Silhouetted with their boats against the evening sky, they looked like a party of mountain men or trappers. Just like the early explorers of the great Northwest, they had portaged their canoes over rugged terrain, retraced their tracks, and then carried food and equipment to the site of their camp.
They had been pushing hard. Muscles and spirits were tired. They were probably as sore and stiff as any group of travelers ever could be. But now the tents were pitched, supplies were stashed (safe from bears) high in the trees, dinner was steaming in the pot, and the campfire beckoned anyone near to mellow in its warm, yellow glow.
It was time to recover from the strains of the day, to let nature calm and soothe with a serenity unique to the out-of-doors. Snowcapped peaks stood like an honor guard in white dress uniform. The sun, small on the horizon, dipped through strands of gray, leaving an orange tinge in the sky.
“This day has not been a piece of cake,” said Eric Peterson. “But now is when you know you’ve earned it. The view is marvelous, worth every blister.”
Eric was one of the younger members of our group, but after a few days on the Bowron Lakes, he, like the other boys and fathers of Troop 266 from Tacoma, Washington, already felt like a seasoned veteran. Paddling and portaging all day, sleeping out in the woods with your father and your friends and leaders, getting up early and working hard—it makes you feel responsible for yourself.
Our decision to head north into the Canadian wilderness between Kamloops and Prince George, British Columbia, had initiated months of work, preparation, and planning. Fall and winter months had been filled with passing merit badges, repairing the troop’s canoes, fundraising, and the gathering of food and clothing, all under the direction of Scout and priesthood leaders in the Tacoma Sixth Ward. Then came the high excitement as spring gave way to early summer, school let out in June, and we were on our way. It was the second trip to the area for some of the older boys. As much as possible, fathers accompanied their sons and were assigned to the same canoe with them.
And what memories we made! Fighting stiff head winds that could have pushed us across the water easily, if only we’d been traveling in the opposite direction. Sudden storms that pelted us with rain and ice. The sweet “sleep of a labouring man” (see Eccl. 5:12). The one bear that did wander near camp climbed a tree and tried to get into our food. The aches, the pains, the blisters—and going on in spite of them. The wind that did, once, mercifully fill our makeshift sails as we raced across Spectacle Lake in record time.
It all served to bring us closer together, as young men and leaders, as brothers in the priesthood, as fathers and sons. How can you not talk to someone while paddling across the 26-miles of choppy waves on Lanezi Lake? Especially when he has struggled with you, side-by-side, to carry a canoe through rocks and underbrush on the banks of the Caribou River; and shivered with you when “deadheads and sweepers” (submerged logs in the language of Canadian rangers) tipped your canoe into the bone-chilling waters.
None of us will forget the 18 hours we spent drying out around an old potbellied wood stove heated to a red hot glow. Or the ranger who entertained us with tales of his Montana cowboy days. Or the impromptu testimony meeting when Lynn Wilbur read to us from the Book of Mormon.
Sure, we returned home eager for pizza, bathtubs, and nice clean sheets. But we returned home richer and stronger—and ready to head north of the border again just as soon as we are able.