“Take camp with you”: A reflection on Pathfinder and rally for future participants
By Elle N.
RING RING. The time is 7:15am, which means it is time to prepare for the big day ahead. Only, this is not your typical alarm. And you’ve probably been lying awake for the past 30 minutes or so because you thought you felt something run across your head (sure enough a chipmunk was making itself comfortable in your hair). RING RING. You and your half-asleep roommates sit up on your creaking cot and look around through heavy eyelids. The massive bell at the center of camp makes its final chimes as some of your classmates choose to make the morning plunge into the piercing cold lake while others get ready for breakfast. Three days of this same morning routine sound daunting. Terrifying. Impossible, even. But personally, I would go back to sleeping amongst the squirrels in a dusty tent on a secluded island in a heartbeat.
To speak on behalf of the majority of the current junior class, most of us were apprehensive about the legendary Pathfinder trip. Who wouldn’t be slightly unnerved by the idea of going four days phone-less in the wilderness? If you are a sophomore and feeling that weight of anxiety about going on the trip, you are in luck! According to Olivia ’24, “Going into the trip, I was dreading it. I did not want to go at all, [but], at the end of it, what I was worried about in the beginning were honestly the best parts,” she said.
Sure, it’s not necessarily ideal to not have access to showers or to buy an actual camera to take photographs rather than just whip out your phone at your convenience, but you will soon find out that life without these things—if anything—is exponentially more fun than life with proper hygiene and modern technology.
To take it from the top, let’s go to the morning of the departure. The drive to Algonquin Park is a lengthy one, so you must arrive early at your departure point—everyone’s favorite place during your last few summer days—SEM! Maybe you have a little extra pep in your step because you are extremely excited (as you should be) or maybe you are dragging your feet in dread (which is okay too), but it is impossible to deny that it is nice to see your classmates again. You all pile on the bus and the journey begins. Goodbye Buffalo, you think as you wave to the ever disappearing land that you call home behind you as you cross the Peace Bridge (for some it may not be that dramatic, but as a homebody, I did in fact experience this). As the day carries on, the bus grows louder and there is talk of the ever-suspenseful roommate situation (which you will soon realize is a win-win because either you end up with some of your closest friends or you form new bonds and have the best time ever with classmates you might not see too much at school!).
Arriving on the Canadian island comes next and you must separate from your cell phone. You will quickly realize that you would much rather absorb the enchanting world around you rather than an electronic screen anyway. As described by SEM’s Director of Development and chaperone of the trip this past fall, Ms. Leah Kimmet, “one highlight for me was getting off the bus and onto the pontoon cargo boat to head out to Pathfinder Island. Once on the water, I found the scenery to be remarkably beautiful!” As soon as you start to look around, you are instantly captivated by your surroundings. Floating in a seemingly magical way on the brisk, fresh water are endless islands full of secrets and history in which you are soon enthralled to learn about. Once you step foot on Pathfinder Island, your perspective of life, teamwork, nature, and independence will shift in a way in which you never deemed possible.
Of course, the pre-Pathfinding anxiety you may be experiencing is totally valid. Most people have never experienced sleeping in the wilderness, spending hours upon hours canoeing (nevermind portaging that canoe—whatever the heck that means), or hiking a mountain—but the takeaways from this experience are invaluable. When asked about what challenges they faced on the trip, current members of the junior class did not hesitate to share some obstacles they encountered and conquered. Huizi ’24 recalled the biggest challenge for her to be jumping in the freezing cold lake first thing in the morning. Although this was optional for students, Huizi chose to try it out and was happy to say that she took the plunge. She continued to explain that on the trip, she “underestimated the difficulties of those challenges we would face and the joy we would gain.” Huizi continued, “[It] turns out many activities were quite harder than I previously thought, but they all brought me a lot of fun!”
Challenges on this trip are inevitable, but it’s the cohesiveness of the class and faculty that make it all possible and more than worthwhile. A significant portion of the trip requires physical and mental stamina which was definitely a bump in the road that almost everyone on the trip endured. However, Faith ’24 was proud to say that “with the support of my friends and the counselors, I was able to make it through every day trip. Never once did I regret any part of it.” In the words of Fiona ’24, “Pathfinder taught me to be okay in pretty uncomfortable situations and that I could live without my phone.” Ms. Kimmet perfectly summarized what it means to face the challenges of Pathfinder and the irreplaceable outcomes of them when she reflected, “In my life, I always cherish experiences where I can challenge myself physically and mentally while building strong connections with others at the same time.”
From late night games and adventures in the forest, to stargazing, to tipping over in the canoe and laughing about it so hard you can’t climb back into the boat, Pathfinder brings memories with your classmates that you will cherish and reminisce about each day—and that is not an exaggeration. A popular favorite memory was the grand finale on the last night of the trip known as Muskoka Prom. (Disclaimer: besides the fact that it will be one of the most light-hearted, happy, unified, and pure fun experiences of your life, no further details will be revealed in case you too get the privilege of dancing the final night of Pathfinder away). This trip benefits the junior class in ways that could not be replicated anywhere else. You will become unified in a powerful way and connected through challenges, heart-felt moments, and late night games of “Never Have I Ever.” As Ms. Kimmet correctly confirms “those bonds and friendships will hold strong and support everyone through the highs and lows that are part of life.” “Whether gathering sticks or quickly writing hilarious skits, the laughter and joy flowing under a canopy of stars was priceless” she recollects.
Hopefully, after reading this, you’re feeling even just ever-so-slightly more at ease about attending the trip. Personally, if there was anything I would leave you with, it would be to take advantage of this opportunity. You will not regret it. And even in the absolutely impossible chance that you do regret it, you will take away lessons, confidence, and friendships that you otherwise might not ever gain. Every student who was inquired about the benefits and challenges of this trip has stated that they would go again and are so glad they decided to face the unknown.
Departing from camp was a bittersweet day unlike any other. Ms. Kimmet shared a method of final closure that she learned from a different camp in the past. Myself, and I am sure everyone who was present, will hold this moment closely for the rest of their lives. We all put our hands over our heart and said in unison “take camp with you.” For me, this was the most powerful moment of the trip, as I can confidently say it holds true. Lessons learned from Pathfinder are necessary in everyday life, and the memories will make you long to relive it. So the next time you lay wide awake imagining the horrors of this unknown class camping trip, replace those thoughts with images of a stunning starry sky more beautiful than in your wildest dreams and a magnificent moon as your nightlight, knowing that it will be one of the greatest experiences of high school and maybe even life.