Looking out over Quetico Provincial Park in the southwestern section of Ontario, I thought about how I had come so close to not being here. To not even having the chance to be here.
Over the course of nine days and eight nights, I struck out with eight companions on a canoeing expedition that would traverse 140 kilometers and dozens of lakes. We fought strong winds, thick swarms of mosquitoes during the infamous nightly “happy hour”, and the occasional awesome-the-first-time-but-would-soon-be-a-royal-pain-in-the-ass beaver dam. It was one of the most incredible and satisfying experiences of my life, and if I was not a Boy Scout, I would have never gone through any of it.
There you are, I guess. I always figured that everyone has some sort of extracurricular they would rather not share. Well there is mine. I am an honest-to-God, tighten-the-neckerchief, merit-badge-toting Boy Scout. You should feel honored; it is not something many people know about me.
Any scout will tell you that what really motivates any of us is the camping. That is why I do it. There are other aspects of scouting that are certainly much less enjoyable (Three different citizenship merit badges? All required for Eagle Scout? I prefer throwing up in my own mouth), but for everything that will make you feel like the biggest goody-two-shoes you have ever known, there are twice the Canadas.
One Canada made it all worth it. What made it so great was that at the end of it all, it did not feel like a scout-related trip at all. The summer camps of my youth were chock full of counselors, regulations, and more adult supervision than a daycare program. It was fun firing six .22 bullets into a grouping the size of a quarter, but it does not have the same effect when some sweaty, overweight geezer is barking at you to keep your eye protection tightened. Northern Tier (the official name of the canoeing program) was much different. We showed up at base camp, and within the hour we were introduced to our interpreter (a guide, basically. His name was Mike; he was Canadian; he was awesome), given our gear, and thrust into the map room. In the map room, we chose our route. We chose our route. Unlike other scouting programs, Northern Tier was entirely customizable. No one was telling us what we could and could not do, and it was refreshing to say the least.
This freedom is what made Northern Tier the best scouting-related thing I have ever done, simply because it made me forget about being a Boy Scout. Maybe that is the key to having a good time at these things. If you forget that you are taking part in something that can chop down your own personal social totem pole, you are more likely to enjoy yourself.
I almost quit the whole shebang, at the end of my sophomore year in high school. It was essentially a matter of continuing scouting until I reach Eagle (my project is in September) or cut my losses right there and leave the program. Looking back, I am not really sure what part of me had wanted to quit. Maybe it was the fact that I had missed something like three straight BCS Championships to go to the weekly meetings. Maybe it was the stress I was feeling at the time (fourth quarter of Biology Honors at school? Did I already use the throwing-up-in-my-mouth line?). Whatever it was, I decided at the end of the day that I would stick it out. It used to be because I did not want to disappoint anyone. I mean, God, my mother tells me all the time how much she is going to cry at my Eagle ceremony.
But if there is anything about spending nine straight days in total isolation, it is that you have plenty of chances to think. So I guess if there was one thing I finally understood, it is that I was now doing this because I wanted to still have opportunities like the ones I had in Canada. Paddling at the bow of the canoe cutting through the rough swells of Pickerel Lake and watching a pair of beavers exploring the narrows of Quetico are things that make me wonder why I would have ever considered missing out on it all. I finally figured out that I was doing this for me. Northern tier had made it all worth it, and looking back on that fateful decision day, it was one of the best choices of my life. In the past week I was able to do things and see things that I am never going to forget, and it seems dumb that a little more than a year ago I had nearly blown it.
I came to terms with myself in Canada, and I guess it is about time that I let all of you in on my whereabouts every Thursday night. This is where I go when I mean I say I am “camping with some friends” on weekends (that was the most common excuse, it made me look really social, so I stuck to it for a while), and all of those “meetings” I went to just made me sound official and professional. Neither of these excuses were lies either, I was camping with friends, and I was going to meetings. I guess it was pretty pathetic, but I was not accustomed to sharing my life over the Internet back then.
I had time to think about a lot of things in Canada, and while the usual teenage subject matter was present (Yes surprise, surprise. When nine guys, all friends, are thrown together in the middle of nowhere, we do engage in conversation about girls. Who woulda thunk?), one that I kept coming back to was why I did scouting in the first place. Canada told me why: it was for the adventures that I could not find anywhere else.
Just try not to talk about it with me too much at school, ok?