What Camp Means to Me

A Place to Share

by Kristin Knight

Before camp, my proudest moment had been winning the spelling bee in
third grade. I was tall, gangly, and knew big words, but "confidence" was
not one of them. I knew the arid and hot Texas landscape, but the jagged
peaks of Colorado were unimaginable to me. I thought the meaning of the
word "friend" was someone to sit by at the lunch table. Camp
changed that.

"It's a beautiful day in Colorado!" yelled a female
voice as the morning bell clanged. My wagon mates and I woke up to the
mint green glow of sunlight filtering through the faded canvas above.
Living in a covered wagon was the first true adventure of my life at
camp. Somehow it felt comfortable. Somehow it felt like home.

Throughout my first summer there I moved on to bigger adventures like
my first five-day backpacking trip. I experienced the humility of being
a tiny person in a vast wilderness and the self-pride of climbing my
first peak. I learned to trust when a girl I hardly knew took my trembling
hand and led me across a steep snowfield. I learned the meaning of the
words "role model" when I befriended the strong, courageous
women who were my backpacking counselors.

By my fourth summer at camp, at age sixteen, I experienced awe on an
almost-daily basis. I witnessed not only the awesome power of nature,
but also the awesome power of my own two feet when I woke up at 2 a.m.
and hiked twenty-four miles and climbed five peaks in one day. Before
I knew it, I was the one taking the scared girl's hand and leading
her across the snowfield. I was the booming, confident role model. The
most life-changing awe I experienced, however, was the knot-tight bond
I had with my adventure-seeking companions. I had friends who reached
out their hands and helped me up the steep upper boulderfield of Longs
Peak. I had counselors who trusted me with the great responsibility of
being in the back of the line, being the one to look out for others.
I had peers who instilled in me a deep respect for people from all walks
of life, not just my own. And I experienced the heart-wrenching goodbye
I had to say summer after summer to all of the people who had become
a part of me.

My camp summers ended all too abruptly as I readied myself for my senior
year in high school. The yearning for adventure that camp had implanted
in my heart gave me the courage to drive to Glacier National Park, Montana,
by myself the week after my graduation. I moved to Missoula, Montana,
to attend college and, through the ins and outs of my daily routine,
I became lost. I felt exhausted and uninspired, a slave to the grind
of schoolwork and schedule. Then I found my old journal that I had kept
at camp. One entry said : "I feel that camp not only brings out
the best in me, it brings out the real me. It peels back all the layers
that everyday life adds and reveals to me myself."

Immediately I sent for an application to be a counselor. I needed camp
desperately — for rejuvenation, to be inspired, to live for people
and things in which I believed. After several months, I had secured my
dream job. It was now my turn to be the woman girls would look up to.
It was now my turn to be a backpacking counselor.

It was almost more fun than being a camper. To be a leader is confidence-inspiring.
To be a leader for a bunch of teenagers in an expansive wilderness is
downright exhilarating. Choosing the route up a peak in the star-studded
purple of dawn, glissading down a sun- washed snowfield for hours on
a bluebird day, setting up tents in a whirlwind of flapping nylon as
the gusts pick up before a storm and then curling up in a sleeping bag
as the lightning flashes white and orange on the stony peaks above: exhilarating.

I was alive, my heart beating in stride with those of my ten campers
and one amazing partner. Together, we formed a veritable force field
of strength, courage, and love. Together, we instilled in one another
the inspiration and confidence to chase down dreams and ride them out,
whether it be for eight seconds or for a whole lifetime.

Thanks to camp, for me, it's a lifetime.

Kristin Knight is pursuing a degree in photojournalism at the University
of Montana and is an intern at the Outdoor Writers Association of America.
She attended Girls Trails End Ranch at Cheley Colorado Camps for six

Originally published in the 2006 March/April
issue of Camping Magazine.