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“Boys’ Night, Plus Sierra!”

“Boys’ Night, Plus Sierra!” My Nine-Day Expedition to Self Discovery By Sierra McGivney   I awake in dim light wanting to quit. My head aches. I’m cold. The days loom ahead. Long Lake looms ahead too. It feels as if we aren’t even moving. And it’s only day two. In fall 2018, I started my immersion semester in Plattsburgh State’s Expeditionary Studies program, which teaches leadership in paddling, climbing and skiing. On October 27, I joined 11 other students on a nine-day canoe trip from Long Lake to Upper Saranac Lake. I was the only girl in a group with…

“Boys’ Night, Plus Sierra!”

My Nine-Day Expedition to Self Discovery

By Sierra McGivney

 

I awake in dim light wanting to quit. My head aches. I’m cold. The days loom ahead. Long Lake looms ahead too. It feels
as if we aren’t even moving. And it’s only day two.

In fall 2018, I started my immersion semester in Plattsburgh State’s Expeditionary Studies program, which teaches leadership in paddling, climbing and skiing. On October 27, I joined 11 other students on a nine-day canoe trip from Long Lake to Upper Saranac Lake. I was the only girl in a group with five strongly opinionated guys.

 

Day 1:

Standing at the Long Lake boat launch in the sleeting rain, I gaze at my group. Jake, Liam, Furr, Tim and Matt are surrounded by the gear we will use for the next nine days.

Taking a deep breath, I say goodbye to the group ahead of us. I hug Morgan. My face must show how worried I am.

“Hey more power to you. If anyone can do it, you can,” Chloe says.

I turn, walk down to the canoes and get in with Jake. With a sinus infection and no voice, I push off into the gray landscape without a word.

Slowly we paddle through the dark unrelenting rain up Long Lake. Tim and Furr are chanting, “Boys’ night!” and then Liam joins in — “Plus Sierra!”

I’m sure this will continue.

Day 2:

I force my oatmeal with craisins and walnuts down in the lean-to and hope the food will warm me up. I’ve been boiling lake water flavored with leaves and dirt all morning. Our teacher, Ray Wagner, pokes his head into the lean-to and tells us we’ll bushwack up Kempshall Mountain instead of paddling today.

I bundle up in my many layers of jackets and pants, I put on my hat and my buff and join the back of the line. One by one, the boys ask me to carry their extra gear. For some reason, I’m the only one who thought to bring a backpack.

We make our way up the primitive trail using our compasses and maps. As we hike, the mountain gets steeper, and, in spite of it being October, the trees are dusted with snow. When we started today, it was about 40 degrees Fahrenheit. Now it’s 30, and we can see our breath.

“It’s like we entered Narnia,” Furr exclaims.

We fill our empty water bottles with snow, and start to head down.

On the way down, Ray approaches me and we have a conversation about group dynamics in outdoor adventure sports. Although our group is mostly male, like the industry, I should not be afraid to use my voice, Ray advises.

I listen, but can’t help from thinking of the warm curry stir-fry we’re having for dinner.

Day 3:

Today, we’re heading up Raquette River.

Jake and I are in front. This is stretch of the river feels like being in “The Revenant.”  The view is breathtaking. White-packed snow covers the riverbanks, the trees are bare and twisted and the clouds never seem to lift.

No one is here. No birds. No bugs. Not even the usual sound of motor boats or campers on the shore.

It’s just us. Alone.

Day 4:

Today we switch canoe partners. I’m with Matt now, who constantly feels the need to steer from the front even though the canoe’s direction is controlled from the stern.

“I know I’m not good at canoeing, but you have to stop ruddering the boat so I can learn,” I yell.

“I’m just trying to help!”

Ray paddles over to give me some pointers. After some practice, I’m able to control the path of the canoe on my own.

I think back on our conversation from yesterday and take charge.

“Atta girl, you got it!” Matt encourages.

The rest of the day is filled with paddling until the short portage to the next lean-to off of the river.


Day 5:

Halloween (Matt’s birthday).

We hike to Raquette Falls and canoe 4 miles on the river.

Tonight we’ll decorate the lean-to with glow sticks and serenade Matt for his 21st.

 

Day 6:

Another grueling day of paddling and portaging, and the guys yelling “Boys’ night … Plus Sierra!”

It’s night now, and we play cards on top of our makeshift tables — our food bins.

 

Day 7:

Today we start in Upper Saranac Lake surrounded by mountains, islands and afluent waterfront summer homes.

Our spirits lift as the sun shows itself for the first time all week. I’m thinking to myself that the next few days won’t be so bad.

 

Day 8:

Tim and Furr will not stop singing sea shanties.

 

Day 9:

Today’s the last day. The weather is warmer and our nine days are over. We take a short paddle to a boat launch on Upper Saranac, load up our gear in the bus waiting for us, and leave by 10 a.m.

Once back at Plattsburgh State, I find myself alone for the first time in nine days. I jump in the shower and struggle to unmat my dirty hair.

Then I start to cry in disbelief. My shoulders and back ache. I just want to lie down. Instead, I lean against the shower wall and feel the hot water rush over me for the next two hours washing off the last nine days.

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