“No more pencils. No more books. No more teacher’s dirty looks … Schools out for summer.”
And if school’s out for summer, that can only mean one thing … summer vacation. But summer vacation can mean a lot of things to a lot of different to people. For some, it means weeks of pulling an endless supply of crabgrass and morning glory out of the garden; for others, it means eating watermelon, hoping the seeds don’t start growing in your belly, it’s de-winterizing the boat and praying it runs another year without breaking down, it’s pool parties, beach trips, state park picnics and crowded Kampgrounds of America (KOAs) ... and for a lucky few, it means it’s time for one of my all-time favorites—summer camp.
This time of year, people around the country are getting ready for camps of all kinds. There are band camps, Boy Scout camps, Girl Scout camps, sports camps, and space camps, or if you’re a well-behaved, angelic little boy like I was, there are church camps. As many of you may already know, I grew up in a very small town, where everybody knows everybody. Plus, I grew up way back in the 1900s before there was the internet. So, since I didn’t pop open our set of Encyclopedia Britannica’s all that often, my world was pretty small. Summer camp was my chance to meet new people from the outside world, hailing from exotic places like Paris and Columbia …Tennessee, that is. It was a place to see new girls. And chase new girls. And try to kiss new girls. And eventually, have my heart broken by new girls. But more than anything, summer camp was a chance to make my small town world a little bigger.
Well, I’m excited to say that summer camp isn’t just for kids anymore. In fact, for the TNU crew, it’s a really good reason to leave our kids at home for a couple of days. But this week, the coveted title of “camper” doesn’t just apply to Mandy and me. No, this week I’ve brought a few more members of the TNU family to enjoy this throwback adventure and experience the joys of the outdoors. Get your bug spray and bathing suit ready, because on this episode of TN Uncharted, we’re headed back to summer camp to the Clyde M. York 4-H Center in Crossville, Tennessee for this year’s Becoming an Outdoors-Woman (BOW) workshop.
Sponsored by the Tennessee Wildlife Resources Agency, BOW is an award-winning outdoors skills program that welcomes women from all backgrounds, ages 18 to 80 plus, to enjoy an opportunity to get outdoors in a supportive, safe, and comfortable environment that is conducive to learning skills for ALL outdoor pursuits and interests. This year’s weekend-long workshop offers over 20 different activities, balanced between classes in firearms and firearms safety, all-terrain vehicle operation, basic archery, introduction to paddleboards, beginning fly fishing, nature photography, canoeing, and survival skills—just to name a few. In addition to learning new activities, BOW participants are also treated to a variety of evening entertainments, including outdoor clothing fashion shows, live music, and educational seminars.
As soon as we pulled in, I could feel the energy and excitement in the air. Instantly, the fond memories from my old summer camp days came back to me. As people signed in and moved around getting settled for the weekend, the first thing I noticed was just how diverse everyone was. There wasn’t just one kind of person here. We’d traveled here from different directions, for different reasons, but we’d all reached the same place, already united by a common interest … the outdoors.
As we arrived at our cabin, we realized that our cozy crew family of seven was about to get a lot closer. Nothing brings people together like bunk beds, community showers, and toilets. But whatever our accommodations may have lacked in luxury, it was made up for in food. We kicked the weekend off with an old-fashioned crawfish boil, and as you can see, no one was going to bed hungry this night. We soon found ourselves elbow to elbow with new friends and our family of seven began to grow.
We closed the first night out with a little friendly competition, playing a Baker-backyard favorite—corn hole.
Later that night, however, we were reminded that you can’t have campers without camp counselors. We got so caught up in having fun that we failed to realize just how late it was and, apparently, as described by an angry counselor, just how loud we had gotten. After turning in for the night, I smiled—thinking of the past, feeling right at home in my bottom bunk as I closed my eyes and drifted off to sleep.
Intro to Firearms:
After a short night, our first morning with a bang with “Intro to firearms and firearms safety.”
Now, this was new territory for me because, as you can guess, I didn’t really get a chance to shoot any guns at any of my other summer camps. So, I was pretty excited about this one. But of all the classes that we had lined up for the weekend, this was the one that Mandy was most nervous about. But by preaching safety first, the instructors did a great job of disarming the class. At the end, I was so happy to see that Mandy wasn’t scared anymore. In fact, she was excited, which was a good thing, because we weren’t there just to learn about guns. All of the classes here at BOW are very hands-on, with a focus on learning by doing. We then headed down to the firing range to put what we’d learned to the test.
The first thing Mandy said after firing her first round was, “Hey, this isn’t so bad.” In one shot, years of fear toward firearms were gone.
Soon all the ladies of TNU were taking aim—and let me tell you, they didn’t miss.
Trying something new is scary, but fear is one of the greatest weapons that holds us back in life. For Mandy, today was all about embracing her fears and reaching for the courage to step out of her comfort zone to experience something more.
For most folks who live in the country or in a small town, ATVs are a pretty common way to get around, especially if you don’t have a driver’s license yet. I got my first 4-wheeler, a Honda 125, when I was only six or seven years old. I guess my mom and dad bought ATVs like they did my pants, with plenty of room to grow into them. And when I started riding, they still made some ATVs with only three wheels, so it goes without saying that they have come a long way since I was a kid. If you put some doors, windows, and a seat belt on some of today’s ATVs, you’ve pretty much got a car. As long as you’re not acting like an idiot, ATVs are very safe. But in my opinion, doing 80 mph down the highway in an SUV doesn’t have anything on doing 15 mph through an open field on a 4-wheeler.
Today, watching Taylor and Mandy drive an ATV for the first time, I was reminded that it’s not about where we are, it’s about where we’re going. Most of us are miles from our destination, but hopefully, we’ll all get there one day. Most importantly, we’ve first got to find the guts to grab the handlebars and drive. Too often we lose ourselves in doing what we have to do to get by and forget how good it feels to get out every once in a while and do what we want to do.
I may have caught a bug or two, but a little wind in the face is just what I needed today. I guess every once in a while you just need to rev up the motor and jump something. (show the clip of me jumping)
One of my favorite quotes from the weekend was when a fellow camper said to me, “If you don’t learn something new here, it’s your own fault.” So, with the dust and dirt still between our teeth from the ATVs, our next session, “Intro to Paddleboards and canoeing,” couldn’t have come at a better time.
The most important thing in paddle boarding or canoeing is finding your balance. Once you’ve found your balance, you then have to figure out how to get your paddle in the water; otherwise, you start drifting. Once you start paddling, the hope is that you’ll eventually get going in the right direction. You’re going to rock back and forth every now and again. You might even tip over, but all that matters is that you keep paddling.
However, there will be days when you can’t even get off the shore, and you’ll need someone to help you paddle. It’s a fact that there is strength in numbers, and one of the beauties of BOW is that it brings so many like-minded people together. People who push each other up, not pull each other down. And when a group of like-minded people comes together, all paddling in the same direction, it truly can be a beautiful thing. (end the segment with the aerial shot of all the boats connected in the circle).
All weekend I’d heard people talking about BOW being one big extended family, but it wasn’t until we showed up at the annual fashion show that the true feel of this family became clear.
To me, nothing says more about BOW than the number of women who sign up year after year to come back. This is a weekend that many of the returning campers look forward to all year long. It’s a celebration. And with each new person who comes for the first time, the family here just gets that much bigger. When I asked a few of the ladies why they keep coming back, they said, “It’s all about the people. And you can learn something new every time you come.”
It was easy to see that these ladies care about each other. I bet they heard the cheers two counties over when one lady, who had recently battled cancer, told her friends that she was officially cancer-free. You would have thought that Oprah just gave the audience new cars.
Amazingly, though, the cheers only got louder in anticipation for the final number of the night. And as the last song began to play, suddenly the weekend was summed up for me. What is BOW all about? It’s about letting loose and leaving your worries behind, letting your hair down and having a good time. If you’d asked me on Friday what I thought one of the highlights of the trip would be, I would have never in a million years guessed that my answer would be … the drag show.
As the night came to a close, I couldn’t wait to see what tomorrow would bring.
As the sun came up on our final day at BOW, I could also see that a new light was shining from Mandy. It was very subtle. She just seemed brighter. Her smile was just a little bigger, and she was standing just a little taller—pushing as close to five feet as I’ve ever seen. I wouldn’t quite call it a “hardcore” look; if anything she seemed softer, like some of the hard edges from her day-to-day life had been rounded off.
I can’t imagine that there’s another place that offers the same variety of classes, experiences, and activities, with the same number of trained and experienced instructors, as here at Becoming an Outdoors Woman. When you think about all that you can do and all that you have access to, the signup fee is a very small investment. You can discover new things, and if you don’t like something, you don’t have a bunch of money wrapped up in it.
Our last workshop before heading home was “Intro to Fly Fishing,” and as it turns out, BOW saved Mandy’s favorite class for last. She was a natural. While I struggled to keep from putting my eye out, Mandy was already casting like a pro. Of all our activities over the weekend, Mandy commented that fly fishing is the one that she’d most likely go out and do again. Ironically, the class that she liked the best dealt the most with bugs.
I think we all have an idea of who we want to be and who we hope to become. I think we all strive to be better people, or at the very least, better versions of ourselves. We all want to be those people that never stop learning and growing. We want to be those people who live life without limits, who regularly enjoy the outdoors, exercise daily, eat healthy, and have the courage to try new things. We aspire to be the people who spend quality time with their family and friends, who volunteer their time and are charitable with their resources. But I think we can all agree that becoming that person is not as easy as it sounds. Thankfully, though, each year the TWRA and the Becoming an Outdoors Woman Workshop is here to help many of the daughters of Tennessee get closer to finding their way to who they want to become.
I was so proud to see Mandy do so well this weekend and, honestly, a little surprised to see her enjoy herself so much. Believe me, BOW was not her first choice for a weekend getaway. And while she’s still pretty much just an indoors woman, she did get a new appreciation for the outdoors, and there’s no doubt that what she has learned and the confidence that she’s gained will echo into her life far beyond her occasional trip back into the woods.
BOW gave her the chance to do things that I could have never gotten her to try on her own. At the beginning, she was very nervous, but she commented that her fear factor was greatly reduced by knowing there were knowledgeable and skilled instructors that she trusted to show her how to do each activity safely. In the end, she did learn a few new things about herself, but more than anything, she enjoyed being taken care of by the amazing staff here at BOW and taking some time to focus on herself, leaving all of her worries from her daily routine behind. Mandy still hates bugs and dirt, and she probably isn’t going hunting anytime soon, but she did say she’d love to go back to a firing range sometime soon—and now, instead of spending her time swatting flies, she’s going to be fishing with them, which sounds like a pretty good start to me.
So, let’s take a moment to give thanks for each of the four seasons, especially summer. Because without the summertime, there would be no summer vacation, and without summer vacation, there would certainly be no summer camp. As the weekend came to a close, and we pulled away, I was hit by a familiar pain. Sadly, summer camp was over. I felt much like you do the day after Christmas when you realize that you’ll have to wait a whole year before it comes around again. By morning, most of us will be back to our regular day-to-day lives. But as we trade camping supplies for office supplies, may we find comfort in knowing that our worlds just got a little bigger, and we’re each closer to being the people we want to become.
Who do you want to be? Who do you hope to become? It’s never too late to become the person you want to be (an outdoorswoman). Don’t let life put your dreams back to bed.
Find a new passion. Don’t wait for someone to do it for you. Don’t look back with regret on the things you wish you had done.
It’s good to have things that remind us. Clear our perspective. Wipe the glass so we can see better. Remind us of who we thought we would be and show us that we can be whoever we want to be. Summer camp brings us back to being a kid and the childhood optimism. Reconnects us. Refocuses. Recharges.
Other people don’t set limits for your life. You do. Don’t set limits, break them.
Keep your heart open to the opportunities that life has in store.
It’s time to take a break and relax.