We all experience defining moments in our lives, when we realize our journey has begun a new chapter. For adults it may be marriage, or a child being born. For many kids it could be going from elementary to middle school, getting their driver’s license, or making a certain sports team. But for campers at Camp Voyageur, a defining moment is without a doubt completing the Grand Portage. There are many benefits of wilderness adventure camps, and one is that is quickens emotional maturation. It is no exaggeration to say that the Grand Portage turns boys into men.
The trip to Grand Portage usually starts just north of camp and always ends at Lake Superior. It covers a distance of around 150 miles. Crews paddles down the Voyageur’s Highway, which is the historic trade route the French voyageurs frequently traveled from Lake Superior to inland Minnesota during the 18th century. The route mostly runs along the US/Canadian border. It ends with the Grand Portage, an 8.5-mile portage from Fort Charlotte into Lake Superior.
“To prepare myself for the portage, first I tried to make all of the other portages on the trip as hard as possible. That way I would make sure that I would have a little extra muscle mass for the portage. Also, while in main camp before the trip I lifted a bit with [veteran counselor and collegiate athlete] Justice.
The portage itself was very hard but so worth it. The beginning I think was the worst, we were very spread out and not being with your pals made it a lot harder. But, after about 3 miles the pain kicked in. By then, we had all grouped together, but my shoulders did feel like they were falling apart. Because of this, I started to say under my breath, “pain is temporary, but glory is forever!” I learned that quote from Evan while getting my Senior Bushwhacker. As I portaged I would say that to myself and try to soak in as much of it as I could. In a way it distracted me from the pain. This helped a lot. But, I think Ray was the most help.
At one point I didn’t think I could go on any longer, until Ray ran into me. I had actually collapsed under the canoe, which I think was my body’s way of saying I need a break. This hit me very hard. Ray, he never let that stop him. He started to yell, “Flip that canoe! Think of your toque! Don’t stop now! You can do it!” This was very motivating, I somehow managed to use the last bit of my strength for that final flip. That was actually my 5th and final break.
So, I started back up again and pushed myself to my limit. I did end up finishing it. I don’t think I will ever feel more accomplished. I remember my first year the older campers talking about Grand Portage, and how hard it was. This scared me, and yet I still did it. It may have taken a couple of years, but I did it. I think the biggest part of that feeling was my comrades. After I set down the canoe in the water Mason and Ray started hooting and hollering for me and we all screamed our heads off! I don’t think I’ll ever have as big of a smile as I did then. But there was still lots of us left on the portage. So, we went back and helped the others push themselves and finish it. I don’t think any of us would have been able to do it without each other. That portage changed all of us. We all became men after that. Now, whenever I have to do something hard, I think about what I’ve done. That portage was very hard, and if I can do it I can do anything. I think it’s changed my confidence, mentality, strength, and overall toned my mind for anything.
For anyone that wants to do the Grand Portage, watch out. It’s very hard. But when you do it stick close to your pals because they have your back, and you should have theirs too. You will feel like a changed person after that. And the best part of all, the toque! I wear mine to bed every night, and almost never take it off on the weekends! It’s my trophy. Keep that in mind, oh and the pizza too. You’ll get pretty hungry on that trail, so think about what pizza you’ll eat. Just. Stay. Motivated. You won’t regret it!”