The JC Life and canoe trips: Part 3 of An interview with Dan Gibbons

27 May 2014 by Jim Gibbons, No Comments »

Yep. I haven’t updated this blog in almost three years… My apologies!

But more on that later!

Now, let me present, the long overdue and final installment of the interview with my brother… Dan Gibbons!

[Check out Part 1 and Part 2 if you missed them!]

Dan Gibbons on Red Rock island during a "we don't have a car or a ride" junior counselor day off in 2001.

Dan Gibbons on Red Rock island during a “we don’t have a car or a ride” junior counselor day off in 2001.

Speaking of Green Cabins, let’s talk a bit about being on staff. You guys (David and Dan.) only had one year as JCs (Junior Counselors) before camp closed, but what do you guys remember being the main differences—both good and bad—of being on staff versus your time as campers?

DAN GIBBONS: The one thing I remember about being on staff is by the end of the year, and even coming home, I recall being so tired!  Every night, we would stay up so late at Counselor Snack and then have to be up so early.  Plus, with a lack of a rest period, it seemed like sleep was just not a part of being a JC.  No matter what you said, you never got enough sleep or got to bed early enough.
But on to the positives…

I really enjoyed days off as a JC, because it brought a new element to camp.  Days off weren’t really an escape from camp, but a new experience with all the friends and characters of camp.  As a camper, you always saw days off as an escape because, you could eat fast food or watch movies or see girls again! But to be honest, since days off were in Hayward, I still consider them a distinctive part of the actual camp experience. When Jim and I were last in the north woods, we didn’t make it to camp, but we did stay near Hayward and being back there brought back a lot of memories.
Being on staff also helped to exaggerate the goofiness that took place at camp. Often, during rest periods when it was time to help with projects, you were doing things that often were less than fun. But, being in true camp spirit, you would make a game out of it or start a rousing conversation with your fellow staff member about the ins and out of Star Wars and that made it bearable—or even enjoyable. I think we all learned that ability after being stuck canoeing across Canada… all you could do is talk with your cabin mates to help pass the time.
Jim will recall one time when we had to help move these big portions of a tree from by the riflers trail to… Well, I don’t remember where we moved them, I just remember doing the “fickle fingers”.  Rather than moving them in a productive fashion, we would stand the tree all the way up and then flip it over like they would do in the Strong Man competitions on ESPN 2. It was a lot of fun.

Dan and I (with David Owen) cooking chicken at the all camp BBQ in 2001. Thrift clothes from staff days off in full effect!

Dan and I (with David Owen) cooking chicken at the all camp BBQ in 2001. Thrift clothes from staff days off in full effect!

Another memory that sticks with me was when we had either finished up a project before activity period began or it was towards the end of the year, so we didn’t really have any projects. At those times, our cabin got like a 30 minute swim at the waterfront. We were free! We could run and jump off the T pier or swim to the Cub! We had the whole swim area to ourselves!  I remember that being a lot of fun! It was like a sign of respect from camp that we had worked all summer and now earned the trust to have the waterfront to ourselves.  Doesn’t sound like much, but I remember it seeming like a big moment.
One other thing I really remember about being on staff, a funny moment, was being an indian for the Council Fire.  David, weren’t you Chief Shewahmegon once? The whole getting painted and wearing those skimpy rags for clothing was a pretty goofy experience. As I was the warrior role, it was my job to paddle the canoe with Andy  O’Connor as the medicine man and David as Chief Shewahmegon. I believe Pat [Roth] was the scout/runner? Anywho, I was never a good stern like the two of you and that night was particularly windy—I mean really windy! Plus, as you are in one of the old fiberglass canoes, which were extremely tippy, it was a task. I remember struggling to keep us straight and struggling to get to the beach. It took us a while. I can only imagine Bill was thinking “What the hell are these kids doing?!” We also had a really hard time lighting the torch since it was so damn windy.  A really comical event overall.
The best part of the Council Fire, or most memorable part for me, was when we got the campers from each cabin and brought them down for their reading. David grabbed Daniel Blaze on the shoulder as Daniel read his statement.  When he was done, David/Chief Shewahmegon turned Daniel over to me and I was supposed to guide him off to the side. Like I said, the night was really windy, and as we turned, I had the torch down low and I am pretty sure I nearly set Daniel on fire (or aBLAZE).  It was definitely an “Oh shit” moment.  I remember being very embarrassed, because Daniel’s mom was there and I could only imagine that her and Bill where thinking I was a complete idiot for almost setting him on fire. Hahaha! I can still remember the look on Daniel’s face. It wasn’t a shocked or startled look, it was just more like he was annoyed. Almost like a kid who gets woken up in the morning, kind of just swatting at the flame like it was a parent’s hand nudging him awake. A very odd reaction from a ten- or eleven-year-old kid to almost being set on fire. I was very careful from that point on with the rest of the campers!
I also enjoyed the next morning when the younger campers would try to get you to admit you were one of the indians. They knew it was you, but you could still provide them enough doubt that they weren’t sure. It was a unique element about camp as a younger kid, because you wanted to believe. You knew there was something unique about Camp Shewahmegon and the Council Fires had something mystical about them. As the young kids would inquire and quiz you, I could remember being in their shoes my first year.

Ha! I was hoping that dressing up as indians would come up. It’s just another example of how camp, and the whole Northwoods, were so trapped in time. Many different eras of time, actually. It was like the ’50s, ’60s and ’70s were constantly alive—like we were constantly traveling through time. Painting ourselves to look like Indians is… Wow, I don’t think “unPC” really captures it. In hindsight, offensive is probably more accurate, but at camp, it was just kinda just this weird, old—an in ways—innocent tradition for better or worse. Still, pretty crazy.

Dan, I used to love how many weird skills we picked up while doing odd jobs at camp. I’d never used one beforehand or since, but I felt like I used a post hole digger a few times a week at camp. Not to mention tamps and other tools used to build log steps into dirt paths, construct fences out of old tree limbs, and building benches. Again, I haven’t tried since I left camp, but I bet these skills would weirdly come back to me if I needed them. They also made you think in a very logical way when you were building them. Like an engineer must, I bet. They were these weird tasks that just taught you to figure shit out. And figure it out we did!

You also brought up canoe trips. Any good memories you want to share of those? Camper or staff, camp outs or cook outs… it’s all fair game!
DAN GIBBONS: Post hole diggers… What funny tools! I always found tamps to be fun—kinda brute force.
So, talking about canoe trips…

To a certain point, I enjoyed camp more than I did the trips. I didn’t always enjoy all the camp out work and the tents, but with that being said, I have more vivid memories from the canoe trips. Probably just because the trips were so unique and regular camp memories tend to blend together where the canoe trips are all pretty distinct and discernible from each other.
The most ridiculous camping trip we took would have to be the Carter’s Island trip. In summary, everyone got at least one tick on that trip. And, if my memory serves me correctly, Mr. David Will got one on his butt (not the cheeks, like actually on the butt) and Mr. Danny Aronson got one on his coin purse. I recall our counselor… Oh what was his name? The dude who played guitar from the Isle of Mann… Andrew Porter! Well, he had to remove both of those ticks!
I think my favorite trip (other than the Border trips) was the Brule River trip we did when I was in Bunkhouse [the oldest camper cabin at the time]. The rapids were awesome and it was finally something new. We never did the Flambeau River and I swear we did the damn Namekagon River like four times. I am not sure how that ended up happening.
Anyway, on the Brule, I remember one rapid that was a class five and was, essentially, just a three foot waterfall! It was sweet! I think every canoe tipped on that trip.
And David can verify, but I think this was the trip that he got us talking to a group of girl campers at one of the campsites by very bluntly volunteering to “blow on their fire” to help get it started! David did have a great lung capacity and he always reveled at the chance to show off his superior abilities by blowing on a fire! It was a smooth line he dropped! Hahaha!

Dan Gibbons in the Canadian Wilderness on Summer 2000's Border Trip.

Dan Gibbons in the Canadian Wilderness on Summer 2000’s Border Trip.

Border trips always led to a lot of memories… Probably too many to try and type, but I can remember how calm it was towards evening and just being amazed by the scenery. I would love to try and do those again sometime, because I can only imagine that I would appreciate and enjoy it more. 
Jim, you’ll recall… I still remember when Lon Richey jumped off that cliff with, like, no questions asked! It was awesome! We were all thinking about it, kinda worried it might be too shallow, and then he just jumped!
I have a lot of vivid memories of that trip—of the scenery, our camp sites, even certain places we stopped for lunch. I have mental photographs engrained in my mind of those locations. I am sure some of them are exaggerated or enhanced, but what a cool trip. I am glad you and I got to be in the same group that year.  I imagine that they plan it that way knowing that as brothers (Owen and Danny Aronson were in our group too!) that these would be memories we could talk about for a long time. 

The bad part about that trip was the portages. (Is that what they were called? taking the canoes over land?)  I recall there being some big portages on that trip….

One that led me to jabbing my canoe handle into Axel’s rib!  Sorry about that Axel!
What was your favorite trip, homeslice?  I believe you got to do the Flambeau, didn’t you?

Didn’t you guys do the Brule in kayaks? I know we did it in canoes. And, while it was a lot of fun, being the stern in the camper canoe on that river was a tall order. At one point, our canoe flipped and we all fell out and… lost the canoe. We probably had to shoot rapids and walk in the shallows for about a quarter mile before reclaiming our ride.

The Flambeau was a great trip. Probably my favorite, excluding the Border trips. I went we I was in Cabin 15, the second oldest cabin at camp at the time, but we did it as a joint trip with that year’s Bunkhouse. We made it to the island at Cedar Rapids at about 2 or 3 p.m. on the second day and shot the rapids in life jackets all day long. Good times!

Border was a blast. My first year was extremely portage heavy. We did a series of lakes with almost no rivers between. One portage was a half mile hike through a swamp. Pretty crazy stuff. That trip stands out a lot more to me because it was so different than any other trip I’d been on. I think we only had like four or five campers in our group and the area we went to was extremely remote. It was kind of insane. Isenglass was the main destination, I believe. A deep, clear, freezing cold lake. Half of that trip felt like we were canoeing through a barren forest on the edge of the Arctic. I think we camped at an old bear hunting camp at one point. Gary Sherman’s snores definitely scared the shit out of me that night.

I really enjoyed our Border trip together the next year too, but it was a goofier trip. The other trip had this sullen magic to it. Our Border was just pure goofiness. Lon jumping was crazy! I remember Pressy side-flopping off that cliff too! At that same camp site, I also remember Danny Aronson “making camp” about 30 feet away from me. To one direction, I had this amazing view of a cliff as I finished my poop. On the other side, Danny.

But, the main thing from that trip that has always stuck with me was the very last day. Both groups had met up at the last portage, we all holed up in that small river before the last lake as we waited to see if the big storm rolling in would blow over. It half did, so we decided to brave the massive white caps churning violently across the last few miles of whatever lake we had started from. I just remember these huge waves—biggest I’d ever seen on a lake—coming up on the right of the boat, our canoes rising on them, and then looking to the right and seeing these huge rocks below the surface of the water. There were a few times I was shouting their locations like we were in rapids, certain that one would cleave our canoe in half if we had been a foot or two closer when the wave passed and we dropped down to that lower level of water. The other really insane part of that almost-panicked last few miles was the fact that the storm seemed to only be affecting the lake. The vans were on a beach in the distance and bathed in sunlight around calm water. Pretty bizarre. Really intense. It stands out.

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