Conquering the wilderness

The moon that night looked stranger than the Girl Scout guide had ever seen. As Trina Weisel prepared to enter her tent in the Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness for the night, it hung blood-red in a dark sky.

"That's cool, but different and weird," Weisel remembers thinking.

Then she crawled into the tent to sleep. Around her were the tents of sleeping Girl Scouts just getting to know the Boundary Waters, plus a couple of moms. It was July 2016.

At 21, Weisel was a Girl Scout through-and-through. Entranced by pictures of her mom as a young Daisy scout, she joined when she attended St. Mary's Catholic School in Alexandria and kept at it through her senior year at Jefferson High School, even after her fellow troop members had dropped out.

She had been going to the Boundary Waters since she was 15, selling enough Girl Scout cookies to earn a trip through a rustic Girl Scout canoe base not far from the Canadian border. She loved the wilderness, the way campers could get in tune with nature, eating when hungry instead of by a clock.

Sometime during that July night, she woke. It was raining, so she fell back asleep to the patter of rain on the tent. Then a violent crack startled her awake. A tree fell a yard from her pillow. Thunder rolled in and the wind buffeted the tents. Lightning flashed and more trees began falling around them.

"Kids in the tents next to me were freaking out and moms in the tents were freaking out," Weisel said.

Above the uproar, Weisel hollered for everyone to stay in their tents where they were warm and dry. She forced herself to sound more confident than she felt. Inside, she was shaking.

When it was all over, everyone in her group was safe. Terrified though the girls were, they rebounded by morning. Not only did they stay in the Boundary Waters for two more days, but they had a great time.

"Honestly, we slept a lot, swam a lot, and ate a lot of food," Weisel said.

It wasn't until later that they learned the violent storm had claimed two lives that night less than a half mile from them. A Boy Scout and an adult volunteer had died when trees fell on their tent.

She also learned something else: When trees are falling, it's safer to get out of the tents to be able to dodge the danger, despite the rain.

The experience shook her, but didn't deter her from returning to the wilderness. In fact, this year, she took a job teaching third grade in Ely, so she could be close to it. However, she said she is eager to see other places around the country. This summer, she plans to take personal trips to the Smoky Mountains and Yellowstone National Park. Her parents recently bought a place on Lake Rachel south of Holmes City, and she wants to experience what it's like to walk out the back door to a lake instead of having to portage a heavy canoe there.

Gold winner

Weisel is a lifetime member of the Girl Scouts, which celebrates 106 years this week, thanks to a high school project that earned her a Gold Award. The Gold Award, Girl Scouts' highest honor, goes to fewer than 6 percent of scouts each year, the organization says.

In fact, in 2012, the year Weisel received hers, she was one of only six girls out of 6,631 in her Girl Scouts Lakes and Pines Council to do so, said council spokesperson Tauna Quimby.

"It's definitely the top tier of Girl Scouts that earn their Gold Award," Quimby said. "It's the girls passionate about making a difference in their community. Trina is definitely a mover and a shaker, a girl who will go far and make a difference in the community."

Weisel earned her award by conducting a nearly two-year project on ovarian cancer in honor of her grandmother, who died of the elusive, often deadly disease. Since everyone else had dropped out of her troop by her senior year, her mom, Rose Weisel, a first-grade teacher at Carlos Elementary School, served as her troop leader.

Weisel credits that project for introducing her to people she never would have otherwise spoken to, such as surgeons and other community members.

Wilderness lover

She also credits Girl Scouts for instilling a deep love for the wilderness. Since age 15, she has spent about 150 days in the Boundary Waters, teeter-tottering canoes across choppy waves, sighting black bears and screaming out scouting songs with a troop of girls.

"Eventually I would have made it up to the Boundary Waters but I don't think I would have made it as often as Girl Scouts allowed me to," she said.

By Karen Tolkkinen 

Source, image, credits & more information: EchoPress