Friday, November 2, 2012

2012 Potomac Pilgrimage

Potomac Pilgrimage sail, lazy or creative? ;)

On October 19th, 8 girls from Walter Johnson High School and 6 young adults set off on a three-day, 35-mile canoe trip on the Potomac River, from the Brunswick Boat Launch to Calleva. Many of the participants had never been on an overnight camping trip before. We paddled, sang, swam, made fires, cooked, and had great conversations. Everyone had a great time and we can't wait to meet up with these ladies for our WRA alumni event soon!

Here are some participant submissions about the trip experience:

Elizabeth Straathof, 16
My decision to go on the camping trip this past weekend was a spur of the moment thing basically resulting from a bad week and an opportunity to change things. Now that its over, I know that I wouldn’t have missed it for the world. 
I spent a weekend out away from my life, meeting and hanging out with some of the coolest people I have ever known. Out away from the rest of the world, the age gap between the teenagers and the college grads was minimal, and we spent long hours in the canoes sharing life stories, past adventures and future hopes
The people on the trip helped me realize opportunities that I didn’t even know were available to me and helped me to get a new perspective on what I do every day. In addition to the more philosophical parts of the trip, the camping itself was brilliant, the food was surprisingly good and the company, as aforementioned, was excellent. And from games of capture the flag, to floating lunches, to sailing in a canoe the boating part was terrific. The strangest thing about this trip was going to school the day after. I was in a sort of daze the whole day, confused as to why I wasn’t on a boat listening to the fading strains of a song on guitar, floating down the Potomac River.

Susie Vulpas, 24
I think part of the allure of outdoor adventuring is the push and pull of nature. Living with the comforts of home, bathrooms, beds, even just a roof over our heads, we are seldom forced to use all our human devices for survival. I think camping trips are great to not only push us out of our comfort zone, but also to make us aware of how little really need. I don’t think I could honestly turn down a hot shower for a cold bucket bath, but it is also extraordinarily satisfying to know that once we get used to the bucket baths or the occasional stick under our sleeping bag, life is just as satisfying, and maybe more, to live with only that which grows and is produced directly from the Earth.

This camping and canoeing trip, three days on the water, canoeing down the Potomac definitely stood out among my top trips. It was great to hang out with the girls who, as high schoolers, are usually too busy to spend much time away from their various activities. It was amazing to talk to them, and with just a few years separating us, I found that we were able to connect over school, sports, pleasures and frustrations.

Our experiences differed quite a bit, but that only added to the great time spent hanging out with the girls, getting to know them and pushing them when I could reasonably do so. One particularly great moment for me was Saturday morning, our second day of canoeing. I sat in the middle of the canoe, where my only job was to proudly demonstrate my strumming ignorance on the ukulele. The two other girls were paddling away on either end of the canoe. Just a couple miles out of camp we saw a handsome brick bridge with four arches placed over the junction of a tributary with the Potomac. On a whim and because we were making good time, my boat mates paddled upstream with the intention to perform the slalom of a lifetime through the arches of the bridge. After some fierce paddling battling the current that seemed to intensify the closer to the bridge we got, we wove in and out of the first two arches. Unfortunately the river’s current had us beat and we weren’t able to finish out the slalom, but by that point, it was hardly necessary, the first success was there. The detour was fairly brief but it was a great way for the three of us to work together and push through a difficult task, learning to trust each other and work together, establishing ourselves as a team.
I think the length of the trip was great, hopefully the girls were not too tired and left at a point where they wanted, granted, not only a shower, but hopefully more time exploring all that nature has to offer. Having not grown up in the DC or Maryland area, only coming out for school, without a car, has made me ignorant of the area’s beauty. I look forward to exploring it more!

Mia Schwartz, 16
Day 1: We started the camping trip by meeting at Annie’s house and enjoying a huge and delicious breakfast of chocolate chip pancakes! Then loaded everything into the cars and left to get the canoes. Everyone arrived at Calleva to get the canoes and then we hit the road again to get to our starting point! The first day I was in a canoe with Lina and Alina, and we had some trouble getting the strokes down, but then Natalie helped us out! I realized that I enjoy being in the front of the canoe rather than the back. We paddled for about 10 miles that day and found a sandy island to set up camp. We first unloadedeverything and then set up the tents and changed into our dry clothes. Dinner was really good, we cooked it in the fire and it was a very enjoyable way to do it! 
Everyone sat around the fire and we all talked and shared stories, it was a great way to get to know one another.
Day 2: The second day, we packed everything back up and got back into the canoes! I went in a canoe with Alina and Laura and finally, we got the hang of the strokes! 
All three of us paddled the whole day, which totaled 20 miles! It was such a good feeling to put all that hard work into paddling. We found a camping spot with lots of trees and wood scattered everywhere, so everyone helped out with clearing that out of the way. We made a small fire and had burritos with cheese and vegetables for dinner. The second night was very different from the first, in the surroundings and just the feel of it.
Day 3: On the last day of the trip we did not have much paddling to get done, since we did 20 miles the day before! I was in a canoe with Susie and Bela and we leisurely paddled for a while. All of a sudden we heard a shriek and realized that a canoe with Annie, Laura, and Roman had tipped over! We rushed over to help them get the water out of their canoe. All of the food got soaked, so it was good that this happened on the last day! It was a funny experience and I was glad that we could help them with their boat. Once we helped them, we continued to paddle but realized everyone was nowhere in sight! Everyone was already at Calleva, so we hurried to get there. Later that night, the parents met us at Great Falls and we had a potluck. Everyone brought really good food and all enjoyed.
Alina Imam, 23
I've never camped before - the thought of it usually made me want my bed and apartment comforts even more. So, when asked to go on Wild River Academy's three day canoeing and camping trip, I said yes on a whim, deciding to try something new.

One of the main challenges to the weekend was learning how to canoe - having only kayaked before (and poorly, at that), it was difficult understanding how to row and keep the boat straight. Being in a boat with two other young women, having to figure out why we were zigzagging down the river (all while nicknaming our boat "Crash") was a really good experience in hands-on problem solving and teamwork that I haven't experienced. 

My favorite part, however, was the conversation I had with the girls in my boats. While most started off talking about our favorite foods, colors, and celebrities, I found them quickly moving into subjects that were challenging. I felt a sense of security speaking honestly with them - we had no other boats close enough to hear our conversations and were able to say anything without fear of getting shot down or asking the wrong questions.
While I had assumed the hardest part would be sleeping at night (with the cold), I was surprised at how comfortable I was at the campsites. With a strong fire, chopped veggies, cheese and tortillas for dinner, and the energy of the group of young women, I found myself very comfortable and not missing my bed and shower. 
The fears I had of camping turned out to be the easiest things to do, and the hands-on nature of canoeing, pitching tents, and building campsites was more gratifying than I could have ever imagined. It was an experience that my friends are shocked I decided to do, but one I'd do again in a heartbeat.
Annie Heffernan, 16
From October 19th-21st I was paddling down the Potomac river, in the cold, without any outside communication to my friends or family, just 13 crazy people and I chilling in the middle of a river, and I had an absolute blast. On the first day I was in a canoe with two people both named Anna. we called ourselves the A-stroke, because that day Natalie was directing everyone like crazy about how to make certain strokes when paddling. I really got to know Anna, a college graduate, and got to bond closer with my good friend Anna, who I have known my whole life. We were all really motivated to get down the river and be the fastest canoers while emphasizing the “adventure” portion of the trip. We camped out on a beachy type area on an island that night, and made a giant fire which we roasted marshmellows over and got to chat as a big group of people. On the second day of the trip, I was in a canoe with my cousin Natalie, the owner of Wild River Academy, and one of my best friends, Shannon, who is a member of my gymnastics team. On that day the capture the flag war was at its full extent, and soon turned to a game of boys on girls. Our canoe went beast and paddled like crazy, with 1 professional, and 2 very strong gymnasts, so we flew down the river when we had the flag. That night we did not get into camp until very late, so we had to set up in the dark. I helped build a small fire, because where we camped was around overgrown brush and fallen trees.

The last morning I was the first one awake, and got to watch the sunrise, it was beautiful and peaceful being the only one to see it. It was that moment that I really realized how much I love being in nature, even if I am allergic to everything outside. The last day of our trip was the most adventurous for me. I was in a boat with my very best friend, Laura, who I have been close with since we were 2 years old, the other member of our boat was Roman, who was on the first camping trip I ever took with Natalie. Our boat had started with the flag, and as the competitive side of Roman and I took over, we really wanted to distance ourselves from the other boats to come out victorious in the end. As we paddled down the river we hadn’t seen any of our group members for a while, and while i was sterning (paddling in the back of the boat, in charge of direction) Laura and Roman used two of our three paddles, to make into a sail. We came to a split in the river between two islands, and Roman wanted to go through the split to the other side of the islands in order to pick up the most wind. 

I was the only one with a paddle at the time, so by myself I had to paddle up the river between these two islands while steering the boat, and against the wind because the sale was up. It was the most challenging part of the trip for me, but I managed to get us to the other side without any problems and when we reached the other side I felt the most accomplished I had the entire trip, I will never forget that experience. As we continued down the river, Roman was standing at the bow (front of the boat) sailing us, when he lost balance and the entire canoe flipped over. The water chilled us down to the bone, as we tried to collect everything before it floated down the river, as we were bailing the boat, the water became deeper and Laura and I, who are both 5 foot 1, could barely stand, that was when we walked the boat to the bank in order to dry off and recollect ourselves. Lucky our screams were loud enough, so another boat in our group was on the other side of the island heard our cry and came to the rescue to help us out. 
The entire experience from the trip is unforgettable. I encourage everyone to go on one of Wild River Academy’s trip, especially girls my age. It is really a life changing experience and I had the most amazing time.

Thanks to our sponsors, Calleva and Whole Foods. We had a wonderful pilot trip and, as the winter months creep on, we here at WRA daydream of our trip on the water with those strong young women from Walter Johnson High School.

Next Blog: Hudson Bay Bound Presentations and How to Sign Up for 2013 Trips

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