For Audrey Imbs, ‘summer camp’ last year meant snowcapped peaks and glacial lakes, sea kayaking with seals right by her boat, and moose, bear and wolf sightings. The MICDS sophomore spent three weeks in Alaska as part of an ‘Explorer’ trip hosted by Overland, a company that runs biking, hiking, language, service and writing programs around the world.
In the past, Imbs attended a more traditional camp in Minnesota, but last year, she was ready for a change. She was old enough to become a counselor-in-training at her camp, but that required staying for a month and her sports schedule got in the way. When she talked to a representative at MICDS’ summer opportunities fair and heard about Overland’s Alaska trip, she knew she had found the right fit.
The trip took her all over Alaska, which, she notes, is bigger than the state of Texas. “It’s kind of like its own country,” she says. The first part of the trip took the campers backpacking on the Kesugi Ridge, a difficult trail that rewarded them with dramatic views of the blue ridges and white-tipped peaks of Mount McKinley and the Alaska Range.
“I’d done hiking trips but never backpacking,” Imbs says. Not only was it physically strenuous, but sometimes mentally also, she adds. Imbs and the other campers took turns making meals, doing dishes, setting up camp and doing other chores. “Even after carrying all that weight, you would get to camp and still have to make dinner,” she says.
After the Kesugi Ridge, the campers spent two days rafting on the Nenana River, where guides made their meals and the kids could sit back and enjoy the scenery. Next came a bus ride through Denali State Park (“It’s the size of Massachusetts!” says Imbs), where she spotted black bears, grizzlies, sun bears and wolves.
A second backpacking trip followed Denali: five days in the Chugach Mountains, one of the northernmost ranges in the U.S. and the location with the most snowfall in the world. The final leg of the trip was sea kayaking in Prince William Sound, where it rained every day. “It’s not that it was that cold, but it was wet all the time,” comments Imbs. Her guide, she says, told her that it rains nearly 365 days a year in Prince William Sound.
“I feel like every time anyone thinks of Alaska, they think dog sledding and snow,” says Imbs. “But during the summer, it’s so fun, because it doesn’t get dark until 11 at night…There were people having beach picnics at 10 p.m!” And, despite the rain, the weather was much warmer than she expected, she says, with temperatures reaching the 70s some days.
Imbs says her favorite part of the trip was bonding with the small group of campers, most of whom were from the East Coast. “It was fun to meet new people and realize some of the things we have in common,” she says. “There was this girl from Michigan, and I realized we go to the exact same place in Michigan in the summer—and we go to the exact same place in Florida as this boy from Chicago!”
Imbs still keeps in touch with some of her friends through Facebook, and says she’ll see one of them over spring break. As for next summer? She’s thinking Costa Rica. Overland hosts a trip there that’s a mix of sightseeing and service, including Spanish language immersion, volunteer work on an agricultural cooperative, and a visit to a natural hot springs—yet another experience that gives ‘summer camp’ a whole new meaning.