It was a bit of a Stand By Me moment when the four students walked away from the parking lot.
Four had made the decision to go home and now it was time for the others to catch up with the rest of the group. Before heading back out, the campers took full advantage of my vehicle at the access and stored a bunch of gear they’d come to realize was unnecessary (large frying pans, extra fuel canisters, syrup stored in a mason jar...). With packs now half the weight, we made incredible time. In just over an hour we walked to Guskewau Lake to make camp. The sun finally showed itself, the hilltops were lit up with stands of beech and yellow birch, all in full fall colours. Moods of the students altered dramatically. Where the other four had looked at the parking lot as an escape pod, the remaining four had viewed it as a second chance.
Three days from the parking lot, we found ourselves waiting for the other group, the students who continued on with the other instructor, at Ramona Lake. We arrived first, just prior to a hailstorm, followed by a brief snowstorm. The temperature had dropped significantly, averaging four degrees Celsius. It was cold and wet. The students went about their business of setting up tents, tarp and gathering wood, happily oblivious to the weather. They had become used to the foul conditions, immersing themselves with their environment rather than battling against it.
At dusk the other group arrived, sneaking into our camp like ninjas, faces smudged with charcoal gathered up from the campfire. They were definitely hyped from surviving the extended portion of the trail. There were stories of blinding snow squalls, exhausting uphill scrambles and vomit due to dehydration. But there were also stories of scenic vistas, wildlife sightings and fun songs sung while on the trail. The group had acclimatized to life in the woods, just as the four that remained with me — maybe even more so.
A potluck dinner was organized amongst the two groups. The feast was an attempt to eat any excess weight in their packs before the walk out the next day. It was also a way for the two batches of students to merge back together.
I wandered around camp, listening to everyone share stories of their misadventure, as well as their enlightened comments of how they didn’t want the trip to end.
Interesting how time spent in nature can readjust our characters, allowing us to become familiar once again with wild places. These students left their modern comforts and walked aimlessly — and unprepared — into a cold, wet and foreign environment. For the first few days, all of them questioned being there. They showed signs of anxiety and depression, and an urge to go home. Seven days later, the remaining students walked out feeling confident, prepared, connected to wilderness and themselves.
More importantly, they all had a deep desire to stay out.