From 2010 till 2017, I spent my summers at Keewaydin on Lake Dunmore, a rustic sleepaway camp with no electricity in our tents or access to technology. Keewaydin originally strove to familiarize its campers with canoeing and hiking trips, two activities that are still central to its mission today. My experience as a camper culminated in a 17-day canoeing trip in Verendrye Park in Québec, one of the best experiences of my life. However, my relationship with Keewaydin did not end there.
After 8 years of being a camper—and a total of about 80 days in the wild—I still yearned for longer, tougher, and more direct experiences in nature. Keewaydin’s Wilderness program, which runs month-long canoe trips deep in the Canadian forest, presented itself as a perfect opportunity for me.
On July 1, I, along with nine other trippers and two staff, began that canoeing trip in eastern Québec, near Labrador City. The trip spanned 30 days, during which we covered about 400 miles and traversed massive swaths of territory previously untouched by other Keewaydin Wilderness trips.
Because of the exploratory nature of this journey, we spent many days guessing what whitewater could be run safely or speculating whether it would be a day of portaging or paddling. With that uncertainty, though, came an awesome amount of responsibility and self-confidence; “If I can work my way up — or down — this raging river that no one has touched in years,” I reasoned, “I can surely navigate my life back in ‘civilization.’”
Much of the trip was spent literally hundreds of miles away from the nearest city, town, and even person outside of our trip. On the 17th day, our resupply arrived by seaplane, the only mode of transportation that could reach us. Each night of the trip, we cut a new campsite, and, at each portage, we blazed a new trail. The complete isolation of our trip lent it a feeling of genuine discovery. This experience of exploration brought on a sensation of reconnecting with humanity’s evolutionary past. Out there, it was easy to momentarily forget about the troubles of modern society, instead operating solely within the confines of the trip.
Although we were assisted by maps and a satellite phone, which was only used in emergencies, our journey into the heart of the Canadian wilderness allowed me to contemplate — and witness — what existed before humankind’s rapid destruction of natural environments. Moving past what is known also revealed something internal, something fundamentally human: the beauty of nature. Working up the Pekans Riviere, across several heights of land, and finally paddling down the La Grande offered moments of inexplicable serenity and tumult: the clarity of Lac Surprenant, the relentless winds of Lac Opiscoteo, the sweet water of Lac Gamart, the uncontrollable current of the La Grande Riviere. The sanctity of this Earth became as clear as the waters that cover it, reinforcing the urgency of preserving whatever natural landscapes we have left.
Michael Deschenes is 16 years old and lives in Pasadena, California. He enjoys writing, especially for his school’s newspaper, The Paw Print, for which he is the opinion editor. He also loves reading, camping, and playing badminton and basketball.
KidSpirit’s teen editors and contributors around the world believe in a better future. Help empower the next generation to raise their voices and move forward in a spirit of openness and inclusion - make a tax-deductible contribution to KidSpirit today.
KidSpirit, Inc is a 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization