Becca Carley had led her volleyball teammates on a nearly three-mile hike through the North Manitou Island wilderness. Traversing up and down the rough terrain, their bodies ached from days of hauling 50-pound backpacks and they wondered if they would ever reach their campsite.
Eventually, another hiker pointed them in the direction of a trail marker he had spotted. When they finally approached the marker they recognized it immediately.
They were right back where they started.
It was a defining moment for the team, a team still getting to know each other a month before the season started. Giving up wasn’t an option; they’d be stranded in the woods overnight. They could head back to the base camp where their coaches stayed or they could set out again on the 2.6-mile hike to their camping spot.
They chose the latter.
“We were mentally and physically exhausted. All we wanted to do was sit down and stop hiking,” said Carley, who serves as the team’s captain. “But we really pushed each other to keep going.”
Experiences like these, said coach Mike Gibson, are the reason he has planned team camping trips for the past 30 years. The activities vary by year—backpacking, hiking, canoeing, rock climbing and rafting are favorites. But the goal is the same: Build the team dynamic before the competitive season begins.
“We want this to be one of the most difficult things they’ve done and we want them to have to go through it together,” he said. “Passing a volleyball? That’s easy, especially when you’ve tackled mountains together.”
So the teammates get a lesson in growing together through adversity. They learn to build stoves and set up tents from tarps. They get lost and find their way again. And by the time they’re seniors, they’ve mastered the art of packing lightly.
They also learn a thing a two about each other.
“I was excited to get together with my team somewhere other than a gym,” Carley said. “You get to see someone’s real personality and how they react to fear, anger and tiredness.”
That’s information they’ll take back with them to the court, where the stress of the game manifests itself a lot like the stress of the wilderness. In those moments, they’ll think back on the experiences they had on the island, just as Gibson predicted they would.
“If we can backpack on that island, we can do anything in life and on the court,” Carley said. “This trip shows us that we have to push ourselves in everything we do. We’re very good at encouraging each other. If we use that encouragement to push each other on the court, we will be very effective.”