Lucy Soderstrom addressed a youth gathering in Washington DC this week as part of a youth event celebrating wilderness.  The BWCA can have a profound effect on young people.  Here is her talk:

I’m a 17 year old who has come to love the Boundary Waters wilderness. For the past 5 years I’ve been taking trips into the BWCA and Quetico through YMCA Camp Widjiwagan. My Dad signed me up for my first trip when I was 12. It was an 11 day trip where I’d be camping with kids I had never met with no modern comforts and no contact with my friends and family. I actually really didn’t want to go. But as it turns out, those eleven days were among the best days I had ever spent in my life. My trips have gotten progressively longer and more challenging and this past summer, I took a 31 day trip. The Boundary Waters have been so impactful on my life, helping me gain strength, respect, and I think most importantly, self-confidence.

I have a favorite campsite. I stayed there two summers ago. This campsite sits on an island on Russell Lake. What first caught our eye was the big rock in the sun, perfect for our early-afternoon snack–dried apples. While eating, we took a look around and realized, even though we had been planning to paddle further, we couldn’t pass this campsite up. So, we stayed. That night, we fell asleep to the sound of nearby waterfalls and were woken in the middle of the night by wolves howling just across the lake. We ended up staying another day and swam, we explored, and we made an extravagant breakfast of pancakes and then calzones for supper. Not that all days are pancakes and calzones. Most of my favorite days are ones where we put on lots of miles, accomplish tough portages, and get into camp late and exhausted, but also confident in yourself and your team.

Experiences like this are part of the reason I love this wilderness area so much. There are no guidebooks, signs, or people telling you where to go or when you have to be where. You plan your own route, making adjustments as you go. I think it’s really valuable to make connections with places, for me in this example, not only with the broader BWCA, but also, specific places, like the campsite on Russell.

In the Boundary Waters, there aren’t phones, there isn’t social media or other daily stressors. We need times when we get to unplug, times where we can ignore the clock and instead focus on how we feel, what we want to do. Where we can’t only rely on Google Maps and can learn again how to use an old-fashioned compass or the sun to find our way. And in the Boundary Waters, without these things, I get my best thinking done. It’s so important to me that this wilderness exists, and I take solace in remembering my experiences there and looking forward to many more to come. That I have a place where I can get lost in the wilderness.

The time I spend in the Boundary Waters is precious. It fills me with a peace and serenity that I’ve never felt anywhere else. I hope I will be able to take my kids out to the campsite on Russell Lake.