MIDDLEBURY –– Cheers, hugs, signs, bell tolls and a cannon boom greeted the five canoes that pulled up on the shores of Lake Dunmore.
A crowd of more than 100 gathered last Friday at Camp Keewaydin in Salisbury for a ceremonial paddle-in by Expedition 2012, a group of 10 young men who recently completed a 1,200-mile canoe trip to James Bay. The group hadn’t seen this many people since they shoved off in early April.
“You get tunnel vision because you see individual faces and you had their face in your mind throughout the entire trip and then you come back and things are different, but people start to become more familiar and it’s just one face after another,” said Kyle Sauer.
The group consisted of Tom Bloch, Jeff Chandler, Johnny Clore, James Hogan, Nick Kramer, Rich Morgan, Ben Ramseyer, Sauer, Bill Souser and Peter Wright.
Seeing the trip come full circle by paddling back to their starting point was especially poignant for Clore.
“It feels amazing,” he said. “Maybe even more than getting to James Bay. Making this trip happen from idea to reality is one of the things that I’m most proud of, the thing I have the most sense of accomplishment about. To see these boats we made, to make it back, it’s awesome.”
During the trip they got up at 5 o’clock every morning to make breakfast and take down the campsite. They paddled for two hours, breaking for a snack. They resumed paddling until lunch, and paddled again, looking for a campsite around 4 in the afternoon. They then set up camp, made dinner, and went to bed.
Even with the regularity of their routine, they still encountered various challenges.
Ramseyer recalled a difficult trek through Chambly Canal.
“We started paddling up into the canals…but the water was running out because the canals weren’t open,” he said. “We initially thought we could portage around the canals just where they existed and keep going. However, the water kept running out and we ended up pretty much wading through sludge while onlookers above us were like, what are those crazy people doing in our garbage.”
Hogan described another trying time where the group expected a relatively easy paddle down the East Whitefish River, but found it clogged with beaver dams.
“It started fine and then we get on and there’s a beaver dam,” he said. “You expect a beaver dam every once in a while, but that beaver dam was just a sign of many to come. That whole day we were lucky to go 50 meters without seeing a beaver dam, or a logjam, or just a single log in the water that you need to get out and pull your boat over. We might have done 12 portages that day.”
The group made it 4 kilometers in the day. On a normal day they would have gone 20 kilometers by lunch.
They cited the cold as a constant challenge, describing days where ice froze on their paddles, clothes and gloves.
Despite the obstacles, the group thoroughly enjoyed the trip and had many favorite moments.
Chandler liked reaching waterways that he recognized from Keewaydin songs and stories.
“To finally reach those points that were real checkpoints we’d heard about, but really I didn’t know where they were or what they connected to, really kind of gave me a good sense that we’re actually going through these old waterways of Keewaydin tripping,” he said.
Sauer appreciate the kindness of the people they encountered along the way.
“My favorite part of the trip was the hospitality of complete strangers,” he said. “They saw us and asked us what we were doing, and some of them found it in their hearts to open up their lawn for us to stay on and one guy cooked us hotdogs and gave us cold Coke after a particularly rough morning.”
Those who attended Keewaydin saw their experience on the trip connect back to their time at camp.
“Going on the trip, the majority of the skills you’re using you learned at Keewaydin,” said Hogan.
He added that the trip would enhance their abilities working as Keewaydin trip leaders this summer.
“As trip leaders we can come back and now teach a whole new generation of kids something a little different,” he said. “It’s just our experience now on our trip of trial and error and seeing things that work, that we can bring back and instruct people what we think might be a better way to do things.”
The trip also spurred revelations.
Ramseyer noted that some campers are at Keewaydin because of Expedition 2012.
“That will be happening for as long as Camp Keewaydin exists because we were able to accomplish this trip and raise over $200,000 for scholarships to the camp,” he said.
Hogan said that he made nine best friends and added that the trip provided perspective.
“You can use the experiences as a barometer toward your future life,” he said. “When I think something is tough I can think about the day that I portaged three miles, or I can be somewhere and think it’s cold right now, but I can think of the days where ice was freezing on my paddle, or I could be hungry one day and I could think of the day that we paddled until 8 at night.”
Chandler realized the importance of not only following his own dreams, but also enabling others to follow theirs.
“It has made me realize that it’s really worth it to take the time to do something that you want to do,” he said. “If it really means something to you and you’ve been wanting to do it for a long time, then it’s worth it to do and see it out to completion. I now have the ability to recognize when someone else is living their dream and help them out in whatever way I can.”