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Teens take an epic Lake Champlain adventure

JASMINE LITTLE WAS one of the four local youths to paddle the length of Lake Champlain recently in a Lake Champlain Maritime Museum summer program. Her sister Kaitlynn was also on the trip. The sisters were junior leaders of the group. Photo by Nick Patch

On Monday, July 6, a group of nine intrepid teens along with Lake Champlain Maritime Museum trip leaders Mandy Smith and Ally Tanaka departed from South Bay, just north of Whitehall, N.Y., on an epic journey to paddle the length of Lake Champlain in sea kayaks. In an ordinary year this is an ambitious goal but with COVID-19 looming large in all of our lives, this voyage presented significant challenges.
Among the nine teens were locals Jasmine and Kaitlynn Little of Vergennes and Kade DeVries and Josiah Barnes of Addison.
Traditionally, this teen expedition run by the museum is a hybrid program starting with a 3-week boat-building project followed by a ten-day kayaking expedition from Whitehall to Burlington, Vt. With the pandemic hanging over us, and after checking in with the participants and our staff, we determined that it was safer and much easier to follow the State’s COVID-19 guidelines by eliminating the boat building portion of the program and instead embarking on a 14-day, 135-mile, end-to-end Lake Champlain adventure.
And what an adventure! On top of the standard daily balance of kayaking, setting up camp, cooking, cleaning, and setting out the next day, these teens had to contend with intense heat, lightning, torrential rain, and high winds along the way. Many mornings they were up before dawn to take advantage of better weather conditions in the morning.
The last paddle of the trip was a ten-mile morning jaunt from North Hero State Park to Louie’s Landing on the Missisquoi River. The group was met with a stiff headwind for the final four miles on the river. Parents and museum staff waited for them patiently at the landing, until suddenly a parent yelled, “Here they come!” Looking a half mile down-river you could see the multi-color assemblage of eleven kayaks. A few minutes passed and we started to hear singing and chanting. The group was yelling “Whitehall to Canada” and singing songs. As they pulled into the river bank the enthusiasm and smiles told the story. This group of nine teens had accomplished something significant. Not very many people can claim they paddled the length of Lake Champlain in one shot, and then throw in a pandemic for good measure. We are very proud of all of them and hopeful that this experience will help guide them as life’s many choices approach them rapidly.
Special thanks to Mandy Smith and Ally Tanaka for leading this eclectic group of teenagers on an adventure of a lifetime, overcoming a multitude of obstacles, and helping them have what can be honestly called a transformational experience.
Nick Path is the director of Champlain Longboats and Champlain Discovery at Lake Champlain Maritime Museum.

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