Sunday, June 20, 2010

Challenge 2006 (Article for Outsider Magazine)

This is a draft of an article I wrote for Outsider Magazine about my experiences of the Venture Scout Challenge in 2006. Challenge is a 5 day 100km hike I did across Mayo and Roscommon

In August 2005, my friend David and I took part in what could only be described as the experience of a life time. We were “Team Two” out of 8 other teams from Dublin, Cork, Kildare and Limerick on Scouting Ireland’s Challenge Expedition.

Challenge is a 100km hike over five days. Teams of two Venture Scouts have to carry their own gear, cook their meals, compile a logbook and complete 8 projects all while living on a budget of €4 a day. The aim of the projects is to bring participants in contact with as many people as possible. The venue for this year’s expedition was the West of Ireland taking in counties Mayo, Roscommon, Sligo and parts of Galway.

We arrived in Castlebar on the Saturday night where we got our Challenge hoodies and neckerchiefs and took part in some interesting games. The next day we were dropped off at the side of the road at Pontoon Bridge, Mayo and our five day trek to base camp had begun.

Day One- 18km
After working out our location with the help of a helpful elderly man we set about reading our projects (from a wide range of topics from women’s sport to immigration) and planning our route. After we completed our planning we headed to Foxford, the location of our first compulsory project. We visited the local Woollen Mills to investigate the importance of the mill to the local community. While in Foxford we were told that the “fastest way to Roscommon is by car”. We then headed towards the village of Bohola. One of the projects we didn’t expect to have much luck with was the one asking us to meet people of different nationalities. Therefore you can imagine our surprise when the people we first asked to use their kettle happened to be French. We stopped for the night outside Bohola with a lovely family who offered to cook us dinner and were very helpful with our projects.

Day Two- 23km
After a quick breakfast we headed to Kiltimagh where we met Christine and Eadoain from Team 3. As we continued along a regional road we stopped at a house to fill our water bottles but the retired family refused to let us leave without us having lunch with them. We then cut onto the N17 and passed by Knock Airport. We finally found a garden to camp (sixth time lucky) at the home of a friendly farming family who gave us loads of information for our projects and were very interested in what we were doing.

Day three- 24km
Our next stop was Charlestown where our task was to talk to people about local author John Healy. One of the employees at the hardware store talked for ages about a different John Healy. Shortly afterwards we were directed to the home of John Healy’s brother Gerry and nephew Steven who gave us loads of information and gave us a copy of John’s book “No One Shouted Stop!”

On the advice of a passing motorist we had to change our route to avoid being run down. This gave us a chance to see rural Ireland’s back roads. That night we somehow managed to convince a woman to let us camp in her husband’s pristine garden (still not sure how we pulled that one off).

Day four- 25km
We eventually got to Ballaghadrerreen (still having trouble pronouncing that one) the next morning where we went to library to find out why the parish plays its football in Mayo but is located in Roscommon (nobody was 100% certain as to why this is but it’s been the cause of great division in recent years) and what significance did the Dillon family have on the town. While researching this project we met Aidan from Team One. Several people stopped us along the way to ask us what we were doing. Their reaction was the same as everyone else we told- “fair play to ya but I wouldn’t do it myself”

As we were walking along the road on our way to Boyle David felt a pain in his leg. The pain progressed as we went on so we decided that as soon as we’d found somewhere to camp we’d call the Expedition Leaders, John and Mandy, and tell them what happened. Finding somewhere to stay was easier said than done. We had expected to stop five kilometres short of Boyle but before we knew it we had reached the town. Eventually we found an elderly couple who let us camp in their garden and after dinner we phoned base camp. The expedition leaders came out to look at David’s leg. With only 10km left to complete the mileage we were determined to finish this. After several minutes of an examination David was cleared to continue provided he called in regularly.

Day five- 18km
After a filling breakfast provided by our generous hosts we set off towards Carrick-on-Shannon where we would be picked up the next morning. Along the way we met the staff coming out of base camp in Lough Key Forest Park. Unfortunately we had to pass by base camp towards our pick up point in Carrick-on-Shannon. We reached the 100km marker at the Carrick-on-Shannon Golf Club. We continued on towards the town making our camp in a garden just outside. After cooking dinner (much to the interest of our host’s dogs) we finished the writing for our projects and logbook.

Base Camp
After breakfast at Supermacs (don’t ask) we found our pick up point. We were quickly joined by Rosie and Aisling of team 4. We spent the next hour chatting about our experiences. We were picked up by Mandy at 11am and driven to base camp.

At base camp we handed up our projects and logs and the €2.60 we had left. We soon were reunited with the other teams and our clean clothes. After a shower (during which I was locked in) and lunch we had our assessments. Instead of being the serious interview we expected it turned out to be a friendly chat. That evening we went to the town of Boyle for the music festival. Despite all the walking 100km the participants thought nothing of dancing in the streets to the sounds of cover band J-90 (even Andrew and I got up briefly).

Next morning we went to the Arigna Coal Mine and went rowing on Lough Key after lunch. That evening we got ready for the presentation. We walked down to the lake where Mandy, the Chief Scout Martin Burbridge and the Programme Commissioner (National Events) Ian Davy lead the presentation. Teams were called in random order and told what awards they had received. The awards were a badge for the mileage, a certificate for the mileage and projects and most importantly the Challenge Woggle for “an excellent standard and for those who pushed themselves to the limit in keeping with the spirit of Challenge”. David and I were the last to be called up (we’ve never been so nervous). Henry, the senior assessor, called out the awards we received: Team two… Badge and Cert… (Long pause) And Woggle! We could barely contain our excitement as we collected our Woggles from the Chief Scout. That evening we went to dinner followed by an amazing campfire- A good finish to a brilliant week.

It was hard to say goodbye to all my new friends the next morning but I’m sure we’ll meet several times in the future. I’m sure all 16 participants would like to thank the staff for this amazing experience, especially our Expedition Leaders Mandy Merriman and John “Mayo” Heffernan. I would recommend Challenge to all Venture Scouts- it’s an experience you’ll never forget.

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