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Fundraiser Takes On An IYF Wilderness Journey Challenge!

Last week Venture Trust's new Fundraiser, Jenny, took on a seven day Inspiring Young Futures wilderness expedition in the Cairngorms. Here's her diary:

Day 1: 'Getting to Know'

The day had arrived for me to head out on expedition with Venture Trust. As a bit of a city girl, mobile phone always close to hand and a big fan of the odd Starbucks or two, I arrived at Stirling train station after an hour’s journey from Edinburgh feeling more than a little nervous. I wasn’t quite sure what to expect, I didn't know anyone, and the idea of living in the wilderness for seven days was a daunting one. However, I viewed the expedition as a great opportunity for me to really see Venture Trust in action, and to see how this city girl would cope with the challenge that lay ahead.

I walked towards the Venture Trust bus and was met with smiles, positivity, and some lunch! The field team were so welcoming and made me feel comfortable right from the word go. I stored my bag and sat down ready to meet the participants, who I’m sure were all feeling the same trepidation as myself.

As the participants arrived on the Venture Trust bus, we all introduced ourselves and where we had travelled from. The atmosphere was a combination of excitement and nerves, but after an impromptu game of hacky sack whilst we handed over our valuables (including our mobile phones, which I think we’d all admit, had to be prised from reluctant fingers!), nerves were gradually replaced by anticipation.

Once we’d said goodbye to our valuables for the week, we discussed our social contract, five very simple conditions: no drugs, no alcohol, no theft, no threatening/violent behaviour, and no exclusive/sexual relationships. It was explained that everyone had a part to play in creating a safe environment for learning and development.

After about a four hour drive and a quick change into our outdoor kit, the group arrived at base camp in Carrbridge and set up the tipis which would become home for the next two days. Next, the camp boundaries were discussed: where the group could smoke, the eating area, and the toilets. What I found particularly interesting was that participants weren’t told what to do or where the boundaries were, they were asked; participants' opinions and suggestions were taken into consideration and everything was mutually agreed on between the participants and the field team.

As day light faded the group set off, with head torches firmly attached to foreheads, on a night-walk around base camp following the river. As another way of getting to know each other, we were given the task of thinking of two truths and one lie which we shared with one another and were grilled on in an attempt to expose the fib. There were a number of pretty imaginative lies, some of which included ‘I have had seven near-death experiences’ and ‘I have recently acquired a chainsaw license’ (I actually fell for that one, and was sorely disappointed when it was exposed as a lie!).

Day 2: ‘Plan, Do, Review, Transfer’

After a filling breakfast of porridge and individual support sessions in which participants laid out their goal for the day (and it was explained that they would continue to set a new goal for each day of their wilderness journey), the group began a motivational game of... passing a stick. However, this terrible description makes it sound simple, and it certainly wasn’t. I’ll explain:

The participants were split into two teams and were separated by a rope. They then had to work out how to pass the stick from one team to the other over the separation without stepping over the rope. This was simple at first, participants just had to lean across and hand the stick over, but as the gap got bigger and bigger, participants had to become more and more imaginative. The value of team-work was stressed as participants had to discuss their technique, and the theme of the day immediately came into play: plan the technique, try it, review it, and transfer it. I have never seen two people held horizontally before, and when the stick was successfully passed over a separation wider than I am tall, the group cheered loud enough to be heard in town.

Late morning, the group then headed to Cummingston to take on a climbing and abseiling challenge on the rocky coast. I was really impressed to see one participant in particular overcome a fear of heights as he dangled from a rope and lowered himself to the ground all the while taking deep calming breaths. As his feet reached the ground his chalk-white face burst into a grin as he realised that he’d taken on the challenge and, with the support of the field team and his fellow participants, beaten it!

Once everyone was back on the rocky ground, the group were set the challenge of building a bridge to a wee island just off the coast, again putting the day’s theme of ‘plan, do, review, transfer’ into action. With a combination of team work and enthusiasm the group finished the bridge, had an opening ceremony, and proudly named it ‘The Bad-Ass Bridge’ (and I have to say, it was pretty bad-ass!).

Later that afternoon we headed back to base-camp to cook our very first meal on a Trangia. The process was explained thoroughly and we all set about making a meal themed around a country. Cooking was creative and the combination of Chinese spices, Spanish chorizo, and Indian curries wafted around camp. As someone who has cooked on a Trangia on a number of occasions, I was really surprised to see the plethora of inventive dishes served up- I had no idea one could make such an exciting meal on a stove! My previous Trangia creations had only ever consisted of a rather dull combination of noodles and packet sauces! Not this time though; I managed to rustle up a dish of fajitas with fresh vegetables and wolfed it down feeling rather pleased with myself.

Before bed, we had an evening meeting in which participants were each given their role for the next day. Some of these included campsite manager, time keeper, navigator, motivator, and environmentalist. The participants were briefed on what their role involved and everyone went to sleep with full tummies, thinking about what tomorrow would bring.

Day 3: ‘Dealing with Change’

Today was the day we left the comforts (or what after three nights sleeping in the Highlands, we’d eventually come to realise as comforts) of base camp. Tents were taken down, tipis were packed away, and the challenge that lay ahead began to seem very real.

After individual support sessions and goal setting, participants were asked to choose the food they would take with them- and there was something to suit everyone’s taste (including myself, a slightly particular vegetarian). Participants were encouraged to take filling, hot food that included protein, carbohydrates, and vegetables, the importance of which was explained carefully in terms of energy levels, nutrition, keeping warm, and feeling full. With individual support from the field team, meals were planned and recipes were discussed.

Once our food was packed in our bags, it really did seem like everything was much simpler; our lives were packed tightly into our rucksacks and would now be carried on our backs.

We set out on the Venture Trust bus which drove us to the beginning of our walk through The Gaick Pass. But before we got started, it was time for our very first motivator to lead a group session and our navigator to get to grips with the map and our impending route.

After a few of hours of walking, we eventually came across what would be camp that evening by a huge dam. After dinner, we had an evening meeting chaired and run by a participant in which we talked about our roles and the day's theme. Each participant had something to contribute and there commenced a detailed discussion about dealing with change and how we could each apply this theme back at home.

That evening, bed time came quickly for the group who were all tired after the first walk and a day of change.

Day 4: ‘Choosing Effective Behaviour’

Day four was a big one! We walked through The Gaick pass carrying rucksacks, water, food, and tents. It was a challenge to say the least, but with consistent encouragement from the day’s motivator we got into the swing of it and headed through the stunning scenery of the Cairngorms.

On our way we met a friendly pony who enjoyed the attention of the group (and some participants even had a carrot or two for him). We saw hares, frogs, frog spawn, and deer tracks. All the while we were kept on time by the day’s time keeper and we made sure to pick up our litter as directed by the environmentalist.

Mid-way through our walk we came across a river, flowing rapidly, and deeper than we first thought. As a group we discussed the best way to cross, whether that was by building ‘Bad-Ass Bridge take-two’, wading, or continuing further along the bank to see if we could find a shallower part. We agreed that the best way to cross was to pull up our trousers, grit our teeth to the cold water, and wade!

Everyone got across first time, except one participant who wasn’t a fan of the idea of wet feet or a particularly strong current. As he became more and more nervous about crossing the river, the field team were on hand to offer him support. Together with the field team, the participant chose effective behaviour and came to a compromise... he would wade if he could tie bin liners around his boots. The group were quick to offer up their bin liners in a show of encouragement and as the participant crossed the river there were whoops and cheers.

He did later admit that he still got wet feet despite the bin liners, but was proud that he’d chosen effective behaviour; rather than simply refusing to cross the river, he thought his options through carefully and offered up a compromise that satisfied himself, the field team, and his fellow participants.

The group neared a possible camp-site but were given the option to keep going to see if they could find a better one. Despite wet feet, the group decided to keep going! We ended up camping at the side of Loch an t-Seilich which was a spectacular setting for the end of day four.

After some stone skimming on the loch (I could never manage more than three bounces!) we cooked dinner together and rounded up the day with an evening review led and chaired by a participant in which we discussed the day’s theme and how we’d each put it into practise. We re-distributed roles and then headed straight to bed. I was asleep as soon as my head hit my make-shift pillow of a rolled up (increasingly dirty) fleece.

Day 5: ‘Trust and Responsibilty’

The day began with a motivational game of ‘Zap’, well at least I think that’s what it’s called. Regardless of name it got the group laughing and ready to begin the day. Today’s theme was introduced in the morning meeting, run by a participant, as ‘Trust and Responsibility’. Once we’d discussed what the theme entailed, participants went into their individual support sessions to choose a goal for the day.

Today the participants were trusted to take responsibility and walk alone. The field team held back after lunch allowing the participants to navigate, pick up litter, and keep an eye on their time without the support or prompting of the staff. The participants rose to the challenge and arrived at camp ahead of schedule without getting lost (and with only one cigarette break!). As soon as they had arrived, the camp manager immediately set about making sure everyone knew the camp boundaries, where the toilets were, where the fuel dump was

(a safe area where Trangia fuel was kept), and where tents would be pitched. By the time the field team had caught up, the group was already well on their way to having an organised camp site.

That evening the support session revolved around five key behaviours: Survival, Love and Belonging, Self- Worth, Fun, and Freedom. Each participant gave an example of each of the five behaviours that was applicable to their own lives. After a short break- more hacky-sack (it’s really quite addictive!) and a surprise visit from a Common Lizard- the group gathered together once again to create their own ‘Quality World’. This involved applying the five key behaviours to their own life and beginning to think about what they would like to include in their Action Plan to take home and put into practise.

Day 6: 'Action Plans'

Once the participants packed up camp and had their individual support session, they each set off on a solo walk. They were encouraged to use this alone time to really reflect on their home lives, their 'Quality World', and begin to plan their Action Plans which they would write with the support of their individual support worker later that day back at base camp.

I was lucky enough to be involved in the Action Plans and could really see the enthusiasm and eagerness of the participants as they planned what they wanted to change at home and how they would go about sustaining this change. The general consensus was that if they can take on this challenge and succeed, they can take on anything back at home (and I whole-heartedly agree)! Once they're home, these Action Plans will be presented to each participant's Venture Trust Outreach Worker who will continue to support them as they put their plans into motion.

Once the Action Plans were written, discussed thoroughly, and agreed upon between participant and support worker, it was time for a celebration barbecue! Steaming hot burgers, roasted peppers, and sausages were served straight from the grill with a side of salad whilst participants congratulated each other and talked positively about home. Once we had eaten 'till we were about to burst at the seam, the group headed down to the Venture Trust bus to watch a slideshow of the week.

It's difficult to describe the atmosphere on the bus that evening... there was an overwhelming sense of pride, excitement about what's to come, but also a twinge of sadness that an amazing week was drawing to an end. Each of the participants were presented with a well-earned certificate along with personalised words of encouragement and feedback from the field team. After hand-shakes, hugs, and congratulations we headed back to camp for one last night's sleep in the wilderness that had become our home and the backdrop of each person's individual achievements.

Day 7: ‘Positive Ending’

We did it! And now our journey together has come to an end. We had tackled a number of physical and emotional challenges, beaten them, and the sense of achievement was electric.

Not only have I learned that actually, I’m not as much of a city girl as I first thought and I can actually survive without my mobile phone and my Starbucks, I now have seen Venture Trust's wilderness journey in action.

More importantly I now understand that putting up a tent is not just about putting up a tent, it's about team-work, efficiency, and organisation. Navigation is not just about navigation, it's about having the confidence to speak in front of a group and the trust that is involved in allowing someone to show you where you're going. Running a morning meeting is not just about running a morning meeting, it's about being brave enough to ask people questions and make your voice heard. And finally, a wilderness-journey is not just about a wilderness-journey, it's about having the perseverance and courage to complete a challenge that was once a daunting prospect, and then take that courage home and apply it where it really matters.

I was sad to say goodbye to the participants but at the same time excited for what’s to come! Armed with a tool belt full of new valuable life skills, I have every faith that every one of them will go on to success and achieve new and wonderful things.

Thank you to each and every person who was a part of my wilderness journey. You’re all unique people with so much to offer. Good luck for the future; you’ll all be amazing at whatever you set out to achieve!

Day 8: The Beginning

Back in the office today, clean, rested, and smelling much better than yesterday! Everyone at head office is excited to hear about my journey, and I’m excited to tell them! As I finish writing my wilderness journey diary I feel an overwhelming pride to be part of such a fantastic life-changing charity and, although I still have a runny nose, I will take away some amazing life-long memories of my own personal wilderness journey.

Venture Trust is a chance for change which each and every one of the participants grabbed with both hands; now it's time for me to do them proud and continue to tell their story along with all the other participants past and present.

Although our time together has come to a end, this isn't the finish for the participants on the Inspiring Young Futures (IYF1401) journey, or for me. It really is just the beginning... and what a bad-ass beginning it is!

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