I returned from camp on Friday and have spent all weekend waiting until I had the time/mental capacity to talk about my INCREDIBLE week at Alford Lake, Alberta in my Outdoor Education course.
Outdoor Education is a subject (clearly) near and dear to my heart. I’m going into physical education with my sights set on incorporating outdoor education throughout the year because I think it’s an activity children are more likely to do as adults. Think about it, when is the last time you played badminton, volleyball, or basketball? The number of people who do drops drastically after school. But how many of you hike, ride bikes, ski/snowboard, snowshoe, or kayak/canoe? Probably a lot more, and there are more opportunities available to you.
Outdoor Education is also a Career & Technology Services (CTS) cluster and high school students can get CTS credits for various units related to Outdoor Ed.
The focus on the camp was certifications! I came out of this course with:
- Firearms License
- National Archery in Schools Program (NASP) Instructor Certified
- Pleasure Craft Operator Card AND Instructor Certified
- Hunter’s Ed Instructor
- Fishing Ed Instructor
- Bowhunting Ed Instructor
Pretty incredible isn’t it? And I realize the theme amongst most of these is ‘hunting/fishing’ but this really rounds out my experience in hiking and will help me put together a great program.
Let’s walk through camp shall we? It was such a fun time where I was able to revert back to my teenage self and forget about all my stresses and worries.
We arrived Monday afternoon and I had a good laugh as people chose cabins and settled in. One Calgary-born and raised gal, C, took one look in and said “This is like a prison! We’re living in a prison!” I couldn’t stop laughing because it was exactly something my sister Laura would have said.
We kicked off camp with an archery refresh, starting off at the archery target range. It was funny because folks were getting a little bored at first until the balloons came out! Then it got really competitive real quick.
Next we headed to the camps 3D archery range and practises shooting at a turkey, badger, beaver, pronghorn, boar, and deer. I learned that I have a LOT of practise to do.
In my defense, I’m right handed but learned that I am left eye dominant. This means I have to shoot bows and guns lefty which just doesn’t feel right. I’ll get used to it eventually though.
That evening we had off so I hit the lake to try my hand at fishing. Our boat had a few almost bites but never got any in the boat, while the boys in the boat next to us reeled in six fish that evening. I set a goal that I would catch a fish that week not knowing that it would consume any free time I had (more on that to come).
I really enjoyed fishing because it was so peaceful and a chance to quiet my mind, but I was still focused on a task which kept me from feeling bored.
We didn’t sleep the best that night as it had been a really hot day and the cabins were hot. Those of us in The Canada Goose cabin didn’t bother killing the flies or mosquitos before turning in and they had a field day bugging us all night long.
We were up bright an early, breakfast started at 7a.m. and our sessions started at 8 a.m.
We headed out further into the woods to the survival camp area. Schools bring groups of kids out to build lean-to’s and spend the night. How cool is that? Even more surprising is that they do this with young children, grade 6 even. It just proves that kids are capable of way more than we’re giving them credit for.
It was then time to learn how to build a fire. We learned the difference between a pine tree and a spruce tree and were sent out to build fire starter bundles made dead spruce twigs covered in old man’s beard.
We then used waterproof matches to light the centre of these bundles and learned how to roll them to make fire.
Next up, we were given a timed challenge, 3 minutes to run into the woods, gather a bundle and start a fire (with only three matches). I got competitive and raced into the trees and was out on the road before anyone in only 30 seconds. I was feeling good, but in my hurry I kept breaking my matches trying to light them. One by one, they broke off at the tip and then I was grabbing the tips and trying to strike them. I didn’t get a fire lit in 3 minutes. >:(
After this exercise, we worked as a group to build a smoke signal fire. It was so cool to learn how to put together the poles into a tent and to create a base to stack fire starting bundles on.
On the way home, we were fortunate enough to have the road blocked by feral horses! I knew wild horses existed in Kananaskis country but I had no idea there were some in the woods like this. There were three little babies too. It was such an exciting sight to see.
We were given an hour for each meal and I got into the habit of spending the remainder of my time on the dock fishing. That goal was still fresh in my mind.
We spent the afternoon getting our Pleasure Craft Operator Card (boating license) so that the next day we could do the instructor certification requirements.
That evening was Orienteering and our camp worker Rihanna taught us how to set up a compass and use it to find your direction. It was so nice to finally understand how a compass works but I do wish we had learned to use a map as well.
We then had two courses to practise on. We were given scavenger hunt sheets that gave coordinates between points where they had numbered signs. The first course had all the signs within a 50m radius and the second within a 200m radius.
My partner Anna and I did ok on the first course, we typically ended up within seeing distance of the point we were supposed to find.
The 200m course was a different story. Anna and I struggled to find where the points were. We wound up off course onto a hiking trail and had to turn around and retrace our steps. We started just looking around the area in the direction we were headed and finding the nearest numbered post.
As we tramped along though we got tired, hungry, and cranky. At one point we sat down for a snack and to send Ryan a pic of us lost in the woods.
When we finally finished and came out we found out we were the last pair in and we had taken so long they were considering sending in for help. Ha ha! Whoops! Guess I have some practising to do.
We didn’t get back to camp until 9:45 p.m. so it was too late for fishing that night.
Rain was in the forecast for Wednesday, so it was a chance for the cabins too cool down and to wear layers.
We spent the morning doing our instructor certification which was really fun because each person had to give a mini lesson. Many of us did physical demos or skits and the morning was spent laughing and learning.
That afternoon we headed to the gun range to learn to shoot .22’s, 0.223’s, and shot guns.
It was so funny because up until this point C hadn’t been thrilled with camp. And she was so nervous about shooting a gun that she was shaking before she started. You know what happened? She turned out to be a crack shot! No one could believe she had never shot a gun before. After discovering this talent, she really started to enjoy camp and even took to fishing with me a lot which was so fun! This is why camp is so important, it opens you up to new experiences!
The final activity for the day was a fly fishing lesson in the evening with Jeremy. Jeremy is this amazing war veteran with stories that you wouldn’t believe. He discovered fly fishing as a way to cope with PTSD and is now so passionate about the sport.
It was fun finally learning how fly fishing worked and understanding the appeal. I struggled with finding the right rhythm though and will likely hold off on fly fishing until I’m a master reel fisherwoman first.
That night I was back out on the lake (until dark) and still catching a fish eluded me. At this point I was starting to think I was bad luck. Perhaps the fish could smell my desperation and stayed away from me.
I had drunk a coffee at 6 p.m. today because I was beat and sleep eluded me. I kept my poor cabin mates up until 1:30 a.m. this night chatting and laughing. We laughed until I had tears streaming down my face. It felt so cathartic and my mind felt so at ease in this place.
Our final full day was all about bow hunting. We spent the morning in class going through the manual.
That afternoon we headed out for some field practise, first working on tree stands. Matt walked us through the various kind of tree stands and tree stand safety. I don’t know how anyone can have the patience to sit in a tree for hours on end waiting for an animal. I would go crazy with impatience.
Climbing these was so much fun! I thought perhaps I would be afraid going up but I felt like a monkey as I headed up the different types of stands.
All the girls had a blast climbing up the different stands, some were brave enough to hang, and J even hauled up a stand and set it up herself which was pretty cool.
The one stand I ran out of time to try out was the walking stand. It looked so cool and all the ladies wanted to try it out.
Following tree stands, we headed out into the woods where Jeremy had set up a blood trail to teach us a little about tracking a wounded animal.
We enjoyed listening to his different hunting stories and stories about his own tracking experiences before heading out on this simulation. Of course, it wasn’t super authentic as there were no tracks and no real animal, but it great to learn to walk around and search for blood. And how to be extra vigilant on sand because it gets absorbed so quickly.
We finally found the spot where the deer “died” and took a victory photo with myself as the deer.
Afterward, we stood in the field listening to Jeremy. You know how you meet some people and you wonder how on earth one human being could experience so much in a lifetime? That’s Jeremy. I hope he writes a book because the life this man has lived is incredible.
We gathered by the lake after dinner to learn about the different animal calls. Matt is an animal call expert and he showed us the different gadgets you can use as well as tried to teach us moose calls with out hands. What I couldn’t believe was when he passed around the different scents that hunters put on themselves, they’re mainly pee and they STINK! The class wanted to smell them and my I literally gagged and felt queasy for awhile after smelling one. And these guys put this smelly stuff on their boots or hats? Ah!
That night was the last night I had to catch a fish. We went out on the boat and I wasn’t coming back until it was dark or I had a fish. Finally, probably 20 minutes before dark, I reeled in my first ever fish! I was SO excited! All those hours spent this past week, I met my goal and I learned how to take the hook out too.
All that said, fishing felt similar to yoga. It was so calming, so relaxing to be on the water and in nature, and yet I was doing something with my body so I didn’t get bored. There was a loon family on the lake with a little black fluffy baby and I was awed by their calls back and forth to each other. It just doesn’t get better than being on the water.
I woke up early on our last day and did not want to go home. One week of camp wasn’t enough, I needed two, or three.
After breakfast, we headed back to the gun range to practise what we learned. I started off on the shotgun range because I really struggled with how to track and shoot on instinct. That, and the shotguns felt so heavy and I was trying to shoot left handed.
We played a fun game called Annie Oakley where three people try to hit the same clay by taking turns. I didn’t hit a single clay that day. 🙁
BUT, I did get to operate the clay machine and hit the button every time someone said ‘pull’ so that was cool.
After shotgun, I went to the 0.223 range since a rifle is what I intend to use hunting. I really struggled with watching my shot though because every time I pulled the trigger, I would instinctively blink and miss where my shot went. I did hit the one metal target that was 300 yards away and I knew that from the sounds it made when I hit it.
We stayed out on the range all morning and it was so cool to see some of my fellow students who didn’t seem very enthusiastic about the course in the beginning really enjoy themselves and what they were learning.
After lunch it was time to say goodbye. Most of my fellow students raced out of there because they had camping plans for the long weekend. I legitimately didn’t want to leave. Sara and I asked permission to stay a little longer to go through the 3D course once more before heading home.
STRESS FREE IS THE WAY TO BE
I was exhausted when I got home but I felt more at ease than I have in- a couple years probably. Honestly, this camp was exactly what I needed. It was a chance to give up all control of the week and I liked it. Someone else made all my meals (I had to be careful what I ate), I was told when to wake up and where to be. The entire time was spent chatting with my classmates, laughing, and having fun. My evenings were spent quietly sitting in the boat trying to catch a fish.
I didn’t have to cook, clean, do laundry, run errands, or worry about work or school- it was sublime! I told Ryan that from now on, I want to go to an adult summer camp for the first week of every summer. It’s a great way to let go of the stresses of the year, and to make new friends and have a lot of fun.
If you’re a teacher who’s interested in outdoor education for your students- Camp Alford is an incredible place to go. It’s owned and operated by the Alberta Hunter Education Association and they can customize activities to your curriculum outcomes.
I can’t wait to take all the things I learned in this week and share them with my future students! Like I said, there is opportunity for me to weave this into both physical education and CTS courses.
Have you ever taken outdoor ed in school? What was your favourite part?
Anyone want to go fishing with me this summer? I’m hooked! 🙂