone contributed in their own way, and it each was different. We all found what we were best at, and everyone encouraged each other in the jobs that they did.

 

Layover day, the day without paddling, was a real bonding time for everyone. After sleeping in this day, we made brunch. We cooked over the fire and even though it took longer than normal, we told stories and kept it interesting. We took turns and all chipped in. We went swimming, played cards, and ate all day. We bonded over this telling stories and finding out more about each other. We had fun together and helped each other forget about all the pressures that we had left in the outside world.

 

After layover day, everyone was well rested again and ready to go. We all were ready to get back on the water, and it showed once we left.  We made great time, and had a blast. Everything seemed to be going great, until I tripped on a portage. My nose was bleeding and I was crying. When this happened, everyone ran over and made me laugh while the guides worked on getting it patched up. Throughout the day, everyone checked up on me making sure I was still okay. It was nice to know that I was with people who cared about me. The nights that continued, we stayed up with the campfire looking at the stars in awe.  We couldn’t believe the beauty.

 

The last day on the water was a sad one. No one wanted to say it, but everyone knew that we were to be separated later that day. However, we all kept positive and talked so much. Our last portage, we remembered how much trouble we had on our first one. We laughed about how far we have come, and how much easier it was now. Everyone was fighting over who could carry the canoe, because everyone wanted to do it one last time. We were cheery across the portage laughing, singing, and poking fun at one another. When we finished the portage, we were back on Moose Lake, which is where we started. We made it to our last planned stop to have lunch. We had a very interesting lunch which was comprise of many leftovers from the trip. As we began our final paddle, we were happy and cheery! We took our time coming in and it took longer than usual because of wind, but we laughed through it and pushed on. We had to make an extra stop to switch paddlers because we were tired, but we made it in! We sang the song we wrote and began to tell stories of what had happened with our trip. We seemed to have more energy than we had the whole trip! We had gotten so close and talked with everyone that was there.

 

The time came when we had to go. It was full of tears and was very sad. As we went our separate ways, we vowed that we would stay in touch and that somehow we would see each other again. When we got home, the pictures were sent back and forth, along with many, “Remember when’s.” We talked about meeting up again, but the idea seemed like it would be impossible. However one year later, our dream became reality when 5 out of 7 of us went back as Guide in Training’s at the camp. They probably heard us for miles screaming when we were reunited again. I began this trip along with a bunch of strangers, and left with a bunch of friends.

 

Want in on the fun? Join us on a Girl Scout canoe trip (registration form and session information is on page 12 of our Resident Camp and Wilderness Canoe Tripping Guide.

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