Sunday, June 7, 2009

My Real Feelings About the BWCA...

I posted the following article at, forgot it, and rediscovered it. This was from my first camping trip as an adult. I submitted it shortly after our return to civilization. I honestly forgot that I fell in love with the Wilderness that first year. I cannot recall writing the final paragraph, but it makes me excited to leave again in a little less than two weeks.

Here's my story...

Joe and I have been married nearly 16 years, and have two sons. Ours is an interfaith marriage: I’m Catholic and he’s Lutheran. Both of us have strong ties to our church communities.

We were married at St Henry Catholic Church, and both our boys were baptized there: Adam in December 1991, and Jakob at the Easter Vigil Service in 1995. Where to attend church and what to believe has been a source of contention in our marriage, but we’ve arrived at a good compromise.

Imagine my surprise when Joe asked me to chaperone the Lutheran Youth on this camping trip in the Wilderness! After all, he’s known me for 21 years, and I am - by no stretch of the imagination - a camper. In fact, certain people burst into uncontrollable laughter when they heard I was going on this very rustic camping trip. But Joe, normally a sane and responsible man, was certain that I’d make a successful camper; more, he was certain I would enjoy the trip.

My job on this trip was to carry a 100 pound pack across portages. Joe strapped the pack on me in the church parking lot the morning we were packing to go. As I staggered across the asphalt parking lot from our van to the canoe trailer, I thought “What was I thinking?” I could barely shuffle my feet forward under the weight of the pack on TAR; what would I do on the rocky, twisty, muddy paths in the Wilderness?

We officially started the camping portion of our trip the next morning. Our first portage was relatively short at about 35 rods. A rod is between 16 and 17 feet. It was uphill halfway and the path was fairly wide and dry. When I slumped against a tree on the other side of the portage, I thought I could maybe handle the trip.

The portages got longer and more challenging as the day passed. I fell often. Because of the weight of the pack, I needed help to strap it on again after falling; sometimes I needed help to get up after falling with it. Covered with mud and nature, I could feel the sweat dripping off my nose and see it forming on my arms. I saw mosquitoes swarming, and could not defend myself against them. I counted paces to mark my progress, and I couldn’t talk while portaging my pack. It took all my focus to just walk and count, one foot in front of the other.

I was about a third of the way across one particularly difficult portage when I fell for the fourth time. Joe was the first person to find me and offer help. He helped me out of the pack. I stood up and he strapped it back on my back, holding the weight while I adjusted the straps. When I was ready he shifted the weight to me. Then he walked with me the rest of the way. He talked me through the remaining rods of the portage, saying things like “you’re doing great” or “just keep putting one foot in front of the other” or “you’re almost there” or “you can do it, Kari.” He never stopped talking. Thinking about it later, I was surprised; Joe is normally a man of few words. This time I was the silent one, once again using every ounce of strength and energy I had to just put one foot in front of the other.

Dropping the pack on the ground at the other side of the portage, I stood hunched, breathing deep and feeling that surge of exhilaration or adrenaline or whatever we get after intense physical activity. I repeated to myself “I will not cry. I will not cry…”

When I started to think again, I realized I would have been angry had Joe carried that pack for me. Instead, Joe just did for me what God does for all of us. God knows we have to carry heavy burdens in life, and He’s always there supporting and encouraging, walking with us through our struggle. And when we need that little extra help, God sends us a spouse like Joe, who will walk beside us and encourage us when times are tough.

As it turns out, it was Joe who was right about me: this non-camper loved the Wilderness! I am already planning next year’s packing. Those friends who laughed at the thought of me living in nature for a week are now all afraid that they’ll find themselves sweating their way through their own 41-mile journey through the Wilderness!