The Templeton camping trip to Forked Lake in the Adirondacks is a famous (or infamous, depending on who you ask) experience and a rite of passage for every student in the honors college, including myself. Quickly hustled into a van away from my weepy parents, I comprehended for the first time that the people I would be stuck with for the next five days were the same people I would be stuck with for the next four years. It’s a daunting realization. After hiding my own tears behind my sunglasses for the first few hours of the drive, I started to enjoy playing games and laughing with the other students in my van. And then I kept enjoying myself. I enjoyed hiking, and swimming, and canoeing, and stargazing, and eating meals cooked over an open fire, and I even enjoyed the freedom that came from five days without a mirror, accepting the fact I probably wouldn’t recognize myself upon my return to campus. The last night of the trip, sitting on a rock by the fire, eating a mountain pie with my now (post-college) roommate, I couldn’t believe my luck at all of the amazing people who were, in fact, stuck with me.
Throughout the next four years, as Mr. P warns all of his students, we did have many hard times. Nearly all of the predictably bad things happened to me or to one of my dear friends. But the people I was stuck with that first week stayed stuck together, and we did our best to support and love one another as we each grew and changed during our four years in Templeton. Even the people who I didn’t become close friends with were still a gift. One of the things I miss most about student life is how easy it is to be casual acquaintances with so many people. In college, I loved that I got to share a table in the library, or sit at lunch, or spend time in Baird with people who I might have never made intentional plans to see. The accidental, unplanned interactions I had on campus were some of the biggest blessings I experienced during my time as a student. Learning to enjoy spending time with people that were different from me, who had their own quirks, who I didn’t always understand: that, I think, is one of the biggest lessons I began to learn on the camping trip. In the ADK, you have ample time to practice being with each other without any posturing or pretense– the circumstances of the camping trip introduce you to the idea that someone doesn’t need to act (or smell) the way you’d expect or want them to, but you can still have fun and exist together, and make the most of the community that you’ve been given. Plus, the shared suffering of rainy days, arduous hikes, and camping food forges a bond that isn’t quickly broken. I mean, take a look at these before-and-after pictures; the difference is striking:
I am a different person now than I was when I first hiked into those same campsites– we all are– and returning to the ADK after six years was a different experience than I expected. Helping to lead the camping trip, with twenty-six nervous students in the same place I was at their age, provided a great opportunity for reflection on all that’s changed since I was in their shoes. As we sat around the fire telling stories, and students loudly played “Arg” and some other card games, I also realized how little had changed. The ADK is still a transformative experience for our students, and a wonderful way to get to know each other and their professors. The place itself has remained largely unchanged, and witnessing the beginning of lifelong friendships is surely a gift. I don’t know where these students will be in six years, but certainly the camping trip has changed each of their lives, as it did mine.