Last week, first year students participating in the Duke of Edinburgh’s award returned from their practice expedition and this is how it all went.
On Saturday, the 14th of April, we had our practice day in Cotuit Hall, with the help of George and Rick from Adventure Expeditions. We learned how to make our route cards, navigate the map, set up tents and prepare a hot meal on a stove. We were ready for Sunday. Or at least, that’s what we thought. The following morning, after enjoying our last decent breakfast for a few days, we boarded a bus heading towards White Mark Farm, in Watlington, which we will later learned would be our campsite during our stay in the Chilterns.
With our backpacks ready, we started off on day one. From the start it was clear it was not as easy as we had thought. The backpacks were heavy, our feet were hurting from blisters, the hills were steep everyone was beginning to regret our decision to embark on this expedition. We were horrible at cartography, we lacked concentration, and if this wasn’t a practice day, we would be completely lost. When we finally reached the campsite, we were relieved the day was over but unfortunately, it wasn’t. We were disorganized and disoriented, we’d hardly set up our tents and preparing dinner took ages. Clearly, this hasn’t been a good day. Spending the night in the cold tent was horrible and waking up the next day felt like the most difficult task in the world.
The following morning, more things went off course. We had trouble packing away, dividing the equipment among our team. However, we had no choice and we were facing yet another day. We were expecting a disaster, because unlike yesterday, we were completely independent. The shocking thing about today was… we were getting by quite well. The team was getting along perfectly, we were (moderately) better at reading maps, and it didn’t feel as exhausting as it was the day before. We became closer as a group and reaching the campsite was, much easier than the day before, although we had to walk slightly further. The second evening at the campsite was undoubtedly the highlight of this trip, for everyone. We had food – lots of it, we were chatting, laughing and recounting the day’s events. We also got used to sleeping in our tents and had a good night’s sleep, unlike the previous night. One more day, and we’ll be done.
The third day was the day of our return, but before that – there was more to walk. That day was the day we saw the most beautiful scenery, and we even managed to see some wild deer on the way. Having come across a forest fire, our last few hours were slow, and we did not cover much ground. That being said, we eventually found our meeting point, without going off-course a single time. Around four in the afternoon, we were finally on the bus, on our way back to EF Academy.
After walking nearly 60 kilometers, we arrived back on campus. The sense of accomplishment and gratitude I felt for finally having a hot shower and sleeping in an actual bed was overwhelming. This expedition taught us all many, many things we would have otherwise not learned had we not embarked on this expedition. The team was pitted against such a steep learning curve – we acquired so many skills in such a short period of time. I can, with absolute conviction and confidence, say I am proud of us all, not just for making it through this, but in learning and growing from our experience. June expedition – we’re ready!