The black flies and lengthy portages weren’t Jason’s biggest enemy. It was his drug addiction that plagued him.
I found him halfway along the portage trail, sitting on his pack, whimpering. The other students in this at-risk youth program passed him by without saying much. Each one was battling their own demons on the tough trail, and it didn’t help that Jason had made little attempt at forming friendships in the group. He was a loner prone to angry outbursts, and he’d spent the last year self-medicating with pharmaceuticals. Now, at the side of the trail, he was breaking down and there was little I could do to help him.
I’m a wilderness guide and outdoor skills instructor—not a counselor. I feel compassion for each and every one of the students in the at-risk programs I often lead, but my main focus is to teach them the skills needed to keep themselves safe. I’m not trained to help anyone with personal issues. That said; I’ve been doing the job so long I’ve gotten to know a thing or two. Keep your fancy leather couches and high-priced psychobabble, I’ve witnessed time spent in the wilderness to be an astonishing healer.
Jason just needed more time.
Three days into our five-day trip Jason was as resentful and lost as he’d been when we met. He desperately wanted to go home, likely due to his addiction issues and being ignored by the other students. I had also made a major error in planning the route. I chose a linear trip, not a loop. As we began to make our way back, the students recognized the landscape we were traveling through. Suddenly the trip didn’t feel so remote.
It was midnight when Jason escaped. He slipped a canoe into the water and quietly paddled off into the darkness. Luckily, one of the students was sneaking a smoke by the smoldering campfire and came to warn me that Jason was making a run for it.