The Canadian Conservation Corps (CCC) is a three stage program where youth learn, grow and experience Canada all while having a real impact on conservation. The process begins with an 'adventure' phase and I was lucky enough to go on a two-week portage trip across Alqonguin Provincial Park's northwest region in autumn 2019 with expedition provider Outward Bound Canada. More information on the CCC can be found here.
It's hard to believe I started this adventure with the Canadian Conservation Corps only 9 days ago. Meeting 11 other strangers, including our two amazing French-Canadian guides, and then proceeding to spend all day, every day with them in everything from pouring rain to days spent portaging across one of Canada’s most prolific provincial parks. Two-weeks in the backcountry is more difficult, wonderful, challenging (it’s just too hard to sum up in a few words!) than I’d ever imagined it would be.
That all sounds really difficult, right?
It sure was! Outward Bound expeditions are our supposed take you out of your comfort zone and challenge you. They also offer leadership opportunities, wilderness skills and team building experiences. Outward Bound's motto is: "Get Out. Look In." and that truly was the essence of our adventure. It is surprising how much being in challenging situations bring people together. We started out as strangers but ended the trip as friends, despite the strength of personalities and age differences within the group.
Our final day of paddling turned out to be the hardest, with strong winds and white caps on Cedar Lake. The rain was like ice shards against our face and hands. Our easy 2 km paddle quickly turned to disaster as we turned the corner of a bay and came full force into the wind. If one of us stopped paddling for one stroke, the canoe moved backwards and began to rotate. It is difficult to hear the days leaders and the group began to separate. A pair of paddlers even turned parallel to the waves and their boat began to fill with water.
It was at this point our guide (and my canoe partner) pulled the plug on our paddle, signalling that we all needed to head to shore. We had all been excited the previous day that the portaging had ended and the 2 km paddle would only take about 40 minutes. Now here we were an hour and a half later, soaking wet, freezing and portaging along a hiking trail. It is fair to say that tensions were high. But we survived. After portaging the final 300 meters, we saw the first signs of civilization like a beacon of hope after two-weeks in the wilderness. We were picked up in the lake's visitor parking lot and finally got to change into our regular, not to mention dry, clothes.
So, was it worth it?
We saw so many beautiful landscapes and the striking fall colours made this trip unforgettable. We learnt about ourselves and what we are capable of but also about how to treat others, how to be more understanding and compassionate. I am just beginning my Stage 2 of the Canadian Conservation Corps program, with an internship at the Canadian Wildlife Federation, but I already feel more confident in my abilities as a leader and wildlife educator after this trip. I cried when I was sick as a dog and carrying a canoe on my shoulders but also cried of laughter around the campfire. The bruises and aching muscles were only temporary but the memories and friendships will last a lifetime.
If there's one thing I took away from this whole adventure: it's that you should appreciate the modern toilet and running water. Next time you've 'got to go', I implore you to take a moment to think about how easy and comfortable it is. Peeing in the woods with the constant fear of 11 other people walking in on you is never fun.