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A Lifetime to Explore

by Matt Johnston

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Some people think that I had a weird childhood, but I think that I was lucky. My father is a YMCA summer camp director, so I literally grew up at summer camp. Every summer my family would pack up and move out to the camp. Sure I can make a mean lanyard and canoe with the best of them, but as I look back at my summers I realize that summer camps teach much more than that.

Many backpackers will tell you that they started as kids. Summer camps and scouting are probably the two largest ways for children to become exposed to the wilderness. Besides basic camping skills and teamwork, they teach a person about determination and inner strength. On one trip that I lead on the AT, my campers werenít the most athletic. As the trip went on you could just see the mental strength drain with every step. Sure I wanted to make the trip better and give them some of my enjoyment for the outdoors, but things werenít swinging that much in my favor. The trip finally came to an end and we headed back to the luxuries of a rustic summer camp. I started to wonder if I had pushed my campers too far and made the trip miserable for them. The night before they headed home, a few of them came up to me and thanked me for pushing them on the long days and not letting them give up. There was my answer.

My mind is filled with memories from summer camp trips. Whenever a summer thunderstorm rolls through or at night when the world is quiet and the bugs are loud, my mind roams back to those camp memories. These are the types of experiences that I would like to share with everyone, but just writing or talking about it doesnít do it justice. How can you describe the feeling of being around a campfire? You can mention the distinct smell of the fire that sticks to your clothes; how your front side is burning hot from the heat of the fire and your backside is cool from the night chill; how there is a small globe of light encompassing the fire ring and everything beyond that is pitch black; how you try to look for the perfect rock or log to sit on. These are things that must be experienced to be understood.

If you have children who havenít been to camp, think about sending them. At then end of the summer your children will still be talking about it. In September and October my dad will run into parents of campers who say their kids havenít stopped talking about camp and that they are ready to come back next year. If you are worried about the cost of camp, ask about scholarships. Most camps offer different forms of financial aid to help children come to camp. They understand what a difference camp makes in a childís life, so they are ready to help.

And donít think that adults are left out of the wilderness camping experience. There are programs which are strictly adult oriented wilderness schools. The two most popular are NOLS (National Outdoor Leadership School) ,http://www.nols.edu, and Outward Bound, http://www.outwardbound.org. They offer classes from a few days up to a whole semester.

Camping helps a person make memories and learn something about themselves in the process. By starting out at a young age, you have a whole lifetime to explore. And just as a side note, the summer camp I went to is YMCA Camp Widjiwagen in Ely, Minnesota and the camp my father directs is YMCA Camp Ocoee, http://www.campocoee.com, in southeastern Tennessee.

About the Author

Matt Johnston (matt@budget-travels-tips.com) held a personal record of spending 20 summers at a summer camp, until he unfortunately had to get a real job.


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