For more than 50 years, we’ve used wilderness experience as a vehicle to inspire self-discovery, growth, and a shared sense of purpose amongst our campers and camp counselors.
The experiences they have at Birchwood as young men are oftentimes the foundational blocks of their adulthood. It’s not uncommon for an alumni to paddle up to our dock with children of his own to regale us with stories of his youth and the many ways Birchwood impacted his formative years.
These are the stories we are most proud of so, in the spirit of celebration, we’ve decided to share them with you in a series titled “Where Are They Now”.
We begin our celebration with a camp counselor from the early 2000s:
Ryan Vickery (aka Stubs) 2000,2001, 2002, 2003
Ryan was hired as a camp counselor after his freshman year of college in 2000. He found out about camp via family friends from the Kansas City area and thought he would give it a try. During his tenure at Birchwood, he took many memorable trips into the BWCA and the Canadian wilderness just outside our front door.
One particular trip he recalls is with our 30’ voyageurs canoe. This monster canoe can hold ten people and their gear.
“One trip I will never forget was with our youngest crew from the Avant cabin. We took our very large canoe called Amis Du Bois on her maiden voyage. We did the whole Alpine Loop. The campers absolutely loved paddling this HUGE canoe in the BWCA! Everybody we passed along the way was enamored by its glory. To end the trip with a challenge, Super Dave (camp nickname) and I actually portaged that canoe, with many breaks from Seagull Lake. The canoe is incredibly heavy and took all our energy.” That may have been the only time this canoe was ever portaged.
Another trip Ryan told me about was a 10-day trip on the Northern Light loop. He was a guide for one of our girl’s trips from our sister camp, Camp Birchwood.
He told me of the magic he witnessed as these young women worked together on this wilderness journey into parts unknown.
When asked what he thought kids had to gain from wilderness camp experiences like this, he said:
“Life-long skills such as paddling and survival and communication and map skills. One of the biggest benefits is that it builds confidence and interpersonal relationship skills. They will also find a lifelong friend in the process.”
“Camp allows everyone to unplug and enter into a state of calmness and appreciation for life. The beauty and magic of the BWCA brings that out!”
“Personally, I found an identity that was unknown to me. My sense of self, self-esteem, and confidence was greatly improved. It isn’t until we step out of our box that we truly begin to find out who we are. I fell in love with nature and my affection for God grew. I would not be who I am today without my experiences at camp.”
These words would make my father’s heart soar like an eagle because this is what he and my mother spent their entire adult life striving for.
After graduating from college, with an education degree, Ryan worked with young kids as a sixth-grade science teacher, also coaching football and basketball. He now lives in the Kansas City area with his wife, two daughters and one son (or as we like to say Birchwood campers).
Ryan has since gone back to school and earned a BSN nursing degree. He worked in the ER during his training and is starting a new career as a full-time emergency room nurse this February. We wish him the absolute best and I have no doubt that his patients will be in good hands.
There are still wilderness adventures ahead for Ryan, as he is planning to paddle from Birchwood Wilderness Camp to Lake Superior this summer. This is a very challenging route, which includes the famous Grand Portage (nine miles with a canoe on your head). But even before you get to the Grand Portage, the route takes you over a 600-rod and a 400-rod portage just to get you warmed up.
This route takes you past some of the most impressive cliffs, bluffs, waterfalls and gorgeous views of the Canadian border. Often you need to wait for moose to move out of the way before you can continue. It will, I am sure, be a very rewarding adventure for Ryan and a right of passage for any voyageur.
Happy Trails Ryan!