This month marks my eleventh spring with the Cornwall Outdoor Club de Plein Air (COCDPA) and what a whirlwind of activities it has been!
Throughout my involvement with the club, I have experienced many firsts. This is where I strapped on my initial pair of snowshoes, where I learned how to paddle board, and where I hiked my first high peak mountain. It is also where I tried things I never would have imagined doing before such as camping in a tent in the middle of January or sleeping in a lean-to (a three-walled contraption leaving us partially exposed to the elements) in the middle of a forest.
I’ve learned a lot of new skills with this group. I can now change a flat tire on a bicycle, put up a tent in the dark, and choose the proper clothing to avoid hypothermia. I’ve become well versed in the “Leave No Trace” principles which strive to lessen the impact of humans on the environment and I’ve become proficient at securing a canoe to my car roof. Yes, I’ve made mistakes, lots of them, but I have learned from them too. For instance, if you step into a deep puddle on a cold winter day in the middle of nowhere, you can use a plastic bag as an insulator between a dry sock (which you should have in your backpack) and a wet boot.
But much more than all of that, I’ve learned that my preferred way to explore this big beautiful world is with a pair of hiking boots on my feet, a canoe paddle in my hands, or a bicycle helmet on my head. Economically, it makes sense to travel with my COCDPA family. By pooling our resources we save on accommodation costs and reduce our food bills with gourmet potluck meal. The company of good friends is, at the risk of sounding cliché, priceless.
This former self-proclaimed bookworm has come a long way from the days of sedentary activities to the great outdoors. Winter hibernation has been replaced by snow day enthusiasm much to my co-workers’ dismay. I’ve learned to appreciate all of our Canadian seasons because they offer so much variety and opportunities to change things up.
I have acquired a much broader appreciation of nature and its soothing qualities. When I am inhaling fresh mountain air and feasting on the exquisite scenery, it is difficult not to feel happy. The week’s stresses just melt away and I am left rejuvenated to face the challenges ahead. There may be some gritted teeth and a few choice words when scrambling up that last kilometer to the summit of a mountain, but the feeling of empowerment once I’ve made it makes me forget the exertion it took to get there, especially when I take in the view of the valley below the clouds.
COCDPA has taught me the rewards of pushing myself beyond my limits and testing my physical abilities. I will never be the strongest or the fastest, far from it, but I can be the best version of myself. I’ve learned to be excited rather than fearful when trying new things. The club has inspired me to seek adventure, to enjoy the present and look forward to the future while having wonderful memories to look back on. It has convinced me that even an introvert can become a leader and that a little perseverance can get you the finish line even if you’ve never thought of yourself as an athlete. Most of all, it has taught me that the best memories are made up of moments not things.
It’s been an incredible journey and as far as I am concerned just the beginning because I still have so much more to discover and master. The most valuable lessons after all are not taught but experienced.