Four things to know before doing your DofE expedition

Last weekend 45 members of Wild Wolf Explorer Scout Unit travelled to the middle reaches of the River Thames to undergo training for Duke of Edinburgh expeditions this summer. We were lucky with the weather and had a great time on the water! We do all our DofE expeditions by canoe, and even though the water carries the bags there are still plenty of challenges to overcome, so here are four things that we’ve found to be among the most important considerations for anyone going for a DofE expedition. Take heed and you will have a great time.

1. The canoeing should be the easy bit!

An expedition can be an intense (in-tents!) experience at the best of times with many challenges coming your way. With potentially poor weather, awkward team dynamics and equipment failures – to name but a few – the actual travel should be the easiest part of the whole experience. We spent a lot of our weekend at Longridge training up, and by the end of the camp our canoeing was becoming second nature.

“On Saturday morning, my team decided to get up early so we could pack up our kit and have breakfast in time for getting on the water. Once in our canoes we were given a team building exercise, and having completed it, we set off to Henley to begin our first day of our expedition!” – Paloma

2. Practice your camp craft!

At Bronze you need to spend six hours travelling every day. If you add an hour each side for getting ready and faffing, a couple of hours for dinner, an hour for setting up camp, a couple of hours for striking camp in the morning, and your all-important eight hours of beauty sleep, you are only left with three hours. At Silver and Gold where you need to spend seven and eight hours travelling each day this becomes even less – and before long the business of expeditioning starts to eat into your precious sleep! The most successful teams, and the ones who finish their expeditions with the biggest smiles, are the ones who are efficient with their tents, stoves and personal kit. Practice makes permanent so it is well worth going on lots of trips before you do your qualifying expedition.

“During our Wednesday night meetings we often hold DofE training sessions, led by the Patrol Leaders. We will mainly focus on improving the Explorers’ knowledge and technique – for example what to pack and how to pack it correctly, with the PLs doing a kit talk. Other things that I’ve done include showing how to put up a tent in the most effective way.” – Charlie

3. Accept that it won’t be perfect.

If you think your expedition is going to go off without a hitch then think again! No one can predict what the river will throw at you (literally, at times!) so approach your expedition with an open mindset – it is alright to make mistakes, so don’t let small setbacks get you down. No team is perfect: if your canoeing is fantastic then your teamwork might be a bit shoddy. If your teamwork is ace then your canoeing might go to pot by the end of the trip, and if you’re brilliant at canoeing and teamwork then maybe you’ll forget how to put up a tent, or forget the poles…. who knows? Don’t start by believing that everything will go right – instead, know that you are capable of getting back on track when things go wrong.

“At midday on Saturday the Silver teams were driven upriver to start the first leg of their mini expedition. After much heated debate over which way the river was flowing, the teams were set on their way at staggered intervals.

Back at base camp (Longridge) the Bronze and Gold teams rounded off their comprehensive training with some hearty practice rescues in the toasty waters of the Thames. Water was swallowed, knees were bruised, and screams were heard, yet the teams showed great courage, leaping into the water with glee and enthusiastically putting their skills to the test.“ – Lawrence

4. It might hurt

You might get a blister. You might get sunburn. You might get a sunburnt blister, which is really bad, but none of that is nearly as bad as growing up and looking back at your teenage years and wishing you had taken the chance to do something a little out of the ordinary. It’s OK to find things difficult, and if you find it difficult and painful and you get through it anyway then it is even more of an achievement. Only you will know (unless you have whinged loudly to everyone in your team) how much of an achievement it was for you and that feel good feeling at the end of the trip will last forever, and it is well worth a little physical discomfort.

“On the Sunday of the expedition my Silver group teamed up with the Golds and we made the long paddle down the river from our campsite at Longridge to Runnymede. The journey was around 15km and took us the best part of a day. We were absolutely exhausted by the end, with one member having to solo canoe for most of the voyage, but it was so fulfilling by the end of it!” – Uma



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