Aquatics Adventure Camp 1992 – Coffee, Donuts, and the Wabash River

Aquatics Adventure Camp 1992 – Coffee, Donuts, and the Wabash River

By Pati Egan

Canoeing on the Wabash River was both fun and challenging. The original staff were Suzy (Munn) Mahoney, Jen (Jansen) Brennan, and the late Joe Bushue. All had a pre-trip orientation at Camp that was run by the late Cindy (Moehlenkamp) Smith.

Aquatics Adventure Camp canoeing the Wabash River
Advanced Canoeing “certification” class

Suzy recalls that “we received canoeing certification on a cold and windy day. Cindy M arranged it, I believe. We learned how to master the strokes, including the almighty J stroke on Lake Echon. So, not directly related to Adventure Camp, it was an influencing factor as we gained sharper skills that weekend.” 

Aquatics Adventure Camp 1992 – Coffee, Donuts, and the Wabash River Wabash River Canoeing
Canoeing on the Wabash River

Other than the late 1960s and early 1970s overnight canoeing trips on Lake of Egypt, Camp never attempted a trip of this scope on the water. The Wabash River was selected for its proximity to Camp.  Jen recalls, “We went on the Wabash River. Before the trip, Gene [Canavan] showed all of us how to tip in a canoe in the swimming lake. Joe Drone went along but looked after us from certain points on land with binoculars. We could not swim in the water because of undertows. It was all paddling for sure. No real current to take you, and we cooked over the fire. We dug in the sand every night to burrow out a place to sleep and put the canoes on top so if it rained we would have shelter.”

Campers setting up camp on the Wabash.  Aquatics Adventure Camp 1992 – Coffee, Donuts, and the Wabash River
Campers setting up camp on the Wabash

How did the staff feel being far away from Camp? This was in pre-cell phone days, and the Wabash River is huge!

Map of the Wabash River
By Kmusser – Self-made, based on USGS data., CC BY-SA 3.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=4159551
“The Wabash River /ˈwɔːbæʃ/ (French: Ouabache) is a 503-mile-long (810 km)[2] river that drains most of the state of Indiana in the United States. It flows from the headwaters in Ohio, near the Indiana border, then southwest across northern Indiana, turning south near the Illinois border, where the southern portion forms the Indiana-Illinois border before flowing into the Ohio River. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Wabash_River
The late Steve Bushue on the Wabash River Camp Ondessonk Trip
The late Joe Bushue: a staff member on the trip

Was the staff nervous? They truly were on their own with a group of campers of unknown skill level.  Suzy remembers “being pretty nervous when we hit some rapids. We were carrying a ton of gear, coolers, etc. in the canoes. I was afraid if anyone capsized, they’d lose everything or have wet belongings for the remainder of the trip. Like I said, tough week – but rewarding!”

The campers had no bathroom facilities and camping on sandbars did present some challenges.  Campers learned how to use nature as a restroom. Suzy mentioned that the campers were taught the terms ‘coffee and donuts’ to refer to bathroom functions. She said, “Teaching the kids how to use nature as a restroom in a respectful manner was probably the most hysterical thing. One of the weeks I volunteered recently, there was a unit skit about it. Made me think of Adventure Camp. You really had no choice. You better hope you were only carrying ‘coffee’ and no ‘donuts’ while on the river!” This is probably a term that would bring an inside-joke-laugh when campers on this inaugural program get together. It is these little things that bring laughs around the campfire 30 years later when Camp people get together.

Camp  Ondessok Aquatics Specialty Campers
The original Aquatics Specialty campers

The staff recalls food deliveries, fun times on the river, and sleeping out on the sand bars, teaching the campers how to dig out a space under the canoes to sleep in the event of rain. Mostly, the staff remembered the fun times on the river. They accepted a challenge to be far away from Camp with minimal supplies. They also remember the beautiful views on the magnificent Wabash River.

Camp Ondessonk staff on the Wabash River

The campers and staff on this program had a “bring it on” attitude and believed they could solve any problem that developed along the way. They were pioneers! Their ability to go for the unknown is an admirable trait that the campers of today still carry on. They may not go as far as the Wabash River, but they do meet every challenge with the same “bring it on” attitude.

Special thanks to Suzy (Munn) Mahoney for her photos and memories along with special thanks to Jen (Jansen) Brennan for her memories.

Click here to learn more about Camp Ondessonk’s Adventure Programs.


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