At the start of SOLSC month, I wrote about getting lost in the woods when I was at a writing retreat upstate this past fall. And that has led me to remember time after time after time that I’ve been lost in the woods! In my last tale, I told a story about summer camp. And, this story is about summer camp, too!
The summer after high school, I had snagged for myself what I thought would be the perfect job: counselor at the beloved camp I’d attended as a child. It didn’t turn out to be the worst job I’ve ever had, but seeing behind the curtain took some of the shine off for me.
Before camp started, counselors and staff had lots of work to do: setting up tents and bunks, organizing the craft, ceramic, and wood shops, anchoring floating donuts in the lake, cleaning the barn and getting all of the animals in kid-ready condition …
And while all of those chores were team activities, there were also specific team-building activities. Counselors went off on day trips to get to know each other and the area. I went on a hiking day trip, a climb up Mount Van Hoevenberg.
Just a little backstory on Van Hoevenberg. It’s 2,940 feet tall — not one of the high peaks of the Adirondacks (the 46 highest mountains in the range, all over 4,000 feet). It’s considered an easy hike, good for kids. It’s named for Henry Van Hoevenberg who build trails in the high peaks decades before the creation of the Appalachian Trail (no competition here, just a time marker for historical context). It’s home to the Olympic bobsled runs from both the 1932 and 1980 Olympics.
It’s also the first mountain I ever climbed. As I said in my last into the woods post, most campers’ first climb is the tiny, not-a-mountain-really that The Boy and I snuck away to climb. My first trek, as a seven-year-old, was Van Hoevenberg. So it felt only right to go on the counselor hike and start my life as an adult at camp on the same mountain.
I have no memory of my childhood climb other than walking down the bobsled run on the descent from the summit. I didn’t really know anything about the Olympics then, and certainly not a single thing about bobsledding, but I thought the runs were cool.
Our counselor crew set out, led by a man who’d been a counselor when I’d been a camper, a really funny man who made everything seem possible and fun, a good leader for a day hike that would have some rough patches.
There was a lot of singing and laughter. There were discoveries of wild raspberries and bear tracks and a field of Indian Paintbrushes. There was even a stop in a clearing for some impromptu square-dancing and the high drama of crossing a rushing stream by waling across a tree that had fallen and created a bridge to the other side.
For a person who has no relationship with her center of gravity, walking over that fallen tree was a trauma. I was certain I’d end up in the water, which would have been embarrassing and also painful because it was full of small boulders and about 8 feet below. But I had divine intervention on my side and I made it across just fine. I didn’t look forward to doing that on the return trip when I’d be tired, but I needn’t have worried: there was no way we’d find our way back to that path!
In retrospect, it seems pretty clear that crossing that tree was the start of our problem. There are no hiking trails that include such an unstable and impermanent feature. And yet, no one expressed any concern about learning the for-real path. Maybe we thought John’s good mood would steer us true. You know, or something. Turns out, this is really not a thing. Quel surprise.
We’d been hiking close to two hours when we acknowledged that we weren’t on a trail and no one knew where we were. Someone made up a song about bushwhacking and — as The Boy and I did on our hike — we decided to keep trying to find the summit rather than immediately trying to find our way back to the base. Maybe it’s something in that not-at-all-thin mountain air that inspires this ridiculous decision.
We made a weird, stair-step path — hiking sideways, hiking up, hiking sideways, hiking up. We had another impromptu square-dance in another clearing. We ate our cheese and crackers and PB&J lunch.
I don’t know how long we stayed out there, scrabbling around the side of that mountain. We probably would have stayed longer. John kept us in good spirits and seemed perpetually convince that we’d magically find the trail if we just pushed ourselves a little further, convinced that we could come down the train if we just made it to the summit.
We never reached the summit. Instead, we reached the top of a bobsled run. Seeing that formal structure, we knew we could get back to camp, and the decision to head down the shuttle was unanimous and made without words. We all just stepped into the track and started walking down.
Walking the bobsled run was as fun to me as a 17-year old as it had been to me as a 7-year-old. At the bottom, we poured out into the stadium. In one of my photo albums, I’ve got snapshots of counselors walking onto the field with their arms raised in a victory V. 🙂 We left the stadium and finished our hike the same way my sister’s Girl Scout troop did: on the road. We walked up that quiet road back to the entrance to camp, still singing, still laughing, and with a little bit of impromptu square-dancing. Lost and then found.
It’s March, which means it’s time for the
13th annual Slice of Life Story Challenge!
Curious? Head on over to Two Writing Teachers
and see what the rest of this year’s slicers are up to!