It was dark as we trudged through the knee-deep snow in the Sylvania Wilderness, the headlamps on our heads casting dancing shadows along the trees. The snow was falling around us, landing on trees and the three feet of snow that was already on the ground. Three hours ago we had left the Conserve School campus on an expedition; seven students, two dogs, along with the Head of School, Stefan Anderson. The seven of us- Melissa E., Dylan, Siegrid, Wandile, Emma S., Kelby, and myself- had taken a compass bearing of 108 degrees at Big Batteau Lake and had followed it faithfully, the thought of pizza at the end pulling us through the snow. However, some of the enthusiasm had begun to wear off as we realized just how much further we had to go.
I recalled the last few hours of the hike as I walked. We had taken a picture in front of the bell tower back on campus, looking like explorers about to set out into some remote location - except remote was relative, because there was a good chance that throughout history, indigenous people had been there many times before, walking the same steps we were traversing to get to a different location rather than on a pizza run. We had turned on our headlamps and put faithful old Teddy and romping Loki on leashes after arriving at Big Bateau and taking our bearing. Then we walked past silent hemlocks silhouetted against the light of eight headlamps and bear dens, inactive save for the smell around them.
Every time one of us fell, which happened to be quite often due to the awkwardness of the snowshoes and the depth of the snow that we had to trudge through, our helpful support team which traveled on four legs would come to our rescue with a plethora of enthusiastic support. Despite the arduousness of the trek, there was still much to be grateful for. I genuinely enjoyed being out in the woods, feeling the gentle brush of snow on my face and the now-familiar weight of my snowshoes through the snow. I enjoyed looking up and seeing the broad expanse of the trees, straight ahead at the giant sentinels of the hemlocks standing, silent and firm. I enjoyed walking in the company of six of my classmates and Stefan, the excited energy of the dogs. I enjoyed the peace and beauty around us as we blazed our own trail, guided only by our faith that the compass bearing would get us where we needed to be.
Our bearing led us straight to a path which headed into the direction of Land O’ Lakes. It was little more than a clearer path in the woods, still covered in snow, but it was a path nonetheless, a sign that we were getting closer to our destination. By this time, the snow clouds were breaking up slightly, just enough for a slight ribbon of moonlight to poke through the clouds. We were comfortable enough in the woods and in the faint light that the moon provided to turn off our headlamps and walk in silence to the road and then to the street lights of Land O’ Lakes.
As I walked along the road in the company of Wandile, Emma S., Teddy, and Loki, I thought about setting out five hours earlier. It was 9:30 pm at this point, the restaurant we had originally planned on going to, TJ Grizzlies, long since closed. Not to be deterred by this hindrance, Stefan led us to the van and we booked it over to another restaurant in the next town over, Conover, Greenhills Log Cabin, to take our order before ten. We sat around a table that would normally have been too small this number of people, but was the perfect size for company and companionship as we talked about the food that was coming: three large pizzas, garlic bread, and Sprecher Root Beer. We had been talking about these comforts for the last two miles on trail as well as our experiences at Conserve School thus far...
When the food started to arrive at close to 10:30, an hour since we had gotten off the trail, we happily dug in, too hungry at this point for much conversation. Pizza hadn’t tasted this good in a long time. No doubt the flavor was enhanced by hunger and the journey to get there. We ate our way through almost all of the three pizzas and the garlic bread, and the only sign the Sprecher Root Beer had existed was the empty pitchers on the table. Satisfied and thoroughly exhausted, we got back into the car, sharing seats with Teddy and Loki for the drive back to campus. We didn’t get home until around 11:45, seven hours and fifteen minutes since we had left campus.
It was an incredible and formative experience. Before setting out, I never realized I would have the stamina to snowshoe through knee-deep snow for six miles. Not only did we get to a place using our compasses and a map, but we also walked through about a foot of snow for six miles on a trail blazed only by our footprints. I never realized that I could get to a place with only a map and a compass bearing. I never realized just how beautiful the woods were with light snow falling around me and the light of my headlamp against the trees. The work it took to get to the restaurant was incredible, but it would be an experience I would happily try again. The beauty of Sylvania and the companionship of friends made the experience all the more magical.