I joined the CCC program to reconnect with nature and test myself. Stage 1 did not disappoint.
Sleeping in a tent in -30C and waking up in a sleeping bag covered in ice made me feel tougher, especially when the woodstove went out in the middle of the night. It is a story I look forward to recounting for my future grandchildren until they’re sick of hearing it, as I lament the state of “kids these days.”
Jokes aside, I learned crucial skills over the course of January from knots to shelter building, animal track identification to snowshoeing, and I feel more comfortable in nature than ever. I also developed a strong affinity for cedar tea.
Dogsledding in Ontario’s Algonquin Park for the first time was an experience I will never forget. Hearing only the sound of panting dogs and the crunch of snow on an otherwise silent and frozen lake is a beautiful feeling.
I was thrilled that my co-pilots loved the dogs as much as me, and somehow we avoided falling off the sled as we whipped around corners. I took a few videos before putting the camera away, because I knew I could not capture what I was experiencing.
I was impressed by the strength of the dogs, and it took considerable effort to hold them back on the brake. Back at camp, I enjoyed chopping massive blocks of frozen meat with an axe for their dinner stew. Hearing the dogs howl together at night was worth waking up for.
I’m quite happy with the quinzhee we built, which fit five people comfortably, even though it was too cold to sleep in it per Outward Bound policy. We did sleep in a tarp shelter we built one night, which was a satisfying accomplishment.
By the end of our wilderness adventure, I found myself at ease knowing that we could have stayed out in the cold longer if we needed to. I felt more competent, I trusted my groupmates, and I experienced the value of teamwork in survival situations.
It took a couple of days for my hands to fully thaw after the expedition, and I appreciated the feeling of being inside playing board games in a way I never had before.
More than anything, it is my fellow Pack members that stand out in my mind from Stage 1. In many cases, I think who you surround yourself with is more important than where you are, and my CCC experience so far is a great example of that.
Through a combination of lighthearted humour and mutual respect, we quickly gelled as a group. We laughed in all conditions, learned from our mistakes and powered through all challenges presented to us.
We solved the human knot in two minutes and 22 seconds, after several failed attempts. We snowshoed almost double the expected distance to our first camp and arrived in the dark due to unforeseen changes. We played games together, cooked, danced, sang, and roasted each other in a fun way. We cut wood together, made fires, and put out fires when needed.
In most groups that I’ve been part of, either through school or sports, there is usually some discord or conflict of personalities. I was pleasantly surprised to find that any disagreements in our group were solved maturely, immediately and respectfully.
I am happy to note that we all keep in touch from across Canada when we can. The Pack is strong.
Brock Gouweloos grew up in small towns in southern and eastern Ontario. He now lives in Toronto where he is a Senior Policy Advisor in the Indigenous Relations Branch at Ontario’s Ministry of the Environment, Conservation and Parks. Brock has an undergrad and a master’s degree in public administration from Queen’s University in Kingston, Ont. He likes to play guitar and sing and enjoys sports, hiking, sailing, snorkelling, fishing, and board games. He has a passion for travel and sustainable living.