As summer draws to a close, we celebrate yet another successful Wilderness School expedition. This year marked the fifteenth cohort of the Wilderness School, embarking on the challenging Juan de Fuca trail—a first-ever backpacking trip for most participants. Led by three of our Power To Be staff, this group of eight participants journeyed through the traditional unceded territory of the Pacheedaht First Nation, spanning from Sombrio Beach to Botanical Beach.

Over the past year, the Wilderness School youth have diligently acquired technical backcountry skills, such as camping, leave-no-trace principles, risk management, and overall hiking endurance. They have also nurtured their social-emotional skills, including communication, teamwork, and self-care. Often, we associate backcountry travel with physical prowess, but we sometimes overlook the significance of internal reflection, interpersonal communication, and a willingness to be vulnerable.

While the grand moment of triumph was experienced when the group crossed the finish line in unison, the true magic unfolded during the “in-between” moments, which often go unnoticed. These moments occur at the end of the day when the group gathers to share stories and laughter while waiting for the water to boil. They happen when you hear a call from the head of the group, “wasp nest ahead!” and everyone must work together to ensure safe passage. They occur when everyone sits in silence, gazing out at the ocean as the sun dips below the horizon.

Each year, our Wilderness School youth take on this incredible challenge that puts to the test everything they have learned over the past year. At the outset of the expedition, they often wonder, “Can I really do this?” By the end, they know, “I can.”