You’re not going to go home and carry a canoe around your house, I tell my students at the end of each expedition. It’s not about learning to carry canoes.
But for the past few weeks, we’ve focused on learning how to travel by canoe, pushed our limits paddling through waves and carrying boats over rough terrain between lakes. We’ve set goals and exceeded them, pursued this task of travel with an intensity rarely found in our daily lives.
But by the end of the trip, it’s no surprise that what we’re really doing out here is not about carrying canoes. Yet these will be the easiest stories to tell – the miles traveled, the obstacles overcome. Though the people we return to at expedition’s end may not understand the difficulty of each mile, at least they understand a mile.
Harder to explain is the first moment you understood yourself a strong person, an independent person, a leader. How your narrative of who you are was warped by the wind and waves and your teammates, those strangers you’ll likely never see again, but felt strangely close to after such a short period of time.
The value of going into the woods and practicing wilderness skills may at first seem irrelevant to you unless you have either an interest in wild places, or an understanding of metaphor. It is through metaphor that after your expedition, you will see canoes appear throughout your life, and return to a familiar place within yourself to gather the grit needed to face each new challenge.
So why would you begin something as seemingly unnecessary as a hundred-mile loop by canoe through the wilderness? You hear a compelling story, and you trust it.
Which means we must start telling our stories. The hard ones.