“You can do hard things” has become a mantra of so many camp trips. Camp has a wide range of options for exploring the wilderness, and while some trips are easier than others, all require a level of challenge. For a first year Woodsider that challenge might be spending a night on Bell Island for the first time, while a camper pursuing their higher ranks might be faced with sterning a canoe down the Androscoggin rapids.
Five day pack trips embody this idea. Carrying enough food for four breakfasts and dinners, all the cookware to have a hot meal, a couple tents, an extra set of clothes, and an extra bulky sleeping bag is difficult to do by itself. Add traversing mountains with ever changing New England weather and you’re facing one of the more daunting undertakings camp has to offer. Why bother with all those factors when remaining at camp means you’ll have grilled cheese instead of a trail lunch and can choose any activity instead of walking all day? Because the moment when we push ourselves beyond our comfort zone is when we learn what we are capable of accomplishing. I have had the opportunity to undergo this learning process and witness these transformations many times.
The most notable experience was in 2014. For several years, we decided to hike in the White Mountains for Lanakila’s five day pack. Every year was slightly different, but this was our most ambitious trip yet. We were going to start in Franconia Notch and hike Mt. Lafayette before continuing on the Appalachian trail to the north side of Pinkham Notch. The signature day of the trip would be hiking the Presidential Ridge in its entirety on the fourth and final full day of hiking. By the end of the trip, we hiked just under 50 miles, endured over 18,000 feet of elevation change, and conquered 21 summits – 9 of which we did on our final full day.
The photo above was taken the day we started and highlighted in the distance you can just make out the halfway point of our 4th day. When we pointed out the halfway marker, sharing that information with the boys was probably more demoralizing than motivational.
Three days later we took a photo looking back on what we had accomplished. I vividly recall our conversation about doing hard things on the summit of Mt. Jefferson as everything we had accomplished to that point we could see in front of us. By the end of that day, it became clear that we might not have the time nor the energy to summit the final peak of the day. We offered the boys an option, to hike the mile and a half up to the summit or to head down the valley to our campsite. The resounding response to run up the final peak was overwhelming. Watching eight Lanakilans charge up the side of mountain after a day hiking was something every counselor, parent, and camper would have been proud to witness. A moment when they were given the choice to continue challenging themselves or to rest on all they had already accomplished, there was not a moment of hesitation in deciding to go the extra miles.
While we often comment on how many lakes we paddled, how many portages we slogged through, and how many miles and peaks we traversed – these are just merely attempts to quantify the spirit of doing hard things. But sometimes it’s the smaller moments, like waking up on the fourth day of a trip and continuing to hike that really captures that essence of doing hard things.