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Although I was born in Texas, my father was transferred when I was just ten and I spent most of my impressionable years in a tiny village a few minutes from a national park. This move to a rural area was an event that changed my life forever. Surrounded by beautiful forests and lakes, most of my free time was spent romping through the woods, navigating rivers in a canoe and camping in the many provincial parks nearby.
At the university, I came across a group of students who had never experienced "the great outdoors" before. Most of their lives had been spent in the hustle and bustle of big cities such as New York and Chicago. They wanted me to show them what it was that inspired me to head north every weekend with a truck packed to the brim with camping gear. I explained to them that the only way that they could experience my passion for nature would be to join me on one of my outings. They agreed, and I designed a four day canoeing/camping weekend for five men and two women in Algonquin Park, one of Canada's finest treasures. I felt that this trip was well planned (two months in the making). But once the trip was underway, it was evident that there were a lot of things that I hadn't planned for.
Four hours into the canoeing, our map blew out of the boat and could not be found. Our only compass was attached to it. Not having been on this river before, I had to navigate by instinct. This method takes considerably longer and nightfall was creeping up on us. Various hazzards such as beaver dams and unseasonably low water levels exhausted us as we pulled the canoes, rather than paddled them through these areas. Before we knew it, darkness had overtaken us and we were far from our designated campsite. The surrounding area was extremely marshy and I couldn't find any solid land. Taking a rope out of my bag, I lashed the three canoes together to form a raft and then anchored off for the night. The evening sky was clearer than I had ever seen it before. Sleeping in a canoe is far from comfortable, but accompanied by brilliant stars and the sounds of wolves howling from the nearby hilltops, not one person complained.
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The next day I found our campsite. Exhausted, we spent most of the time resting and enjoying the scenery. Feeling a little adventurous towards the evening, we canoed across a lake to a secluded beach. While there we saw a curious moose calf and her mother no more than five feet from our canoes. One thing I had neglected to mention to the group was that portions of food on a camping trip are not as large as what you're used to eating at home. As a result, our food stock was depleted to only one day's worth and I had to cut the trip short.
The third day was considerably easier than the first. We knew how to find our way back to the parking area without too much second guessing. On our way home, nobody was in the mood for talking. We all looked forward to sleeping in our comfortable beds. I wasn't sure what they would say to me in the morning, and I was worried that they thought that the trip was a complete flop.
To my surprise, the next day, they were all bragging to their friends about the experience. They wanted to go back and do it all over again. To this day, four years later, fond memories of the trip to Algonquin are still shared between us.
I have taken many more groups canoeing and camping since this one. Most people are new to the experience. Most of them leave with a new found respect for nature. I have found it to be the best method for teaching the importance of protecting what little resources we have. Of course, one thing I learned from the original trip is that now I plan for everything!