River Runners pull together through the rain

Matt Gardner
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Adversity can often reveal hidden strengths -- a point well understood by participants in this year’s River Runners canoe trip.

As the young adventurers pulled their canoes ashore in Prince Albert on Saturday following their three-day expedition down the North Saskatchewan River, the memory of the torrential rainstorm they encountered early on was still vivid.

“It was everywhere,” Shayne Little, 14, said of the rainwater. “Everything was damp, everything was soaking wet.”

“It was miserable,” he added. “But we pulled through.”

Counsellor Dwayne Cameron described the Thursday night thunderstorm as the wettest that River Runners participants have ever gotten in the eight years that the program -- aimed at youth between the ages of 13 and 18 who have demonstrated leadership skills in the community – has been running.

Yet Cameron noted that by persevering through such difficulties, the youth also learned to work better as a team.

“There were a few of them getting a little bit irritated, but they’d come through that and had to push together and work together in order to overcome the weather,” Cameron said.

“Nobody had a comfortable sleep,” he added. “When I woke up, I was in two inches of water at my feet. I was using my clothes to create a dyke to funnel the water into one end and then moving my tent because it was coming through the tent … That’s how bad it was at times.”

At the start of their journey, the enthusiasm of the young travellers was palpable.

Shuttled out to Fort Carlton via bus on Thursday morning with their canoes and gear, the youth had spent previous days taking part in team-building exercises and first aid classes in preparation for the trip.

But the heavy rain and thunder that accompanied their first night would prove a test of their ability to weather and adapt to new challenges.

“I barely got any sleep,” Little recalled.

“It ruined my night,” said fellow traveller Marlissa Gobeil, 12.

“I was soaked,” she added. “Our whole tent was … My blanket was soaked and I had to use a different sleeping bag, because my sleeping bag was drenched in water. There wasn’t much I could sleep with.”

Dealing with the aftereffects the next day delayed their resumption of the river trip, while uncooperative weather -- the sun only came out later in the day -- further complicated their efforts to dry off clothing and gear.

The counselors had advised the youth to mitigate the water by keeping their clothes in a bag in the tent, meaning most of the travellers had at least one set of dry clothes.

There’s a little bit more camaraderie when you come through a little bit of a mini-crisis and you’ve got to work it out together. Dwayne Cameron

“We just had to tie everything up in a bag and just put it in there to heat it up by a bonfire,” Little said.

Yet the rain ultimately brought out the best in the youth as they pitched in to help each other.

Cameron noted the enhanced sense of solidarity among the travellers after the storm.

“It’s amazing how the group shifts when that happens,” he said. “They’re kind of a little bit doing their own thing, but after that, people are pitching in, they’re cooking together, they’re doing all kinds of different stuff.

“There’s a little bit more camaraderie when you come through a little bit of a mini-crisis and you’ve got to work it out together, and so in that way it pushed the group to be able to become a bit of a tighter team because of the elements.”

Physical demands of the paddling notwithstanding, the rest of the trip was a relative breeze as the weather improved and the youth could return their attention to having fun and enjoying themselves.

For Little, highlights of the trip included cooking hotdogs and hamburgers over the fire as well as hanging out with friends he met in the program.

Gobeil echoed his sentiments, noting, “We had fires, we talked, we just sat out all night … Some of the counselors would go to bed early, so then we just stayed up, all the kids, and we got to know each other.”

Besides the plentiful supply of memories, the travellers gained some valuable lessons from the trip -- chief among them being the value of teamwork.

“I learned how to work together (with others) and not be so negative about things,” Gobeil said.

“I really underestimated this trip,” Little said. “It was fun … I learned more about that I should work better with other people.

“Teamwork … It’ll get you through.”

See also:

Twizzlers and safety tips mark River Runners' departure

Youth learn team-building skills as River Runners returns

Geographic location: Prince Albert, North Saskatchewan River, Fort Carlton

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