DofE expedition- where you realize what you’re made of

Blog by Júlia Bálint and Sára Lovecká

1st day – It cannot get worse, can it?

After our winter expedition, we thought that we had survived the most challenging and (for some literally) back-breaking hike we could possibly experience. Little did we know what lay ahead of us. It is important to note that just because you went through really tough times, it doesn’t necessarily mean that your next challenge is going to be a piece of cake. It might become a little bit easier, but it will probably not be a cakewalk.

So on a cloudy Thursday morning, the five brave and the one invincible, named Matej, set out on this journey in the hope of receiving the coveted DofE pins. Matej carried a backpack as heavy as he was, as Peťo was kind enough to make it more challenging for him by giving him all of his stuff (Pet’o wanted to note that Matej volunteered). We started off very well as we managed to get lost at the very beginning, though luckily we were rewarded by the sight of adorable farm animals, such as goats and horses. We quickly managed to get back on track, energized by the early enthusiasm of the trip. Owing to the kindness of the ticket manager, we were even able to enter the Slovensky Raj for a bit less money than we should have, as his heart melted at the sight of six lost kids, one of them holding a 10 euro bill in her hands, asking to let us pass.

At the beginning we got frustrated by having to cross the stream in Velky Sokol so many times, we didn’t understand why they couldn’t keep the road on one side of the stream. But when the road became one with the stream itself, we finally realized that the promise that we are not gonna get wet this time would soon be broken. Luckily we didn’t need to walk in the rain, as all the rain had poured the night before. However, owing to this, the water-level got a couple of centimeters higher. If you have ever walked in a stream, you know that this can matter quite a lot, as this way you have fewer routes on stones and tree trunks to take, since some of them are submerged in the water. It was like a game, you always had to figure out which way you should take, taking into consideration the distances and the slipperiness of the tree trunks. This proved to be fairly difficult sometimes, especially when you feared to fall into the water as deep as your height. Nevertheless, we helped each other, offering a helping hand or a piece of advice about which route to take. We tried to be really cautious, with the one exception of Peťo who quickly gave up, and jumped into the water instead of trying to find a dry way. No one could blame him, as it was impossible not to get wet at times.

Finally, covered in mud, with ponds in our boots we finally managed to find stable ground under our feet, and after a short walk, we finally met our teachers (Mirka, Peťa, Peťo) who were sitting on the edge of their seat while waiting for us because we were around 2 and a half hours late. They even managed to ask some hikers that were passing by if they had seen us, but they only reported seeing a few dead bodies and zero students.

The following route was fortunately not very demanding, so we got to thinking about other things than where to step next. We realized (again) that everything starts in our heads. We can never control the surroundings, but we can control our approach. Half submerged in the stream, being afraid of falling into the deep, cold water you can either concentrate on taking considerate steps, or you can freak out from the possibility of falling. You cannot eliminate the fear of course, but you can shift your focus.

In the end, we got a little mock expedition deja-vu in our knees by having to descend on a decent hill, and we finally arrived at our campsite. There we enjoyed cooked food, laughed at Peťos silly jokes, and hoped that the next day would be less demanding.

Day 2 – Nice start, rocky end

We woke up to the pitter-patter sound of the rain, which demotivated us from going outside our tent even more. But we didn’t have a choice, so we all prepared to set off, hoping that the rain would stop soon. We were lucky, as it just ground to a halt in time, so we moved on to the slippery-swampy slopes of the mountains. We slid all the way to our meeting point through bridges, and metal plates with deep abysses beneath. There we had a nice rest, waiting for our teachers, but they just didn’t come. After about 30 minutes, we decided to move on, and we left a note that we went to the next stop, as we were convinced by Peťo’s confusion, because he didn’t remember firmly what they had agreed on.

The road was beautiful. The sun rays were shining through the foliage, making the crystal clear water glisten. In the spring all the fauna and flora began to awaken, we encountered colourful flowers, huge caterpillars, and blooming trees along the way. In the end, we stopped at the next stop, where we waited for another half an hour, arguing about what to do next in desperation, as Matej had to catch his train, to get to the green car race. We just couldn’t comprehend what could have happened, and just before we almost lost hope of seeing our teachers again, Peťo Wetzler appeared in a lifejacket and in the indispensable bright green piece of clothing, a helmet. We soon found out that our teachers were whitewater-rafting, miscalculated the time they had and came to our original meeting point an hour late. However, they found our note (clever kids) so they were able to finally find us.

Our happiness quickly melted away, as we had to climb a pretty huge hill to get to Tomášovský Výhľad. Nevertheless, it was totally worth it, as the view defied our imagination. We have seen spectacular mountains, forests and rocks all around under the scorching sunshine. We sunbathed there for a while, took some pictures and then we continued our journey. We had to rush because of Matej’s train, which was quite demanding physically, more or less for all of us, as the ascents just didn’t seem to end.

Luckily, he managed to catch the earlier one, and we could all enjoy sitting on our favourite bench, drinking tea, eating hot meals and changing our dirty clothes. It is quite interesting how quickly your values can change owing to the situation you are in. If you hike all day long, you become dirty and you don’t eat properly for half a day, you get to appreciate things that don’t seem that significant in your everyday life such as instant food. You can get into high spirits just because you can sit on a wooden bench, you can change your shoes or you can eat something cooked. I strongly encourage everyone to contemplate how much the things we deem ‘little’ and ‘ordinary’ can mean to someone living in a different situation for not just a couple of days, but all their lives.

Day 3 – The last challenge

On our very last day, which was, by the way, the most important one as we had to catch our train in Spišská, we were not able to rely on Matej’s exceptional endurance and navigation talent. To make matters worse, Peťo needed to carry his own big backpack. We quickly packed the tents in the morning, so that our teacher Petra could take them by car, two of us even managed to vote, and then we set off on our last journey. The never-ending ascent, in the beginning, was pretty rough, but we all managed in the end. As a reward, we got to walk on a flat road for almost an hour, so we were actually able to observe nature as we didn’t have to pay attention to where we stepped. The whole forest bathed in the warmth of the scorching sun, the birds chirped and a light wind swept through the flying seeds of dandelions. We calmly walked to our meeting point where we got to lay down in a nice blooming meadow to rest. We all had the best naps of our lives, under the sun, surrounded by flowers and hard-working bees. I checked out the wooden sculptures of Kláštorisko, and I even saw the monument of a recent helicopter accident, which I knew nothing about until Peťo the teacher explained it to me later. After an hour of not meeting our assessors, we got worried, and I and Peťo went to the next stop of Kláštorisko, as we thought that there may have been a misunderstanding. In the end, we managed to find Pet’o Wetzler and Mirka sitting in the middle of a huge meadow, a couple of hundred meters away from our spot. We eventually found out, that Peťo had misread our meeting point, as we had to meet with them on the other side of Kláštorisko.

Lamentably, Sárkas sickness finally got to the stage where it could not be ignored any longer, but she didn’t give up and continued with little energy and a lot of tiredness. We always waited for her and we also included more breaks, but her condition didn’t seem to improve. Despite this, she managed, even though it must have taken her three times as much effort as it took us to continue walking.

The road conditions favored us much more this time, as the sun dried the mud and we mainly needed to descend on hills or go on flat roads. However, the road was long, in the last few kilometers, we even ran out of the water, which made our job more difficult as the last few kilometers were under the warmth of the shining sun with a breathtaking view of the High Tatras behind us.

After long hours of walking, we finally managed to get to Spišská. Firstly, we raided the first shop we found, drank almost a litre of water, and ate our favourite snacks sat on a sidewalk. Subsequently, we quickly found the way to a restaurant near to the train station with the help of kind residents, in which Peťo the teacher and Mirka were waiting for us. We must have proved a peculiar spectacle, especially Peťo in his crocks and muddy clothes sipping his beverage and eating his cake in a fairly sophisticated restaurant. At this point, Peťo Wetzler mentioned that we probably passed the expedition because he saw the exhausted look on Sárka’s face and correctly interpreted that she would never be repeating it. This meant that our academy obtained its first 2 DofE alumni Peter V. and Sarka as they have accomplished all parts of their Silver DofE Awards. Then we occupied our compartment and enjoyed the comfort of the train seats, which seemed way cozier than they usually do. We could hardly grasp that we are done, and the fact, that we are over it, quickly lifted our moods. Some of us vowed that they would never do this again, some of us were just happy that we didn’t have to hike in the following days, but we all agreed that we were proud of what we have achieved and that we have achieved it together.

PHOTO GALLERY

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