So, about the Duke of Edinburgh's Award...

17 August 2019

One of the hardest things I've ever done has to be my DofE Expedition. If you didn't already know or haven't had the pleasure of me going on about it for the past month, I'm currently in the middle of completing my Gold Award and carried out the expedition a few weeks back. And Oh. My. Word. How I had underestimated the whole affair.

I realise as I write this how that might put you off, however looking back, it wasn't all that bad. And I'm sure that those of you more 'at one with nature' than myself would have found the experience easier. Let's just say, it took a great deal to adapt. Prior to the expedition, I had never really walked a significant distance, nor had I done much mountaineering (correction: any mountaineering), which was already not going to bode well. This was why the initial practice, which took place in the Peak District, proved so tough.

So, one week after the practice expedition comes the real thing. In all fairness, I was much more prepared for what was to come, how heavy the bag would be, etc. However, the intensity of Snowdonia compared to the Peak District was something I could not have anticipated. The main thing I found to be a challenge was adapting to the gradients of each mountain, path and what not, both uphill and downhill. I'm not one for heights, as some may be aware, so accomplishing this was something of a miracle. I was also not the sportiest or fittest of the bunch, but I tried to push all of this to one side.

Okay, now that I've quite possibly deterred some from completing the Duke of Edinburgh expedition, I'll reflect on the positives that have come out of this entire experience. Firstly, I wanted to remark on how much my overall stamina and health has improved. The amount of walking/climbing I did really does put everything else I do into perspective. Also, I've somewhat overcome my ongoing fear of heights (going up, anyway!). I've also proven to myself that, when placed in such different circumstances, I can push myself to my utter limit. There were plenty of times when I would stop, gaze at the seemingly endless field ahead and would think that I can't possibly go on anymore, however unfortunately, when there is only one way of reaching the end, you do find the willingness within yourself to carry on. Ultimately, considering this was the first time that I've truly left my comfort zone, it wasn't all that bad!

With this in mind, I thought I'd write down some of my best advice for completing the DofE expedition, bearing in mind that mine was done in Summer - I'm aware some of the expeditions can be done later on in the year, when different circumstances may apply.

SURROUND YOURSELF WITH PEOPLE YOU GET ON WITH. The group you are with will, ultimately, make or break your experience. When you think about it, you're spending four days straight with your group, when you will see each other at your lowest, so surrounding yourself with people you feel comfortable with is so important - I can't emphasise this enough, actually. I couldn't have asked for a better group of people to do my expedition with, which really helped.

DON'T OVERPACK ON CLOTHING. Definitely follow the kit list, but with regards to the weight of your bag, you really don't want 10 unnecessary tops and 15 pairs of shorts. To be honest, I ended up switching two pairs of leggings all week and had around three tops.

CONSIDER BUYING A HYDRATION PACK. I only reaped the benefits of a hydration pack on the qualifying expedition (on the practice, I carried four 500ml bottles around with me, which was okay but a little inconvenient). This is a flat, plastic 'bladder'-like pack that carries around 2L of water, which sits at the top of your rucksack and sports a long straw that travels to your mouth. This was so helpful, especially when climbing uphill and I didn't want to keep reaching back to get out a water bottle.

IF YOU CAN, TRY OUT WALKING POLES. I couldn't recommend walking poles enough. They really do help to take some of the weight off your legs, especially when walking uphill. For me, they were also a sense of security when I couldn't quite see the ground through grass, rocks etc.

REMIND YOURSELF THAT IT IS ONLY TEMPORARY. A while back, I read something that said 'pain is only temporary' and I've made it my mission to live by this saying all the time. So when your shoulders are aching and your legs feel like jelly, keep reminding yourself that the way you are feeling is only temporary, and in a few hours' time you will have forgotten all about the pain you were in. This is the thought process that got me through my DofE expedition, one-hundred percent.

I'm hoping this gave you some insight into the many ups and downs of the DofE expedition and that ultimately, if you're considering doing it yourself, you have an idea of what to expect. Ultimately, it's a life-changing experience that really does push you to your limits, but gives you a real sense of achievement in the long run. Right now, I'm in the middle of completing my other sections before I have officially finished my Duke of Edinburgh experience, however the expedition was something I felt was really worth discussing.

Lots of love,

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