The Duke of Edinburgh's Award Three teens take the challenge
Kyle, Katee and Conor head off into the woods on Bell Island. Submitted Photo
It's early fall and three young teenagers are flying themselves, one by one, from St. John's to Bell Island. Alastair Allan, pilot and owner of the two-seater Piper Colt training aircraft, sits in the second seat ready to take over the controls if anything goes amiss. There is no need on this occasion. The teens are well prepared, having written up their own flight plans.
Once safely on Bell Island air strip, Kyle, Katee and Conor hike to The Grebe's Nest, about one kilometre north. There, in the rafters of a tunnel blasted through a rock cliff, they find the first of three geocaches on the island. No doubt some errant dynamite filched from the mines is the reason for this tunnel, which leads to a protected beach naturally accessible only by water.
After choosing a foreign coin or piece of jewellery from the cache, aptly called Nageira's Treasure, the threesome hike their way back to the airstrip where the real labour begins - their raison d'etre, at least for this weekend - the 25-kilometre hike around the island.
People who have hiked into the wilderness of Bell Island know how easy it is to get lost. The woods are dense and many trails are unmarked or impassable. For Kyle, Katee and Conor, alone in the woods and carrying heavy packs, waypoints programd into a hand-held global positioning system keep them on course.
The first part of the trail is wide and circles a quarry where dirt bikers practise their riding. Soon, though, the trail narrows and after about an hour the GPS and map have to be consulted. Through muddy bogs and dense forest, carrying everything from tents to cooking gear and food, the three plug their way to the meadows near the clapper, the rock outcrop on the end of the island and the reason Bell Island has its name. They are tired and sweaty and they have wet feet. Despite all this, they decide to forego lunch for a quick energy break of granola bars and trail mix. They have a long way to go before they sleep.
Why would three teenagers choose to circumnavigate Bell Island on one of their first weekends after returning to school?
For the Duke of Edinburgh Award. It's that time of year when local junior high and high school students begin in earnest to complete their bronze, silver and gold awards. If you're not in the loop, you may not know what all the hype is about. You may even pronounce it Edin-berg, rather than Edin-burra. Here's a short version:
The Duke of Edinburgh award, established in 1956 by The Duke of Edinburgh himself - HRH Prince Philip - encourages young people between the ages of 14 and 25 to be active and pursue new activities. The program is designed to be a personal challenge, rather than a competition against others, and each candidate's program is tailored to reflect his own abilities and interests.
The program has four parts - an expedition, volunteering, learning a new skill and physical activity. So, while the 25-km overnight hike by Kyle, Katee and Conor takes care of their expedition, they also have to volunteer over a period of six months, learn a new skill - like ham radio or karate - for a period of six months and engage in physical activity for a period of 15 weeks. Not only that, but they have also spent another weekend on an overnight camping trip to practise for the real journey. This compulsory practise hike allows them to work out all the bugs in their gear before they attempt the real thing. Almost all participants need to change something before attempting the real outing; cheap tents that leak, for example, or tippy stoves that won't withstand Newfoundland wind, or ill-chosen hiking boots that result in blisters.
In order to obtain their bronze award, all volunteer activities, physical activities and skills have to be signed off in a log book provided by the group leader. In Kyle, Katee and Conor's case, Alastair Allan, who has been volunteering as a Duke of Edinburgh group leader for three years, is their mentor. Alastair's group is small and all members have already completed the Young Eagle flying program with him. Other groups, like the one at Gonzage High School, have over 200 students enrolled in the program.
Out of the woods
Back on Bell Island, the sweaty, hungry trio of Kyle, Katee and Conor emerge from the woods and meet up with Alastair on the road towards Lance Cove where they pitch their tents for the night. Exhausted, they sleep 12 hours before waking to devour every bit of bacon and oatmeal they have packed. Still hungry, they cook up their Kraft Dinner and eat that too. They know they have another full day's hike ahead of them - first four hours to the lighthouse on the north-eastern end of the island and then another four hours or so back to the ferry, barely making the 4:10 run.
Back at Alastair's for their debrief, they relax, pat themselves on the back and compare blisters.
Once home, Kyle, Katee and Conor still have to complete a written report complete with maps and pictures on their adventurous journey. These, along with their logbooks, are submitted to Alastair, who brings them to the local Duke of Ed office. Once approved, Alastair then presents them with their bronze awards.
Then if they like, they can advance to the silver awards, which are presented by the lieutenant-governor, usually in May at a ceremony at Government House. Gold awards are presented by visiting royalty, these days often by Prince Edward, the youngest son of Prince Philip and Queen Elizabeth II, who has taken over as international co-ordinator of the program.
Last October in Halifax, Prince Edward presented 11 Newfoundlanders and Labradorians with their gold awards. There are currently 150 on the waiting list for gold in this province. (Note: All travel costs are incurred by participants with the exception of a small travel bursary - $200 - available from the provincial office to help with airfare.)
The Duke of Edinburgh Awards program has come a long way since its inception in this province in 1974. In the first 10 years of the program, only two awards were achieved, but after 1985, the program really took off, says Trudy Carlisle, provincial co-ordinator.
"We have between 2,700 and 2,800 people actively participating in the province," she says. To date, there have been 3,462 awards achieved in Newfoundland and Labrador (1,765 bronze, 1121 silver and 576 gold).
If you're interested in getting more information about the program, call Trudy at 753-0423.