Hiking the Bruce trail
Hiking the Bruce trail

Learned lessons during times of trial

The month of August may be considered by many as the peak month for summertime adventure and relaxation. For Alpha Company, it was a month of physical and mental testing as we embarked on a hiking trip we had been planning and preparing for over the course of the past year.

If you have been following our content, you will know that in emphasizing outdoor training, we likewise stress the need to develop certain skills crucial to building a stronger team. These skills not only aim to make us better team players but also confident, experienced leaders. The ultimate objective is to positively influence everyone who decides to join us in this adventure and develop these skills in everyone during our fitness journeys.

Through struggle we become stronger

While a three day hiking journey may be nothing to marvel at by the more avid adventure seeker, the Bruce hiking trip was sufficient to test our physical abilities, mental resolve and willingness to work together in overcoming barriers over that three day period. In this issue, our aim is to examine how the core values of an Alpha Company training mentality helped in making this trip a success. And in taking that progressive training approach, our goal is to do even better at next year’s big event.

The objective:

Cover a distance of 100km, from Tobermory to Lion’s Head, following the Bruce trail over a period of 3 days, bringing along only items we can carry on our backs. No modern comforts are permitted and we may only rely on our driver as a last resort for rendezvous and resupply stops if needed.

Discipline is well worth the effort

If you don’t believe in discipline and a structured order, you could wing it and simply act based on instinct. But if you ever wish to be a leader, you will accept the responsibility that comes with leadership.

Why is this important? Because. If you cannot prove yourself capable and responsible in the small things, how can you ever be trusted with the big things? The reality is that many people want to skip those seemingly insignificant ‘quizzes’ and jump straight to the exam, but this is simply not how it works. Progression ALWAYS starts with the small things first.

Below is an overview of various elements that were critical to making this trip both a reality and a success.

Teamwork

            Communication

Whenever you walk into unfamiliar territory, it is paramount to make sure communication lines stay open for the safety and benefit of those involved.

            Sticking together

Because fitness and endurance varies from person to person, we are tested to see if we are willing to slow down for one another as we tire during various sections of the hike. Do we think of others before ourselves or is each person a “one man team”?

            Dividing up responsibilities

In conserving energy and maximizing efficiency, every person should have responsibilities as regards not just their own needs, but also to the collective needs of the team.

Discipline

            Research & preparation

We know that to accomplish anything in life, a high degree of intentionality is required. A joint effort made by all team members during the preparation phase sets the tone for months to come. This is not a vacation where one person plans everything out and the rest come along for the ride. Discipline will carry us through the day as we juggle daily responsibilities combined with planning for a big event.

             Training

To be prepared is to train consistently, always with the deadline in mind. To fail in this crucial area is to the disservice of the team and can possibly sabotage the whole trip.

Leadership

              Executing the plan

Talking alone is not enough. You must follow through on what you said. Hopefully the months of careful planning will pay off while minimizing, if not completely eliminating, all elements of surprise. But leadership quality always shines at its brightest when things don’t go according to plan. A leader must be as best prepared as possible for both.

            Managing the schedule

When you are separated from the comforts of modern life, you cannot afford to lose track of time. Circumstances may occasionally change the timing of the schedule but we must always think ahead in order not to compromise ourselves.

Expectations and Learning outcomes

The Bruce hike served a twofold purpose, the first being the physical test whether it is possible to cover 100km in 3 days with a backpack weight of 40+ pounds, and the second being a test of leadership and teamwork.

We expected to cover the desired distance given the information available during the planning phase. We were also optimistic in being able to adequately pack everything without hassle but this turned out not to be the case. Plans were revised, items removed from the packing list and replacement backpacks were even purchased.

As regards the schedule, we expected to make good time despite having started 30 minutes past departure time. While we did anticipate lower energy levels on days 2 and 3, we did not fully realize what a toll the previous days’ walk had on our bodies and how it affected our ability to break camp promptly. In order to stay on schedule, camp had to be broken by 6 a.m. so we could be on our way but this did not happen. Furthermore, the morning environment (the cold, timing of sunrise, etc.) played its role in our ability to get up and get moving.

What we learned

The Bruce peninsula section of the Bruce trail is home to some of the most unforgiving terrain in southern Ontario. The sheer cliffs and jagged stones in many places are cause enough to significantly reduce walking pace. We had to allow time for additional, unplanned breaks which, bit by bit, ate away at our time spent moving.

Moreover, correct footwear and head protection is of paramount importance. The terrain eases off in some places where you may opt to wear lighter shoes, provided that you are willing to carry the additional pair. But it just so happens that where the terrain levels out, tree cover tends to disappear, consequently exposing you to long periods of sun and heat. Having good headgear and sunscreen is equally as important as the footwear you select.

For a multi-day hike, timing is crucial because camp must already be established between 6 and 7pm. It is tempting to forego the campsite in exchange for another couple kilometers because you think there is still plenty of daylight left. We learned that even when you have the proper lighting equipment, it is a terrible idea to set up camp later than planned. We learned this lesson after the first night and corrected our mistake on the second night with a far more satisfying result.

While we kind of already expected it, we learned that food can make or break team morale. While we managed to subsist on energy bars and trail mix for three days, the repeated taste of nuts and sweetened dried fruit was enough to pass up that next snack and just drink more water instead. A hike longer than three days must include more food variety. Strong morale is important because it’s not just about the food. Various elements, when compounded together, eventually lead to disagreements, sometimes to the point where even making a simple decision proves difficult. Needless to say, we will definitely expand our cuisine on future trips and perhaps learn a few fishing and foraging techniques.

Finally, we learned to stow away our gear properly. Knowing in advance what essentials you are bringing while packing as light as possible is an art. It is too easy to lose or leave things behind so think twice, then three times before finalizing your packing list.

Conclusion

A three day hike along the Bruce trail was exactly the kind of exposure we needed as we crossed that line from single day hiking to multi-day hiking. While essentially still a hiking trip, being out in the woods overnight introduces many new challenges that the average city dweller knows virtually nothing about.

Given the various unforeseen challenges we had to deal with, we were only able to cover half the desired distance. However, even at that length, we had ample opportunity to practice the skills necessary for future hiking trips, wherever they may take us. It is our hope that eventually, at some point, you will join in too.

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