Why 10 Days Kayaking With Chronic Pain Was The Best Choice I Ever Made

Canadian Conservation Corps

I have always been sheltered from the world, and have watched in complete wonder at its immense beauty. So when asked to participate in the Canadian Conservation Corps (pilot) Outward Bound Adventure, I was struck with both desire and apprehension.

Brittany Quesnel Canadian Conservation Corps

The adventure included joining a team of nine strangers for 10 days of camping, hiking and kayaking along the coastlines of Clayoquot Sound, British Columbia. For the duration of the trip we were responsible for setting up and taking down camp, cooking and cleaning, navigating to our next campsite and kayaking five hours everyday to get there. Perhaps I should have led with the facts that I had never been camping or kayaking before. Additionally, I have struggled with severe chronic neck and shoulder pain for the past six years. Everything on this trip was a new experience to me, and the thought of jeopardizing the progress I’ve made addressing my chronic pain struck extreme anxiety within me. After careful consideration, I decided it was time to step outside of my comfort zone and take advantage of this incredible opportunity.

When we first arrived, we were instructed to hand over all of our personal belongings. Keys, wallet, cell phone – all of the things that I familiarized with. We also had very little space for additional items, since we had to carry everything with us. We were allocated one hatch of a kayak for the absolute essentials. This included a sleeping bag, tarp, ground sheet, thermarest and then our personal belongings such as clothing: one pair of dry clothes, one pair of wet clothes, and three pairs of socks and underwear for a 10 day trip – yikes.

Cedar Tree of LifeAfter a few days, I felt a shift within me. I began to forget about my phone, and showering became more of want than a need. I started to feel connected to my surroundings. Beginning to appreciate being mindful of the present, I felt incredibly bound to nature – the sand beneath my toes, the sound of the trees rustling in the wind, fog cascading the mountains with a pink and purple sky from the setting sun.

A memorable moment for me was seeing the Cedar Tree of Life. You couldn’t even take in the entirety of it at a first glimpse – it was so enormous. When I walked up to this incredibly massive being that took more than 1,000 years to grow to its current stature, and placed my hands and forehead on its rough bark, I swear I could feel its energy pulsing through my palms. Imagining what life was like when it was just a sapling and hearing the stories of the protests that happened to protect the old growth forests fed my mind and awoke my soul, inspiring me to remember how important it is to protect and cherish our natural world.

This was just one of the many moments that really resonated with me. Saying that this 10 day trip was an adventure is an understatement. I laughed, cried, learned new things and met new people that quickly transitioned from strangers to friends. The moments we shared together allowed us to form very special bonds with one another. These were experiences that most of us had never had, and will possibly never have the opportunity to do again.

Despite being in pain and outside of my comfort zone, I allowed myself to absorb all of these new sights, sounds and smells. Embracing the wonders of our big, wonderful world and all it has to offer was the best decision of my life.

Canadian Conservation Corps

Brittany Quesnel

Author: Brittany Quesnel

Brittany is a biodiversity data technician and bat stewardship technician intern at the Canadian Wildlife Federation.

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