Build Christian Community with a Kayak Trip

One of the best ways for us to build or grow Christian community is with a multi-day outdoor adventure, like a kayak trip. Especially when more than one generation is involved.

"Build Community Outdoors" with image of kayakers along a rocky, tree-lined shoreline

While this goes for both men and women, I want to focus on women here. This kind of trip isn’t that common among Christian women—but it should be.

I believe in women’s Bible studies, retreats and other programs that disciple us and bring us together. And I understand that some (many?) women don’t want to go without a shower for more than a day or two. Don’t want to sleep on the ground. Don’t want to get dirty. Don’t want to deal with bugs. Don’t want to leave their conveniences.

But as an outdoor lover and one with a fair amount of experience bringing girls and women on informal outdoor adventure trips, I can tell you there’s nothing else like it.

Yes, they can be hard. You put up with inconvenience—a lot of it. There are many things out of your control, like nature itself. You’ll get dirty, and may not have access to a shower for several days.

But there are levels of community you can reach on a multi-day outdoor trip (not to mention personal growth) that aren’t possible in controlled, comfortable circumstances.

I’ll use an all-women’s sea kayak trip I was on in June 2021 to show you how these work out in real-time. We were out on Lake Superior in Apostle Islands National Lakeshore for four days and three nights:

Limited Numbers

Most outdoor adventure trips are best in small groups. Sometimes your numbers are restricted by outside rules. For example, in the Boundary Waters your party is limited to no more than nine people and four boats.

In our case, we could’ve included up to 10 women besides our two guides. As it ended up, our group consisted of seven total.

seven women, all part of the kayak trip, standing on shore with their paddles and big smiles
Our happy kayak group on Day 4 (photo courtesy of Brittany Dokter)

A small group setting provides a completely different community dynamic than 100+ women at a weekend retreat, or 40 women in a Bible study. When there’s just seven of you, you’ll interact with everyone all the time.

That can be both more fun and much harder! That’s because the women in the group can make or break the trip.

Some women don’t think twice about signing up for an adventure trip with a bunch of strangers. Some even prefer that setting. Personally, I’m pretty picky about who I choose to go with on these kinds of excursions.

If I’m going to take the time and spend the money (sometimes a lot of each) I prefer to be with women I already know and want to build or deepen relationship with. (If you’re familiar with Gallup’s CliftonStrengths, that’s a real thing—Relator.)

One isn’t better than the other—it’s just personal preference.

Back to the main point here: multi-day outdoor trips often limit your numbers, and that can be a very good thing for building and growing community.

When challenges arise—which they will in the outdoors over several days—you’re forced to cooperate. You have to choose whether to encourage each other or complain. Serving one another is necessary. Conversation beneath the surface has ample opportunity when there are so few of you in an environment of forced simplicity (more on that soon).

Ideal for Multiple Generations

It just so happens that most of my multi-day outdoor trips include at least two generations. Part of that is because my daughter is in her 20s, and I know most of her friends. Many of them love outdoor activities, so it’s a natural fit that we do them together.

On this particular sea kayak trip we had five decades represented within the seven women of our group: teens, 20s, 30s, 40s and 50s. I love that so much! There’s something wonderful about the Body of Christ that women of all ages can come together like that and thrive.

five women of various ages on a sand beach with their kayaks and paddles; Lake Superior behind them and the mainland on the horizon
Our group: I love outdoor adventuring with younger women!

Our lead guide, LeaAnn, is a mom and grandma with years of kayaking and guiding experience. Her junior guide was just 17, in mentorship with their kayak company. The rest of us were in-between in age and experience.

For this trip it wasn’t such a necessity, but I’ve been on other outdoor trips when I relied quite a lot on the younger women to carry much of the physical load. If I can add more experience into the equation our various contributions tend to even out.

Away from Everyday Life

There aren’t too many activities that are better for building community than being away from everyday life with the same people for a multi-day trip. When that trip is in nature—preferably out of cell phone range—it’s even more ideal.

I’m not knocking everyday life. It’s just healthy to get away from it now and again.

As Christian women, we’re usually so busy with family or friends, work, home and church activities that it can be tough to find even an hour or two of breathing space.

When we can get a few days away from our routine and responsibilities, it can be wonderfully rejuvenating…even if it involves a different kind of hard.

If the stats are correct, most of us live our lives saturated with screens and media. An outdoor adventure away from them is heavenly. Face-to-face conversation with other humans instead of texting or Zoom…for hours at a time…that’s heavenly, too.

four women seated or standing around a campfire, cooking the evening meal; tent and picnic table in the background
Evening meals around the campfire provided uninterrupted conversation opportunities

Forced Simplicity

I have no argument with women’s retreats at nice conference centers where they feed you, give you a comfy place to sleep and offer plenty of conveniences. I’ve been to many retreats like this, and love them.

But there’s something about living for a time with forced simplicity that gets our attention:

  • When you can only take along what fits inside a few dry bags that are stuffed in your kayak, you choose carefully.
  • When you have to get your water from the lake and filter it before you can cook with it or drink it, you ration carefully.
  • When you don’t get to choose off a menu, but eat what your outfitter brought, you can be grateful or you can go hungry.
  • When you live for a few days without indoor plumbing and electricity, you have a brand new appreciation for it.

The pace of life slows down when you’re out there because it has to. Tasks we take for granted—cooking, washing dishes, brushing our teeth—take longer and require a different set of rules.

It’s actually quite wonderful. Or if nothing else, it makes us grateful we don’t have to live that way all the time!

kayakers inside one of the sea caves of the Apostle Islands
The Apostle Islands are known for its sea caves—only accessible by kayak

Factors Out of Your Control

The thing about nature is we can’t control it very well, if at all. For a multi-day kayak trip, things we can’t control include weather, water (in our case, BIG water), gear (we have what we have), outdoor cooking (we eat what we have), other peoples’ attitudes.

We can all do our best to prepare, but once we’re out there we’re at the mercy of God and the elements.

The uncontrollable factor I was most nervous about on this trip was Lake Superior itself. I’ve been on its shores dozens of times, and have witnessed it from dead calm to 15-foot waves. It can be risky out there in a kayak, even with an experienced guide.

Weather determines the personality of Lake Superior on any given day. So I had been praying fervently that the Lord would give us favor with the weather for this trip.

He was so good to answer those prayers! We had mostly calm waters all four days. In the afternoons the wind picked up, but didn’t it throw up more waves than we could comfortably handle. And the rain that had been forecast held off until our way home on Day 4. Even then it was light and refreshing, and we had our rain gear, of course.

But I’ve been on other trips when things didn’t go so well. It’s during those times we learn we can endure more than we thought we could, because we don’t have the option to quit and go home.

five women and their sea kayaks pulled up on a smooth rocky shoreline
We were blessed with a huge answer to prayer—cooperative weather!

Everyone Gets to Step Up

On a multi-day outdoor trip like our sea kayak trip, everyone has to step up and pull their weight. When it’s an all-women’s group, we learn we can do more and handle more than we sometimes think we can.

That’s one of my favorite things about bringing groups of just women and girls into wilderness settings.

I learned this back when I was a camp counselor in my 20s. When our canoe trip groups included the guys, it was natural (and often a relief) to let them do most of the heavy work, like carry the 65-90 pound canoes and heaviest packs over the portages.

But when we took groups of just girls out, we all had to step up, push harder and carry more. It was exhausting…but rewarding!

Grown women are no different. Put them in a situation where they have to paddle a kayak three miles across Lake Superior’s open waters and they’ll do it.

Tell them the only way to get from Point A to Point B and our next campsite is to carry this canoe up this hill and over that portage for a half mile and they’ll do it.

There isn’t much else in our convenience-filled life that forces us to step up like that in a way that combines our physical, mental and emotional endurance.

women in three sea kayaks on a very calm Lake Superior
A 2-mile cross-channel paddle on Lake Superior is a joy in conditions like this! (photo courtesy of Emilie O’Connor)

Built-In Discipleship

Discipleship isn’t just about spiritual or intellectual learning, it’s about all of life. A multi-day outdoor adventure trip with a group of women is one of the very best ways for built-in discipleship to happen.

Here are some of the ways I witnessed it on our kayak trip:

  • Our lead guide, LeaAnn, was mentoring her junior guide, Blessing, throughout the trip. Their company, Whitecap Kayak, is based on a mentorship model between their senior guides and the young people they hire. It’s their reason for existence. I think that’s amazing.
  • LeaAnn discipled all of us in several ways: kayaking on Lake Superior, various kinds of paddle strokes, the natural and historical significance of the Apostle Islands, how to climb back into your kayak from the water, healthy and fresh kayak camping meals.
  • Blessing was a model of service, a great attitude and stepping up in leadership among women many years older than she. Discipleship isn’t always from older to younger.
  • We learned from each other throughout the four days. LeaAnn encouraged us to switch kayak partners and kayaks each day. So we learned how to paddle with different people, how to paddle differently in the bow seat compared to the stern.
  • One of the women who was part of our group has Type 1 diabetes. The trip was extra challenging for her because she had to continually balance her blood sugar, the carbs she ate and her activity level. She had to make sure her insulin pump and monitor were charged and working properly. I’ve learned so much from her about healthy eating because of being on multi-day wilderness trips with her (this was my second).
  • We intentionally chose a kayak outfitter run by Christians. It’s always enlightening to rub shoulders for an extended time with other believers outside our usual circle. We had great conversations about many faith-centered topics.
  • My younger, adventurous trip mates all jumped in Lake Superior (which is frigid year-round). On our first day we had pulled off on the point of an island below a lighthouse. It was a gorgeous sunny day, I had a wet suit on and the location couldn’t have been better for a quick dip. Thanks to them (and the wet suit), I did it! Even that was a discipling moment for me.
four women jump off a rocky ledge into Lake Superior
Lake Superior isn’t so bad when you’re wearing a wet suit!

These types of outdoor adventure trips are ideal ways to build community, take advantage of discipleship opportunities and enjoy God’s glorious creation all at the same time.

If you dream of kayaking the Apostle Islands—a world-class sea kayaking destination—I highly recommend outfitting through Whitecap Kayak. They’re fantastic!

And…Whitecap’s owners, Neal and LeaAnn Schroeter, contributed several devotionals to Heaven and Nature Sing. A double blessing 🙂

Here’s more…

Sharon Brodin