123rd Ottawa Venturer Company: Winners of the 2017 Amory Adventure Award Competition
It was about this time in 2016 (after placing 3rd) that we raised the question: what are we going to do next year? We knew we had to do something smaller, but the rigorous schedule and huge amount of time that it takes to pull off a large international trip had taken its toll on all of us, and we needed a break—but we still needed a challenge! No one knew how to answer the question, so we put it on the backburner until the next year.
Ten months before our trip, we asked the question again, this time around the campfire. This challenge was proving to be harder to think of than to complete! Three months later we decided we needed a purpose. At our yearly cottage camp we sat down for a good two days and chose our challenge. We decided we were going to hike and map a canyon.
Our Scouters always teach us that no plan survives first contact with the enemy, and this one was no exception. As it turns out, you can’t exactly find an unmapped canyon on a map. We realized that there was no way we could possibly continue with our original plan, as we couldn’t guarantee our safety walking into land we don’t know, looking for something that may or may not be there. So, the plan adapted. We quickly settled on a portage in Killarney Provincial Park; on our map, it looked like someone had only roughly drawn it in—our new goal was to map it properly. Turns out our plan also didn’t survive second contact with the enemy, as all the campsites in the area were booked solid, even though we called minutes after booking opened. So we adapted yet again, and settled on a series of campsites near what looked like a ravine that we could map.
Our preparation soon began. We quickly learned about the new challenges we would face. The first of which was obvious: we had to learn how to map! We spent several meetings learning new mapping skills, and quickly learned that we would need to invest in new, more precise compasses, so that our map would be useful. The second challenge was that we were hiking into all of our camps, and we would have no permanent base camp where we could leave our stuff. We adapted to this challenge by learning about ultralight camping stoves and pots, as well as packing lighter. We put all of our training into action at our yearly survival camp, where we hiked into a marked location with a compass, and mapped our route.
In terms of physical challenge, we did a little preparation—but probably not enough. We did one hike at the beginning of April, followed by our survival camp later in the month. But our boots still weren’t broken in. We truly thought we were prepared—until we got there.
We set out from our church parking lot on July 5, and stated on our six-hour drive to Killarney. When we finally got there, we pulled into the parking lot and began hiking our equipment into camp. That night we learned many valuable lessons in teamwork as we struggled to assemble our campsite, but eventually we got it together—just in time for bed.
The next day we had to move all of our equipment from one campsite to the next, as we weren’t able to book the same campsite for the whole trip. So we moved and set up camp at our next location before setting out to start our mapping.
After bushwhacking for what seemed like forever, we arrived—but we didn’t find a ravine: we found a marsh. This is where we learned that our plan had just failed third contact with the enemy, so we adapted and decided that we would simply map our newly discovered marsh. We used a system that we developed out of necessity to adapt to our situation. We had five people whose job it was to stand along the shore and hold sticks so that three other people with compasses could take their bearings from fixed waypoints that we identified with a GPS. We later plotted these waypoints and bearings to form a map.
After finishing mapping, we returned to our campsite and rested. The trip continued like this for two days as we finished the mapping of our marsh. On our last day of mapping, we gave it a name: Baden-Powell Marsh. On the last day, we were sick of dehydrated food, and decided to head into the town of Killarney for lunch, and to stop at a few shops for souvenirs. After our most senior member twisted his ankle walking down the sidewalk, we returned to camp for our final night, and drove out the next morning.
The funny thing was that I thought this trip was going to be simply a physical challenge; however, it was far more. Just before the trip, our Expedition Team changed significantly. Our Company Leader injured his knee and had to have surgery, and several senior members had to leave to go prepare for university the next year.
As Assistant Company Leader, the leadership role fell to me, and I soon realized the true challenge of this trip. I thought I would be ready, having just taught a leadership course in Belize the year before. In my mind, nothing would go wrong. I was wrong. It turns out it is actually easier to teach leadership than it is to lead. As previously mentioned, the first day at camp was a mess. I felt I wasn’t prepared to continue leading this Expedition Team, so I decided to put a plan together. Unlike our mapping plan, my leadership plan didn’t survive a single contact with the enemy.
Every night I would go to bed thinking about what had gone wrong, and how I needed to fix it. Every morning I awoke with a new plan, which failed. Towards the end of the trip, things got better, but nonetheless on the very last night of the trip, things got worse when the pot of macaroni and cheese spilled four times, and the camp fell into chaos. This was by far the hardest night of the camp. I returned from our challenge disappointed—we completed our goal, but I hadn’t completed mine. I didn’t feel like I was as good of a leader as I had set out to be. But it is only now, reflecting on the last year, that I realize how much of a journey leadership is. I am Company Leader this year, and every Monday I walk into our weekly meeting with my new plan. Every week it fails, but every week, less and less. On May 15, we set out on our yearly challenge: an international cultural exchange trip to the Czech Republic, where I will lead the Expedition Team once again with an added year of experience. By the end of the trip, my plan will survive contact with the enemy. My leadership journey has only just begun, and will continue throughout the rest of my life.
This adventure to Killarney taught us all something. Whether it be leadership, pushing our boundaries or even little lessons as simple as remembering to bring a bug net when camping in July. We all learned from this trip, and we all plan on learning more from trips like these in the future.
In reference to the devastating Parry Sound 33 wildfire currently affecting the Killarney and French River areas, as well as Killarney Provincial Park, our thoughts and deepest considerations are with the communities affected by the blaze.