I Chose This Odyssey

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my odyssey has just begun

If you are connected to the American Youth Foundation in some way, it is likely you received a copy of the Founder Fire recently. In the Founder Fire, you can find many ways to keep in touch with Miniwanca, Merrowvista, and all the programs we offer at our camps. There are stories about alumni and where they are now, information about the efficacy of our programs, and updates on our campaign. This year, there was also a story providing excerpts from the women who completed the Odyssey trip at Miniwanca.

Odyssey at Miniwanca is a Four Trails Adventure trip where campers who are entering 12th grade embark on an epic voyage to cycle from Merrowvista in New Hampshire back to Miniwanca on the shores of Lake Michigan. This trip takes them over two mountain ranges, through four states, and across the border into Canada and back. While the hills they climb and the long miles they bike provide plenty of challenge, the time spent in contemplation gave our campers time to think of the journey they were completing and the challenges yet ahead of them.

The article in the Founder Fire provided highlights of the reflection several campers shared after returning from camp. Below you can find the full reflection from seven of the strong women who completed this incredible journey.



Olivia Sittner
I chose this Odyssey and it gave me transitions.

While on trail this summer, it was very difficult to realize that this was our last year being campers. We all neglected it for at least half of our journey. Then we started to realize the beauty in it. Yes we are all very heartbroken to move on but Miniwanca has taught us all how to challenge our mind, bodies, and spirits to becoming our best selves. Now we will take the valuable lesion taught to us and share them with the rest of the world.

I accept the challenge to live the mission so my Odyssey has just begun.


Emma Buchta
I chose this Odyssey and it gave me an understanding of beauty.

This has been the impossible challenge that has dauntingly loomed in the back of my mind since I was 10. And now I have made the impossible possible, but it was a long and hard journey. As I chugged up the sides of mountains in 1-1. I constantly doubted my self-worth and ability to complete this challenge. But the beauty I found in rough out the adventure kept me going.

The mountains were very bittersweet. They were the biggest mental and physical challenge I had ever undertaken. Keeping a positive mental attitude was a constant battle. I found it hard to find the strength to pedal on and not just give up. But as we left the mountains and descended into flatter lands, I was immediately hit with waves of nostalgia. Rolling hills of farmland are pretty in their own way, but the mountains were beautiful. There was the beauty of pedaling up to the peak of a mountain and being greeted by a panorama of evergreens and pure blue skies. There was the beauty of looking down at my legs and thinking “I got myself here with my own strength”. Once we left the mountains, I longed for the beauty once more, but there was always more to be found. I found beauty in my tripmates’ faces when we all cracked up in laughter. I found beauty in the wildflowers that adorned the side of the road on seemingly never ending flats with relentless headwinds.

Most of the natural beauty on my Odyssey I did not appreciate until I was long past it. But the biggest amount of beauty I found was living like a wildflower. A flower does not grow to be prettier than the one next to it. It simply lives in its own harmony. This idea is freeing to me. On my Odyssey, I found beauty in my surroundings and within myself.

Now that I have uncovered this, my Odyssey has just begun.



Kate Grabowsky
I chose this Odyssey, and it gave me a stronger sense of a positive mental attitude or PMA.

On trail, each day held a vastly different challenge. Some days we had to ascend into mountain ranges and other had flat bike paths that looked the same around every corner. While these challenges were physically difficult, they were also mentally. One of our best days on trail was our century day. We were scared by the concept at the beginning of our trip. Throughout the trip, our mentality shifted from “Ugh. I hope we can do this” to “I know we can do this.” Mental attitude makes a huge difference on everything. It helps you achieve your best self.

Throwing away the self-doubting mentality and building yourself up is the best advice I can give. Whether biking up mountains, taking a difficult exam, or trying to reach another seemingly impossible challenge, using PMA makes life easier.

My Odyssey has just begun.



Karli Lawrence
I chose this Odyssey and it gave me motion.

The last few months of school this year were exhausting. It felt as though the long hours of study and the looming threat of college applications were closing in around me, and I couldn’t help but feel painfully restless. I’m sure many of you have felt similarly. When I was in class I would stare out the window and wish to be in nature. When I got the chance to go outside and relax, it would make me want to be at camp sooner.

Luckily, it turned out that Odyssey was exactly what I needed- it was the perfect medicine for my spring fever. On trail, you carry your life on your bike and never stay anywhere for long- this physical movement satisfied my constant longing for something new by giving me an endlessly changing horizon. But as the trip came to an end, I began to fear my time away from the trail. Would the stillness of life return me to my unfulfilled state of mind? I didn’t want to feel that way again.

During my final days on trail I realized that Odyssey may have been the medicine, but it wasn’t the cure to whatever was afflicting me. The nomadic lifestyle of trail appeased my need for motion, but it wasn’t the physical aspect that truly helped me. Odyssey spans all four folds and I realized that it could continue on even without the physical aspect. Hopefully, I will get to travel in my future, but what matters is that I do not allow myself to lapse into a mental rut. I will always be a nomad of the mind and of the soul. Odyssey has shown me the value of change and of movement. And just like the ever-shifting dunes of Miniwanca, I will try not to allow my thoughts and mindset to grow stagnant again.

Because although my feet may have stopped pedaling, my Odyssey has just begun.


Julieanne Montaquila
I chose this Odyssey and it gave me support.

Last fall, when I signed up for Odyssey, I thought I was going alone because I had to leave my best friend behind. We had both dreamed of Odyssey since we saw ride-in for the first time and planned to do it together before she got injured. For the past two years, I haven’t been able to come to camp and it seemed a miracle I was able to do Odyssey, so when I realized I would be doing it without my best friend, my coming home to camp was bittersweet. It was our second mail – drop day that I finally understood I was not alone at all. We were sitting outside the post office on the grass. There was a stack of letters and packages and it felt like Christmas morning. My leaders started passing out mail and I waited impatiently for my name to be called. When they were most of the way through the stack, I told myself my mail was just at the bottom, but there was this nagging voice in the back of my mind saying, “What if you didn’t get any mail?” They finished reading everyone’s names except mine and I sat silently, staring at my friends year open letters and packages from all the people who love and care about them. There was nothing for me.

There had only been a two-line Hallmark card from the first mail drop. The worst part was that I wasn’t surprised. There was that voice again, this time saying that of course no one wrote me. Why should you be surprised that everyone forgot about you? That no one noticed or cared when you left? I got up to go to the bathroom. Ten or fifteen minutes later, my leader found me in there crying. It took me awhile to answer her knock on the door and catch my breath. She wrapped me up in a hug and told me I mattered. That people cared about me and I belonged on the trip. I felt incredibly alone and forgotten, but my leader reminded me that I had a whole trip of people supporting me. It was then that the mail woman walked up with a stack of mail in a rubber band and said she’d forgotten some. I looked at Annie’s tiny, neat handwriting and my mom’s scrawling cursive and Kim’s calligraphy, all for my name on the front of the envelopes. My best friend sent me a post card and Olivia sent me a two – part letter that was so beautifully her, I couldn’t stop laughing. I realized then how crazy it was that I thought I didn’t get mail. Journeys are made with both the people around you and inside of you. I needed my leaders and trip mates as well as my friends and family to make it through our nearly 1300 miles. I needed them, and even when I didn’t realize it, they were always there. Thinking back to the shy kid I was growing up and how often I felt lonely because of that, I am endlessly grateful for the way Odyssey opened my eyes. I am not alone and I never was. Going into my senior year and onward, I know that my reciprocated care and support for others had the power to carry them over mountains.

My Odyssey has just begun.


Hannah Montgomery
I chose this Odyssey and it gave me an impact.

Ever since we were younger, people have told us to leave no trace. In reality, leaving a trace is okay. Not a physical trace, but an intangible trail of actions that inspire other to pay it forward.

On a particularly hot and boring day on trail, we had pulled over to eat lunch on the lawn of a garage. In the middle of our meal, a truck pulled over by the garage and all we could think was that the owners of the garage decided that we couldn’t eat there. A woman stepped out of the truck, and before saying anything she pulled out a pack of cold waters. She then walked towards us smiling and asked if she could give the water to us.

The simple action of giving water to strangers is one that is not considered extraordinary by most, but to us it meant the world. Her generosity had a huge impact on us, which got me thinking- what is our impact on those around us?

All along our route, we shared our story with all sorts of different people. In return, many people shared with us a story of their own.

At the end of our century day, we were waiting for our whole group so we could ride mile 100 together. While we waited, a lady came up to us to hear our story, which reminded her of her own. She had done a bike trip when she was younger and she left us with a phrase- stay vertical. At first I was confused, but after repeating it to myself, I began to understand what she meant: keep going. If you fall down, get back up, stay vertical. Yet again another stranger left a small part of themselves with me. Neither of these ladies shared with us because they wanted us to remember who they are, they shared simply because they could.

Kindness and generosity make up the trail I want to lead wherever I go. So next time I see a biker, I might stop and give them water, share a story, or maybe even just give them some more room on the road. Stay vertical, Miniwanca.

My Odyssey has just begun.