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Off The Beaten Path: The journey of Les Voyageurs

By Lucy Perkins, Daily Arts Writer
Published November 15, 2012

The meal usually attracts about 30 people, including actives, alums and friends of LVs. Dinner features a savory assortment of homemade dishes adorning the long, wooden dining room table.

Afterward an educational presentation begins, organized by the vice-chief, which is typically specific to outdoor-related subjects. Past presentations given by University professors included monarch butterflies and orienteering.

“I loved it because it’s just a bunch of people who love going outside; it’s a very cool group of people,” Bonadonna said.

Out on their own

Only six new members were inducted this year — more than usual for Les Voyageurs — in a secret ceremonial process members are forbidden to discuss.

The induction took place two weeks ago over the course of a weekend, filling the cabin with actives, inductees and alums that came back for the ceremony — some 50 people in total.

Though she declined to comment on the details of the process, Alexander emphasized that no hazing occurred.

“We can acknowledge that it exists but we don’t tell anyone what we do,” she said. “It’s a secret thing, but it’s really fun. We just don’t talk about it because we want it to be a special experience for the people who go through it, and it usually is.”

It’s more than potlucks and presentations every Sunday. For members, the community and friendship found at the cabin is treasured and can’t be found anywhere else.

“It has this feel of exclusivity because we’re so hard to get to,” Alexander said. “People are afraid of coming down here because they think we’re in the middle of nowhere.”

Like Alexander, Bonadonna enjoys the distance separating the cabin from Central Campus.

“I like going to the cabin because it’s like a getaway,” she said. “It’s a completely different world.”

Perhaps it’s because the cabin is a 25-minute walk from campus, secluded from the rest of the collegiate world. But the strength of friendships tying Les Voyageurs together is tangible.

An LV tenet is etched across the log mantle that reaches the very core of what Les Voyageurs is all about: “Here let the fire of friendship burn forever.” Above it hangs a framed cloth flag, with “Les Voyageurs” stitched neatly in bold block letters. This flag traveled with the first team of explorers to the South Pole — including a former member of the society, Laurence McKinley Gould.

As a student society at the University, it’s not surprising that there are several famous LV alums. Now deceased, former members included Mike Miskovsky, who went on to become a lawyer and worked closely to free prisoners in the Bay of Pigs incident of the 1960s; environmentalist and Earth Day pioneer Harold Jordahl; and Red Berenson, the current coach of the Michigan hockey team.

Just like home

Seated before the crackling fire, it’s hard to tell whether Alexander’s face is lit by the flicker of flames lapping at logs or her thoughts and memories of her fellow LVs.

“It’s like a family that once you have it you can’t imagine not being a part of it — you just gel,” Alexander said. “For some reason we attract people who are easygoing and interesting and we just all really like each other and support each other. It’s pretty warm.”

Along with friendship, eternal love for the outdoors is central to the society.

But Alexander noted that Les Voyageurs is not a backpacking club. Social gatherings around the fire, sitting around at the dinner table and a strong sense of brotherhood and sisterhood distinguish LVs from traditional backpacking groups.

Three active LVs, including Alexander, currently live in the one-bedroom bungalow — a room that takes up the entire second story, its walls lined with closets and bookshelves while mattresses cover the floor. Bunks often appear out of necessity when more members move in throughout the year.