My Explorer Belt adventure started roughly 2 years before the actual trip. Once deciding I wanted to go on the trip, I had to find a team, a group that you can get on with and can trust.
Then the training and planning started. Training involved lots of walking, strangely enough! Navigation, team building, first aid and cooking also featured in the training and as we improved our navigation skills, we then started to look at a route.
We decided to leave from roughly 100 miles north of Harpers Ferry, where our leaders were based, and heading back towards them. Slowly, the route began to break down into individual days, including ensuring that we had a good plan for Independence Day, which was about 3 or 4 days into our trip. We also started work on deciding what our projects would be, both major and minor. Whilst doing this, we made contact with some local Scouts, which would help us fulfil both our major and minor projects once on the trip. Another major consideration before the trip was thinking about the equipment that we would use. As a group of four, we decided we would use two tents. Blair and I ordered a very cheap, very small but crucially very lightweight tent. We knew that the weather should be mainly dry Ė barring the odd thunderstorm! We also decided to use lightweight gas stoves, and ensured that we would be able to purchase the correct Gas in the USA, given that you cannot take Gas on a plane!
We flew out to the USA a few days before the Explorer Belt started and used that time to grab some last minute equipment and get some maps, which we had struggled to get in the UK.
The night before we started, we stayed in a campsite at the top of the route, away from the main group. Suddenly, it all started to seem very real! We spoke to a friendly couple who were able to help us with various pointers along the route. Next morning, we were off!
With the five surprise challenges fresh in our heads, we started walking our route. Our first problem turned out to be that the road we planned to walk along was a major highway! Next problem, the Campsite we planned to camp at turned out to be a Static Caravan site, and not a very friendly one at that! We were a bit stuck. We went into the local bank and asked if there was anywhere we could camp nearby, but they were stuck for answers. We were told head into town and look for Old Bill. Having said that, we had never met Old Bill! Close to the bank we stopped at a house to ask to refill our rapidly emptying water bottles, got chatting to the elderly couple who lived there, and soon found ourselves being put up in the local church! Little did we know it was also womenís evening at the Church, so we were invited to share in their buffet dinner which they had organised. It was a great first night, if a little bewildering.
I think that first night summed up the Explorer Belt experience; be prepared for the unexpected! The days seemed to fly by, with projects being completed left right and centre, without us really having to go to much effort to do so. Before leaving I was concerned that my fitness would not be up to it. However although the walking was hard work, it turned out to be the best fitness regime ever! Iíll always remember the sense of achievement and pride walking with my group into Harpers Ferry on that final morning. Looking back, I still canít believe how good an experience those 10 days were.
Upon our return to Harperís Ferry, we met with our mentor, who talked us through our experience, and took notes regarding our projects, which we would then be able to use in our presentation once we returned home. Even then, we struggled to sum up exactly what we had just completed, the number of people we had met and the different stories we had, including two newspaper stories!
On return to the UK, we began to prepare our presentation. The challenge; how do you sum up such an amazing and life changing experience to an audience in less than 30 minutes! During the presentation so many memories came back, and we wished we had time to tell everybody more! Looking back now, nearly 3 years since the trip, I realise how much confidence the trip has given me, knowing now that if I put my mind to it, anything is possible. The bond between the four us in our team is fantastic, from folk that I didnít know terribly well before the trip, they are now some of my closest friends.
If youíre interested in getting support to run an Explorer Belt expedition, please donít hesitate to get in touch with me.Author: Gary Bainbridge