As I’ve spoken of before, I’ve decided to go all-in when it comes to participating in Canoe Trails, a program aimed at building outdoor skills and character in youth and adults alike. This program was one of the best things that ever happened to me and after a 15 year hiatus it is about time that I give back.
This weekend marked the first training session for the new year and what a session it was. About 12 Candidates were present and they spent the day learning about personal equipment, tying knots, group equipment, parts of the canoe, and picking up and carrying the canoe, all extremely important aspects of the program. They also learned the rules of the program regarding respect and how the words “I can’t” are probably the most terrible words in our vocabulary today.
As I helped a Candidate learn to tie knots and saw the frustration she felt when one of the knots just would not click, I remember how I thought I would never be able to tie the same knot 20 years ago. I stood by and saw the surprise in the eyes of Candidates when shown the food packs and learned how heavy these packs would be to carry when fully loaded with food and supplies for 21+ people. I participated in the talk with the female Candidates about “doing your business” in the woods and how we try to be as protective of our environment as possible, and I felt the fear and triumph in of the girls as they tried (and eventually succeeded) in picking up a canoe by themselves for the first time. I heard and reveled in the talk from one of the most senior male members of the group as they recounted how girls can do anything the guys can do, and sometimes do those things better.
The training is not easy; It’s difficult and very foreign in this day and age. Many of the methods and ideas have been around for years, passed down from generation to generation and it’s not always easy to understand why we do the things we do. Most of the understanding will come with the actual application, in overnight training sessions in Tionesta, PA. There we’ll teach canoeing, putting up a tent, chopping wood, gathering water, orienteering with map and compass, and cooking over a fire. Each Candidate will likely cry, want to go home, be frustrated, and want to quit at one point, as I once did, and each Candidate will realize that they can do, and even excel at, every task put before them.
To be perfectly honest, I am nervous. Nervous because things have changed so much since I was in the program and because I’m concerned that after all of these years I am pretty rusty. I’ve had to humble myself and let the younger Voyageurs remind me how to tie a bowline knot and am still struggling wondering if I can pick up a canoe. All I know is that I’m ready to go. I’m ready to push my limits again and try to teach and learn things on the way. I was taught by the best and I still remember a lot.
I’m also working to bring a new generation up in the program. Pretty much against her wishes, I’ve been bringing Aidyn along to work nights and training and even though she’s sometimes bored, she’s been doing pretty well. Although she won’t be a true Candidate until she turns 13, she’s already starting to learn about the program and I even observed her learning knots yesterday. I hope that one day she loves the program as much as I do and will want to do all she can to help keep it going. Until then, I’m back in full force, determined to better myself and help out as much as I can and I’m enjoying every scary, fun, amazing moment of it.