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By: Petra Eperjesi, NWL Alumni & Staff

In the summer of 2002, along with 13 other young men and women from all over North and Central America, I paddled 550 kilometers from Amos, Quebec, down the mighty Harricana River and across the James Bay.

Together, we paddled through storms of bitter north winds howling in from the Arctic Ocean, and through days of cold and rain. I paddled through squalls of self-doubt and fear alone. At home I had been feeling unsure of who I was and where I was going. I felt like I was shackled to a thousand different pulley systems, all wrenching me in different directions. I had no idea what I wanted, where I wanted to go.

As we loaded our canoes the last morning on the river the drizzle became a downpour, and we headed, for the last time, to the Bay. The tide pulled me out into the Arctic Ocean and off the edge of the world. A weight was lifted. There, out on the ocean in my little canoe, I was free. I could see nothing but water and sky, I had nothing to landmark and no sense of direction but for the first time, I knew where I was going.

Looking back and remembering the cold and the rain are a distant—and therefore fond—memory. Some of the worry and doubt have been lifted, like a heavy load at the end of a rough portage. I’m not sure exactly what happened out there, but I do know that I am sure I belonged on that Bay Trip and I am sure of my steps as I walk through my life at school and at home, as a leader and as a part of my community—following my heart.