Canoeing the Upper James

A Canoe Trip and Society’s expectations of Teen Girls


Eric Smith

Troop 20 celebrates earning their 50 mile patch, by traveling 50 miles exclusively using their own power

Summer is a time for getting out, spending time with friends, and trying new things.  So it’s usually not a big shock to see a Scout’s troop out and about pushing themselves and trying new things, as was the case for Troop 20. The only difference? Troop 20 embarked on their trip with a majority group of teen girls. The girls spent 6 days paddling the Upper James in it’s entirety camping along the way. They encountered over 62 rapids ranging from class 1 all the way to class three. The group traversed over 62.5 miles and earned their 50 miler patch, a reward that is earned less than even those that earn the coveted rank of Eagle Scout. The girls cooked and prepared their own meals, paddled several hours a day, and did so with consistent enthusiasm and zeal for the work they we’re doing.

Scouts push off to start a long day paddling on a misty morning. Scouts paddled more than 10 miles a day.

While things we’re not as bad as they once were it is still commonplace in society for girls to be discouraged from such grueling undertakings and instead directed towards more socially palatable pursuits. While teen girls are not directly told to stay inside and be prim and proper young ladies, they are still only encouraged to an extent, going outside to take a nice walk or a hike is fine, but god-forbid she want pursue rock climbing or skydiving. She can become involved in her school’s mock trial, but if she wants pursue a career as a lawyer she’s heartless or too sensitive. For too long girls have been told that they can pursue their interests so long as they are still within the confines of what society deems as palatable.  So that is why the girls of Troop 20 are so remarkable in this regard.

Scouts took pride on cleaning up the river as part of a service project pulling over 13 tires from the river!
Scouts Kirsten and Skyler Smith flip in a difficult rapid and must go to shore to bail the water from their canoe.

When girls were allowed to join Scouts BSA in 2019 many of these girls had already spent much of their time watching their brothers and fathers pursue scouting while they could be happy with the pale comparison of other programs or be content to watch from the sidelines. These girls chose to join the troop as they found joy in being in nature with their friends, seeing the raw beauty that few are privledged to witness unless you choose to venture of the beaten path. They pursue their joy that they find and unabashedly tell society to suck an egg. Even though the girls are often questioned with why they are not in girl scouts or fighting the assumption that they cannot handle such hardship the persevere and choose to enjoy their passions.

While on this trip the girls embodied the spirit of all the girls that choose to embark on the path of scouting despite the criticism. They were determined, resilient, and cheerful keeping a positive attitude in the face of adversity, when their canoe flipped, when the food got ruined, when it was a hundred degrees and they were miserable. These girls chose to focus on the joy they had from pursuing the challenge, clambering over boulders and wading in swift currents, gleefully learning how to disassemble camp stoves and getting covered in soot, seeing more bald eagles and herons than they had seen in their entire lives, and soaring down rapids that would make most adults pause and voice their concern.

Occasionally scouts would get would get hung up on ledges and would need to scoot their way off as seen here with canoe duo Lila and Skyler.

And the troop has not stopped there, far from it in fact. in the following year the troop intends to go backpacking, skiing, scuba/snorkeling, and much more. The challenge is part of the appeal they want to embark on the road less traveled and see what is around the next bend. Senior Patrol Leader Skyler Smith stated “I’m really looking forward to the year ahead as both numbers and abilities have grown within the group, so we can do more exciting things.”. This canoe trip was far from the top of the mountain for Troop 20, rather they intend to use it as a diving platform, to encourage fellow girls to disregard society’s flippant attitude to women in the outdoors, by recruiting at local middle and high schools the troop hopes to encourage more girls to get involved and discover a passion for nature and adventure that is often not encouraged for them “A lot of people questioned why girls would want to join Scouting, but it turns out that there are a lot of motivated young women out there who have a thirst for adventure, accomplishment, and leadership” said Scoutmaster Eric Smith of Troop 20. This passion for acting as a catalyst can best be summed up in the troop’s motto. “So the journey begins”.