In my early years, I spent plenty a night pleading with my father to tell me stories. A timeless tradition, storytelling is a craft that knows no master, for a tale improves with its every telling. My younger self was quick to realize this, and delight would bubble up in me every single time my father began one story in particular. Simply put, the elderly leader of a valley people needed to select the next chief. He sent three of the bravest young warriors up the great mountain, knowing that only the strongest would bring back evidence from the summit. The first two returned after several days, bearing leaves and bark. Finally, the last warrior arrived back in the village, empty-handed and bedraggled. He explained to the chief that the top of the mountain was bare; therefore he had no proof but the skills he had learned on his journey. This courageous warrior had earned his place as the new leader.
In the days leading up to my group’s trip to Baxter State Park, I was teeming with questions and wonder about how the adventure was going to take shape. Our leaders, Matt, Ann, and Flora, diligently prepared the schedule and other important elements of the trip, while also getting the group revved up to head out. Coming into the trip, I had limited experience with backpacking and camping, so as we drove north towards Baxter I faced an internal conflict between excitement and utter anxiety. At times we could even glimpse the mighty Mount Katahdin draped in clouds, a trek that we all decided would take place on Thursday, as our culminating adventure.
My nerves gradually dissipated the next morning as we set out with our backpacks on a seven-mile hike to Russell Pond where we would spend the night. As one of the “leaders of the day,” for this hike, I looked over the map with Matt and Sebastian and chose a route. This trail involved two unexpectedly deep river crossings, and we were all soaked up to our thighs. However, the whole group, including the very resilient Henry who had fallen in the water, recovered without breaking a smile. Just as the day was cooling down, we made it to the campsite and began to thaw. That night, we reflected on the day over a campfire while laughter filled the darkness.
After another gratifying day of trekking to a campground at the base of Mt. Katahdin, it came time to hike the massive peak that would be our final adventure. For as long as I can remember, climbing Katahdin has been a goal of mine. My parents had originally planned to name me Katahdin, after the peak where the sun first strikes the United States every morning, before switching at the very last minute. The name of the mountain has since grown to be a part of my identity—the part that loves exploring the outdoors and that initially attracted me to Chewonki. Needless to say, hiking up Mount Katahdin felt like the fulfillment of a lifelong goal.
Along the trail to the summit, almost everyone had a moment that challenged them in one way or another. However, standing on the bare peak of Katahdin, I would say that each one of us felt like the final warrior in my favorite childhood story. When we returned to camp sore and ready to rest, I believe that the experience summoned in us a pride in ourselves and each other that we might keep with us as we head back to our lives at Chewonki and at home. The confidence instilled in me at the top of Mount Katahdin will most certainly remain there. Though before the name represented a distant, yet cherished, part of my character, it has now taken on a new meaning—a prideful memory that I am lucky enough to share with another nine people.
-Katie C. Greens Farms Academy, Old Greenwich, CT