Kids in the Woods


(This 858th Buffalo Sunday News column was first published on September 2, 2007.)


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Trippers -- Dave Chaves on the right


With few exceptions we have become indoor people with our only connection to the world around us through electronics and as spectators. Fortunately, a few organizations and a few individuals are mounting activities to break into this negative aspect of modern society.


The admirable Dave Chaves, who earlier this year led some of us tottering old fogies on a canoe trip to Algonquin Park, has now taken a group of teenagers there, an even more daunting undertaking. The youngsters are members of the Lancaster Presbyterian Church youth group. With Dave and the eight kids went Pastor Kelly Negus, like most of the kids a first timer, and five other leaders.


The trip was for four days and took them from Canoe to Burnt Island Lakes.


Dave asked the kids to write their impressions before and after the trip. As expected, I find their responses enlightening. Although I have omitted repetitive answers and shortened others, I hope that what I have retained will communicate their reactions.


Before the trip they responded:


What do you expect this trip to be like? To be eaten by black flies, sleep on the ground, lose ten pounds. Boring cause my friends won't be there. Tiring. Bugs galore, sweating and raw shoulders. Really exciting. A break from reality. Test my limits of mind (having no bathrooms) and strength (carrying the canoe and my pack with everything I own in it.)


How do you feel about this trip? Lots of unknowns, but that's okay; the more I'm outside my comfort zone, the more comfortable it becomes. I don't want to go; I'd rather be with my boyfriend. My parents made me come but I don't think it will be all bad, well except for the toilets. It's going to be fun with friends bonding as well as God and nature. Excited and a little scared.


What do you expect to see? Wildlife: moose, wolf, bear, fish, turtle, duck, geese, whatever. Sun on the water and feel fresh breezes in my face: that'll be wonderful. Lots of water, bugs, and small animals, maybe a moose. A whole lot of nature and a whole little good food and electricity.


And on the way back they answered:


Was the trip what you expected? It was way better. I knew about the bugs but not my improved friendships. It was so fun. A little better. Far better than expected. We had real quality time with the people around us causing friendships to grow stronger. Yeah, totally, maybe a lot better cause we got to eat chocolate pie and really tasty foods while chillin' with friends. I loved this trip; the lessons our pastor gave were just incredible. It was heaven staying up late, looking at the sky with friends and jumping off rocks into freezing water! Amazing! Much better. The worst part: the bug bites, especially when I took trips to the treasure chest. Canoeing was tiring and sweaty but that made cliff jumping (into water) that much better.


What did you learn about the wilderness? Bug bites really itch, going to the bathroom in a box is a pain, but the view is spectacular and loons are lovely and other wildlife too. Raccoons like to eat human food. Flies don't let up and the wind's always in our face.


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I can do it.


What did you learn about yourself? I can lift far more than I thought. I can't go without talking to my friends and cd player. I'm a lot stronger than I thought. I didn't think that I could paddle a canoe and keep up with everyone and I didn't think I could do the 3/4 mile portage. I can make new friends and can only paddle on one side for soooo long. To try things I never thought I'd have the guts to do. I may look like a wimpy girl, but wait till you see me paddle a canoe or one-man a canoe along portage trails.


Would you ever do this again? Yes, I definitely would, but I would bring tissues. Only if my friend went. Heck yes! In a heartbeat!


These responses reinforce my own taking wilderness newcomers on such trips. The experience can be an extraordinary contribution to their moral and spiritual education.-- Gerry Rising