For the past three years, I have gone to Camp Widjiwagan, a YMCA camp in Northern Minnesota, whose mission is "to develop in young people, respect for self, community, and the environment through wilderness adventure and environmental education." This is achieved by sending high school kids into the wilderness with a couple other kids and a college-aged counselor.
My dad found out about Widji four years ago through one of his co-workers. He immediately fell in love with the camp and decided that I should go. I was less enthusiastic. Spending a big portion of my precious summer in the middle of nowhere with strangers? No, thank you. My dad would not change his mind. He was convinced that it was a stellar opportunity for me. Eventually, I gave in. When my parents left me that first year, I was 13 years old and wanted nothing to do with the Boundary Waters. But then I met my group. I was traveling with four other 7th graders and two counselors. We clicked immediately. I felt at home with these girls and we all became the best of friends. Already, I was changing my outlook. "Hey," I remember thinking to myself, "this really isn't going to be that bad!"
The first three days of a Widji trip are spent at the base camp preparing for your trip by doing things like mapping your route, packing food, and creating both personal and team goals. Much to my surprise, this was actually way more fun than I ever could have expected. I got to bond with my new friends and meet plenty of other cool people. We did a lot of work to prep for our adventure but we also got to swim at the beach, create skits, and play some crazy fun games. And honestly, the Widjiwagan mess hall has some of the best food I've ever tasted.
On the morning of the fourth day, all the groups leave base camp to go off on their own into the Great Outdoors. Paddling all day, every day. With some portages tossed in between paddles of course. Breakfast and supper is cooked over a fire every day. Most commonly, breakfasts are granola or oatmeal, but it is also possible to make pancakes and even cinnamon rolls. At supper, you will find a lot of noodles, but I have made pizzas. Lunch is the same every day; trail mix, cheese, sausage, and rice crackers. Trips can be anywhere from 11 to 60 days long. There are trips that go canoeing in the BWCAW, Quetico, and the Arctic. There are also backpacking trips that explore the Rockies, the Bighorn Mountains, the Superior Hiking Trail, and Alaska.
Camp Widjiwagan has been an incredible experience for me. Being in nature, secluded from people and out of the reach of technology and other distractions, I can feel at peace with myself. My everyday worries disappear as do other trivial stressors. The clear blue waters and majestic pine trees leave me in awe of their beauty. Every year at Widji, I learn new things not only about nature but about myself. Widjiwagan has really helped build my confidence and leadership skills, not to mention strength. I have met so many amazing people through Widjiwagan and am so glad to have found a place where I can truly be myself and forget all my worries.