By Charlie Beyer
Last Saturday we waved goodbye to our teen overnight rowing trip, Expedition Champlain, as they left the docks here at the museum headed for the Canadian border. The nine participants and three staff spent the morning in a final rush (the morning before leaving is always hectic, no matter how prepared you are) to pack everyone’s stuff in dry bags, fill up the water-carrying dromedary bags, track down the last missing frybake pan, and generally get everybody lined up and equipped for a full week of self-supported rowing and camping on Lake Champlain. After a shore lunch they successfully launched, headed to Kingsland Bay State Park.
The moment that the last dockline is freed and the rowers take their first sure stroke, all in unison, the “thick-thock” of the oars in their thole pins, is a moment to savor. The participants are eager to find adventure, the stress of getting ready is forgotten, and the whole lake lies in front of you full of endless possibilities. The beauty of self-supported trips is that no matter where you end up on a given day, whether or not it was your goal, you have everything you need to be comfortable and to eat well, and nothing to worry about except where tomorrow will take you.
Expedition Champlain is unique among the overnight expeditions we run here at the museum in that the itinerary is largely undefined. The leaders sit down with the group and find out what kind of trip participants are looking for. All will have some hard push days and some relaxed beach days, but having an open lake in front of you allows everyone to come together around the chart and create the trip they want to have. It’s one of the first major decisions the group makes as a unit, deciding what kind of group they are and what kind of trip they will have.
Expeditions are a cornerstone of our teen programs here on the lake. Whatever form they take, and for however many nights the trip is out, they all fill the same need for adventure and self-reflection. There is a tendency when on trail to talk about our “real life” as being something different from the life we live when we’re out on the lake; but sometimes we find the truest expression of ourselves is the person who we are out on trail. Stripped of the stress and worries that can come with high school, our participants find the time to slow down, consider those around them, and reflect on the people they want to be. Rowing together in a wooden pilot gig is all about syncing up with your companions. Each stroke pulls the boat together. Often we ask rowers to row for a while with eyes closed, just listening to the thole pins’ “thick-thock” and finding the rhythm as a wordless group. This awareness seeps into participants and informs the way we live on trail and the people we chose to be when we return.