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It’s the day after our campout return. We’re tired, we’re bug-bitten, we’re sore. Our clothes smell like campfire smoke and our shoes are still soaked through. But more than anything, we’re grateful. We’re proud of ourselves and our heads are full of memories that we’ll never forget.

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Camping is an interesting thing. In so many ways, the struggle is the reward. It’s a difficult thing to explain, especially to some of our younger campers. It’s better to show them, though that process certainly has difficulties as well. So, we set out Friday morning to begin our attempt. After facing and defeating all the normal backpacking challenges, divvying up the gear, adjusting backpacks, things went easily. Fresh and working on a full night’s sleep, we made it to our first campsite with few issues. The river water was collected and purified, gear was taken out of backpacks and organized into neat piles. We explored our new environment and gathered all the dry wood and kindling we needed for our fire. It was a rare dry day, and there was plenty of fuel to be found. We started the fire easily, and set up a little makeshift pizzeria, balancing a flat stone over the flame and taking turns melting cheese over sauced pieces of pita. We laid out of sleeping bags in the little wooden shelter, preparing for a rainstorm that was going to blow in near midnight. That first night, we all stayed up long past sunset, turning on our lights as it got dark to see our books, our friendship bracelets, our quiet card games. We slept to the steady sound of heavy rain on the shelter’s tin roof. I was woken up around 7:30 the next morning by giggles and failed attempts at quiet conversation. Ten girls, full of inexplicable energy, ready for another day. The rainfall came in intermittent bursts as we made our chocolate chip pancakes. Some faces grew wary as the realization dawned that at least part of our hike would be done in the downpour. We packed our food and our gear, wrapped our backpacks in water covers or trash bags, and set off once more.

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We arrived at our second location in wet clothes and muddy shoes. We collected our water. We ate our lunch. When the rain stopped, we tried to make our fire, collecting the driest wood we could find, managing the tiniest flame, and tried too long to keep it alive. Eventually, we pulled out our camp stoves and boiled our pasta. We ate quickly and enthusiastically. Again, we set up our sleeping bags on the wooden deck of the shelter. The second night, everybody was fast asleep within fifteen minutes of laying down. The next morning, I spent the better part of an hour convincing sleepy campers to leave their warm sleeping bags and start packing up. We ate a quick, simple breakfast, packed up our remaining gear, and began trudging our way back to base camp. We arrived in the backfield with a sort of exhausted celebration. After showering and changing into clean clothes, we gathered at the lodge for a wonderful lunch. That was where I started to notice the positive effects of our campout. Our campers were obviously tired, but they ate their food with a new appreciation. There was a camaraderie that hadn’t been there before, and they were already talking about some of their favorite campout moments.

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From dedication and hard work comes a fulfillment that cannot be given. It’s a lesson that will hold true throughout the entirety of these camper’s lives. It’s a difficult thing to learn, and it can only be taught through challenging experiences in safe environments. Over the past few days, it has become clear that the Green River Preserve is the perfect place to begin learning.

Story by Molly Watson with photos by Samantha Keebler and the GRP Media Team