Callahan Peel of Troy adds to Voices in the Wilderness.

Posted on Wednesday, July 8th, 2015

Surrounded by Nature, Amongst Good Company.

By Callahan Peel, Troy High School

Throughout my life, I have spent an immeasurable amount of time on the water. I live a few miles from Bull Lake, and my house is about 200 yards from Lake Creek. My dad worked as a raft guide for many years, and he took me rafting on many occasions. You wouldn’t think, then, that a tiny little creek in the Kootenai National Forest would best me. Allow me to back up and tell the full story.

The day was shaping up to be a scorcher in late July 2012. It was around 90 degrees out, and had not rained in weeks. I was relaxing with three friends in Libby between sessions of soccer camp. We needed to pass the time between practices and it had to involve something to cool us down.

One friend suggested that we should go to the lake, but it was unappealing, as we had already done that. Another mentioned hiking, but the idea was quickly shot down when we all thought about the heat. After an hour of bickering, a teammate suggested that we float a river about ten miles outside of Libby.

We only had a couple of hours until our next session of soccer, so we set to work rounding up life jackets, floaties, and food. We dropped one car off at our exit point and all piled into one car, unloading at our starting point. Ditching our shoes and phones, we blew up our floaties and hopped into the river.

At first, the trip was carefree. With our toes in the cool water, it no longer felt like the sun was causing heat stroke. The sky was a gorgeous blue, the trees were a luscious green, and it smelled perfect. The smell you only experience when it is a hot summer day and you are in the forest. Overall, the day was shaping up to be one of those perfect summer days.

That is, until the first time our floaties grounded. It was not a big deal; we just picked up the floaties and food, walked a couple of yards, and plunked back in where the water was deeper. We started floating again and soon, I was back to feeling warm and content. Then we grounded again. And again. And again. With each grounding, our float time was reduced until we were not floating so much as walking through a dry creek bed. The creek was reduced to a trickle of a stream and we decided it was time to stop and troubleshoot. We were probably two miles from the car, stuck barefoot with no phones, no shoes, but enough food to feed a small settlement of people.

We had three options. We could hike back to our cars, hike out to our friend’s house, or attempt to build a homestead right there in the creek bed, where we would survive off of our huge amount of food. Obviously, the last option was not ideal, and it ended up having to come to a vote. Looking back, we did not choose the easiest option: hiking back to the car. We were only a few miles away, and it would have taken us less than an hour.

Instead, we decided to hike out to our friend’s house, without knowledge of the exact location, or the distance of which we would have to traverse barefoot. We packed up our gear, and were ready to go, until we realized we could not carry all of the food. With no other options, we ate all of the food, piled the trash into one bag, and carried it out. We were then four barefoot, tired, sunburnt, and extremely full teenagers. We hiked and hiked. I got many scrapes and cuts from hiking through the underbrush, and a few of them turned into lasting scars.

We hiked through the trees, where the foliage was so thick that the sun was blocked and we became cold as well. We hiked a couple more hours and eventually we reached a paved road. I cried with relief. Eventually we reached the house. I promptly collapsed on a couch with relief. We all started cracking jokes and talked about what an incredible day it was. Despite the scrapes, bruises, sunburns, abused feet and the fact that we missed the evening camp session, it really was one of those amazing summer days. We were surrounded by nature, and were amongst good companies. That, in the end, is all that really matters.

Callahan Peel was the winner of the 2015. FSPW Scholarship Essay competition for Troy High School. Her story appeared in The Western News in the June 30, 2015 edition.

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