by Claire Sykes
The moment you get a group of people close the plastic clips on their sunny yellow life jackets, the dynamic changes and a feeling of unification happens; we are now a team ready to embark something awesome! Dish out a black rubber spray skirt and don’t demonstrate how to put it on….adding humour! The ladies will sedately step into the top of their skirt and pull it on, while the men do one of two things… some stand there holding the skirt in front of them looking around, a tad unsure, perhaps embarrassment, while others waste no time at all in excitedly pulling it over their head and pirouetting round on one foot, laughing just a bit too loudly…is this you?… At this point I turn to the women especially if there is a wife and say, “is normal behaviour when he wears a skirt, does he do this at home?”…a bit of laughter, there we go! a simple icebreaker which brings comfort to the individual and a smile to share with someone else. This brings the group together, you might say a bit of bonding.
I recently guided a group from a US university for a 6 day trip in the Marlborough Sounds, the journey begins with a bike ride, a day walking with a water taxi ride gets us into the outer sounds with 3 day finale of sea kayaking and camping.
The first challenge for me, is remembering names, I try to get about 4 nailed the first night we meet the students. One can associate names with bits of clothing and hair do’s…that seems to be the mistake I make every year. The next day we are on the mountain bikes for a reasonably long ride. We don helmets and yellow vests and ride single file along the road, at this point it is really useful to have a few names to identify the students and help them out. But alas I am looking for the names I have learnt and we all have been unified with the same darn vests and brain buckets…I start the name game again…
This is a hard day as it is the first, just quietly it the hardest day of the whole trip, as these students have not grown up with riding bikes, so barely have ridden before! The first hill is a mean one as it climbs its way out of the town, this winding relentless road will usually produce everything from tears to vomiting and misery for some.
As the day stretches on the students go through cramping, thirst, hunger, highs and lows. It’s a tough day for the guides as well (if I may say so!) keeping up the constant positive moral, fixing bikes and plying the students with treats and promises of easier times ahead.
As tough a day as it is for all, it is at the end of the day when the rewards come…when the bikers have jumped off the jetty into the sea and are warm and fed, it is time to have a bit of feedback, this is my favourite part because it brings out all the warm fuzzies, the huge satisfaction of everybody for having achieved the day and the immense pride and enthusiasm for each other.
Along with our philosophy of pushing the normal physical boundaries of these students, we aim to give them as healthy as an experience as possible. The students get to help with preparation of the meals, which are all made from scratch using very little processed ingredients, they love this and it is great learning, and provides a lot of ideas to take back home with them to the city.
With the dreaded bike ride behind us, we now walk together on the Queen Charlotte track for the day, this experience is very different from the day before, with no hills to push the bikes up we can simply walk and chat, rest our chaffed bums, stop and gaze about at the bush clad ridges which plunge into the deep sparkling blue water of the sounds. Ah and yes! I have learnt quite a few names by now and I can solidify these by having lovely one on one chats and learning more about the students, who are wearing their own personal attire which I can put a name to.
It is during the first kayaking day, that knowing each individual name is of huge benefit, the students are in double kayaks, with the partner of their choice so now the names come in twos, to which instructions have to be given.
Our final destination is to camp in the outer sounds where we have only wekas, moreporks and blue penguins for company at night. In the distance we can hear fishing boats chug their way out to sea in the cover of darkness. The twinkling Milky Way is our roofat night…This a first time experience for almost the entire group…
Sea kayaking is a fun discipline and is what the students are looking forward to the most, don’t forget we are dressed up in identical attire, so comfort and style is last on the agenda. These young adults do not have a care anymore, dignity is gone and any gender misconceptions are forgotten about also. We are a team and having fun, sitting down on wet seats, singing sea chanteys at the top of our voices. Choppy sea, a few waves just enough to feel alive! The guides can sit back, just a little, observing with satisfaction the hard work and training of the previous day learning all manner of kayak techniques coming into fruition now with these students. Now our team, with colours all coordinated, yellow and orange…are gliding across the water having the fun time of their lives.
I peer around with a look of satisfaction on my face; I love the experiences and learning which come only from spending time in the outdoors and having adventures. I also get huge pleasure in the positive changes I see in individuals, which in turn impact on each groups dynamic.
One more brainteaser, a quick round of names in my own head, to make sure I can say goodbye to all the students by name!