Algonquin Back Country Paddle – (Year II day 4)
Morning came and we prepared the students for their six-hour solo experience. We fed them breakfast, went over guidelines, and took them silently to their plots. We, the guides, were looking forward to some slower-paced time where we could bond as leaders and lower our professional front for a time. We were relaxed while we did our tasks (cooking, organizing, and prepping for the evening meeting), shared stories, and took some silent alone time of our own.
During our time alone, I laid down on a rock slab that protruded into the water. I put my Therm-A-Rest and sleeping bag right at the edge so both my feet and my right side where hanging over the drop-off. I spent hours reflecting on my life and enjoying the beauty around me (I paid special attention to the loons—there is something about that for me that is very entrancing). I prayed, I wrote, I sat in silent admiration, and I listened. The world made sense while I sat on that rock. Everything was so clear and life was so simple. I often find myself going back there in my thoughts in the attempt to draw on the clarity of mind I found in that place.
After a couple hours of silence, the other leaders and I met to finish our tasks before we would pick the students for their dinner. Some cooked while others organized. I had the special task of building a raft for a surprise we had planned for the students. I gathered wood, lashed it together, and stacked layer upon layer of wood on the raft.
When I finished, it was time to gather the students. Each leader gathered the students they had dropped off in the morning. Soon enough, the students were all gathered around our fire sharing experiences and waiting for their dinner.
Dinner was gluten-free pasta. It was the worst. We had been told that we were going gluten-free across the board for our trips due to so many enrolled students who have issues with gluten. Everyone on our trip tried to choke the pasta down any way they could. Some drenched it in spicy Saracha sauce, others loaded their bowls with peppers and some simply ate food from their own snack bags instead. This is the only time I have ever had a bad experience with a meal so far in the backcountry.
After dinner came the surprise for the students. My raft was actually a floating bon-fire! The students eagerly piled into canoes and paddled into the dark lake. I pulled the bonfire out and anchored it offshore with a rock and parachute cord (one of my favorite gear purchases ever). We lit the raft and circled close around it with our canoes. It was here that we held our evening meeting, discussed the day, and just spent time growing together as a group. Everyone seemed to be having an enjoyable experience around the fire.
Following the fire, most of the group decided to sleep outside. Some slept near my rock on the shore, while others slept on the opposite side of the campsite. We were on a peninsula so everyone was able to find a place near the water to sleep.