In late 2021, a group of students from Haileybury College set off to complete their Duke of Edinburgh Award; they bushwalked from Portland to Tarragal Caves and then canoed from Moleside to Nelson, Victoria.
Michael Krol was hoping to complete his Gold Award. Once home from his adventure, Michael reflected on his experience and found it provided him with much more than he anticipated. He shares his thoughts on the experience with us.
A TRIP I'LL NEVER FORGET
I don't think my friends ever imagined I would walk 60km, paddle 50km and end up actually enjoying it. My friends would not believe it if I told them I enjoyed sleeping on a 2cm thick rectangle and having to build my own home each night.
But I did enjoy it, all of it.
Scaling gigantic seaside cliffs, crossing expansive stretches of golden sand near crashing ocean waves, traversing rock faces with an aesthetic of Mars, paddling alongside forested regions of the stunning Lower Glenelg National Park, observing the revolving world around me from the inside of a carved out hole in the mountain - a trip I will never forget.
FORGING A COMMUNITY
I came into this trip knowing only two people: Vidu and Charlie. The night before departure, I lay in my bed contemplating the likelihood of creating new friends on this trip. Since building good relationships with my peers has never been my strong point, I decided my chances were slim. I was wrong.
Despite being year levels apart, not knowing one another, and being divided within our own smaller friendship groups, we all cooperated and grew as one unit. We bonded in our shared victories and challenges. For ten days, we explored together, camped together, hiked the same tracks and experienced sore feet and blisters. We became close as peers but also connected as a team.
It was amazing to see how our communication grew from the first day of the hike, being divided across a massive area of the track, to finally sticking together as one tight line on our final day's hike, encouraging each other and keeping each other uplifted with riddles and games.
Long periods of travel called for long conversations with the people we already knew well and also with those we didn't - boys mixing with girls, older mixing with younger. Before I knew it, I had made friends I never imagined I would make.
By the middle of the canoeing section, we have formed our very own little community, feeling supported and at ease in each other's company and working together as a team, packing boats and paddling to our next campsite.
Ultimately, this camp has made me more socially confident and has helped me reduce my social anxieties in talking to new people.
I had a lot of anxiety coming into the trip, knowing it would be the biggest hike I have ever done. In the lead up to departure, I did many cardiovascular circuits and leg exercises to make sure I could complete the hike. Come the first day, I was filled with enthusiasm and determination to complete the 22km. I admired the picturesque town of Portland as we persevered on towards wilder territories of the walk, away from human civilisation.
The first challenge I felt was in the final stretch of the Portland section, where we walked alongside a road completely open and up a slight incline. There were no beautiful ocean views to push me on and I had long since taken to the front of the group, my first mistake. My legs began to feel heavy and my pack began weighing me down as I walked on up the road. When the group finally called the break, I collapsed onto my bag, feeling relieved; this is where I realised my mistake – I was missing the companionship of my team members.
In the next section, I joined in on a conversation and wouldn't you know it, the pack became lighter, and the destination didn't feel so far.
I learned human interaction and friendship distract us from the hardships around us, and when united, it is easier to conquer these challenges, especially on 20km+ hikes.
I remember the pain in my feet and the blisters, all treated using scaffolding or bandages but still presenting extra elements to overcome, especially towards the end of the hike. Here, I discovered my mind's power and how it can distract me. Admiring the ocean views and fantastic rock formations were great distractions for any pain.
Canoeing came with some discomfort. Happily, as I got more and more experience, I overcame the discomfort by sticking to the tips of our Canoe Instructor, Tim - keeping your body low on the canoe. While this was mainly to keep the canoe stable, I found it very effective in easing back pain. In fact, on the last day, by crossing my legs in the canoe, I felt no pain at all. If there is anything canoeing taught me, it is to always listen to the advice of those with more experience; they will make your life easier.
A SHARED UTOPIA
By the fourth day of the journey, Charlie proposed an interesting thought - group camping, especially with a larger group, is structured as a shared and uncomplicated utopia. Everybody works for the greater common good and everything is shared, including the experience. Despite not having all the usual comforts, our group was happy and fulfilled.
As it turns out (surprise, surprise), you don't need expensive stuff to be happy and instead, the free stuff such as human companionship and nature is what counts towards creating happiness and fulfilment.
I have come back from this trip with a fresh perspective on materialism and how it has taken hold of the society around me. Maybe I should invest in more opportunities where the free stuff can be found in abundance.
My journey was not what I expected. The lessons I learnt were invaluable. I thoroughly enjoyed the experience and hope the friends and lessons I gained along the way will stick with me as I continue my schooling and beyond.