Nothing good can come from asking 42 teenagers to wake up at 5:30 AM. Trust me, I’m speaking from personal experience. But last Monday, as my cabin grudgingly stumbled into the dining hall for a 6 o’clock breakfast, there was a feeling of excitement in the air. After eating and packing a sandwich for the five hour car ride up to the West Branch of the Penobscot River at Chewonki’s Big Eddy Campground, my fellow whitewater kayakers and I were ready to hit the road. Everyone immediately fell asleep once we started driving, only waking up when we stopped at rest areas to buy junk food and get gas for the bus. Our trip leaders were Paul Arthur, the Ethics teacher and Chewonki’s go-to “punny man,” Greg Sokol, and Matt Went, both of whom are Chewonki Summer Camp employees. When we arrived at Big Eddy we pitched our tents and were assigned to a three person (plus a leader) team that would rotate through cooking dinner, chopping wood for the fire, and cleaning dishes during the next five days. After that it was time to put on our gear and get in the water. (Note: gear consisted of a bathing suit, a wetsuit, a spray jacket, a spray skirt, and a PFD. As we got further into the trip, putting said gear on at 8:30 in the morning when it was still wet and cold from the previous day’s kayaking. It was an interesting experience, to say the least). We got into our kayaks and Matt and Greg showed us basic paddling strokes and how to “eddy out,” which was how you exited the calm water into the current. And then, suddenly, it was time to learn the dreaded wet exit. If you tip over in your kayak the only way to get out is to wet exit. This means as soon as you tip over you have to tuck your head to the skirt of your boat, pull on the grab loop which releases the skirt, and then push yourself out of the kayak and swim up to the surface. It sounded terrifying. But then Matt, Greg, and Paul stood right next to us while we practiced and pretty soon everyone got the hang of it. By the end of the trip some of us had tipped so many times that it was easy and not scary at all because we knew exactly what to do.
I think my favorite part of the trip was on Wednesday night. Since we were staying at a campground, we weren’t in as much of a wilderness-y area as some of the other trips were. So we all loaded onto the bus and drove across the river to a few picnic tables and, to our surprise, a brick oven! We got to make and eat our own brick oven pizza! It was really, really fun. Paul and Annika, who worked at the campground, serenaded us on their mandolins, which was really cool. There were a few flour-related altercations and a lot of debate on how thin one should slice pepperoni, but it was really fun to sit down with my friends and trip leaders and eat yummy pizza. Another really memorable night was the day before, when it was Lydia’s birthday. Maret and I scavenged around our camp, looking for things to use for DIY birthday crown, a very typical whitewater kayaking tradition. And the end result was gorgeous, if I do say so myself.
None of us wanted to leave when Friday came around. We had enough energy (and had packed enough food) to stay at least one more week. Since we had a long drive ahead of us, the plan was to leave the campground no later than seven. Which, to any ordinary person, would mean no paddling that day. However, Chewonki students are far from ordinary. So it was a cold morning when Emmett, who had been assigned designated Waker-Upper, woke up at 4:30 AM in order to wake everyone else up so we could pack up camp and all have one last day of paddling through a rapid!! We were lucky because the area where we pitched our tents was right at the bottom of a rapid, so it only required a short amount of portaging (or, as we like to call it, Freedom Hiking) the kayaks to where we would get in the water and end our wilderness trip with a bang! Everyone had a great time and only one person tipped over! I never would have thought of myself as the type of person to ever go whitewater kayaking, and I was very scared that I had made the wrong choice on the first day. But looking back on it, I don’t think I would have had the same experience on any other trip. There are so many hilarious moments and useful skills that I will remember for a long time. It was the best part of my life at Chewonki so far. And, if anyone who was on my trip is reading this: NO BONES!!!!
-Julia Tamlyn, The Nightingale-Bamford School, New York, NY