On May 4, six groups of students from Years 9-10 from Dulwich College Beijing went on the Bronze Adventurous Journey in relation to the International Award. We travelled to the Ming Tombs area, where the groups covered a distance of around 28 kilometres in two days with a minimum of a six-hour hike each day. With strong determination and consistent teamwork, each group was able to enjoy and complete the hike returning home on the afternoon of the 5th!
The first day the groups arrived at school, each student with an enormous 60L hiking bag that contained food, a sleeping bag, pots and pans, gas and a stove along with other essentials needed for the two day journey. Everyone was expected to carry their own bag, forcing ourselves to really think about what we wanted to take and whether it was necessary to ‘our survival’. We were made to think critically even before the beginning of the hike! Motivated and ready to trek, we traveled about an hour from the Dulwich campus to the starting point of our route ready to take on forestry terrain, steep inclines and tough declines … Groups were to follow a path consisting of red flags set out by the Beijing Hikers community. Teachers were allocated to groups for the purpose of watching over the members, but would not interfere unnecessarily with group decisions such as rest time or staying together. We were expected to be independent individuals.
On the trip, we were required to make decisions effectively and efficiently, one of the first steps to becoming a well-rounded person, the trait that the International Award focuses on. My group was the second group to start the trail. Wanting to be one of the first groups to choose where to set up our tents (mainly to avoid the soft soil, sandy or rocky areas where it is impossible to pitch a tent), we kept the pace up. I found this easy at first, but with the incline that was to come later I was in for a surprise.
The route for day one started off flat in a green forest environment. The dusty paths were outlined by small plots of soil planted with shrubs dedicated to farming vegetables and the like. The cleaner air was evident as soon as we started to walk; the sky was clear, letting sun rays weave through the branches of trees producing immense amounts of green leaves.
We soon swapped this flat farmer’s path for a steep set of stairs that maneuvered up a hill. Hastily trying to catch my breath, my bag was becoming heavier with each small step I took. However, the encouragement from all three of my group members motivated me to reach the peak of the hill, where we stopped for lunch. With our bags a little lighter and a thirty-minute break, my group walked for a solid four hours with small rests for water here and there, down the hill and through a smaller village up towards the campsite. My group of four split into two and each smaller sub-group set up their tents, but only after downing three bottles of water!
My partner Nicole and I set up our two-man tent with ease, pegged it down and nested it with our lighter but still fairly heavy hiking bags. Placing our hiking boots outside the tent we had time to massage and rest our feet that were in no mood to walk any further unless it was toward the cooking area. It was safe to say that we were ready for dinner! Tired from day one we hit the hay at 20:30 on top of our sleeping bags… but only to be woken up by the chilly winds that visited each tent during the middle of the night!
Day two, I found, was a lot more interesting when it came to sightseeing. We started off in a rural village that was clearly starting to be built up by the locals living there. Here, I could see the clear difference between the more wealthy Chinese people in the Central Business District and the less fortunate Chinese people on the outskirts of the city, trying to modernize their small towns by building more homes or advertising more services.
I saw locals driving small trucks containing bricks and branches, others turning cement mixers and also saw older women cooking on an open fire with a pot. The pot produced thick grey smoke, causing the younger ones, that went diaper-less, to become either excited or scared. Walking through another forest, I saw a local guiding his donkey towards his plot of land. I couldn’t help but notice the odd torn pair of shoes he was wearing along with the genuine smile on his face when we greeted him and walked on. Two other locals followed him each pushing a wheelbarrow of long brown twigs.
After reaching the peak of another hill, I sat down again…breathless. Not only because I was tired and felt that my poor lungs were caving in, but because I had never seen such a beautiful set of green, intertwined gorges that seemed to give a whole new image to the city I live in. Vast collections of lush trees formed smooth rounded slopes that fell into a gentle V shape. I had never imagined that Beijing could be as natural as this!
When comparing such an image to one you see everyday of tall skyscrapers, thick pollution and perpetual traffic it definitely resulted in an inevitable series of gasps, ooohs and aaahs. We finally reached the bus after walking across between the two valleys that stood between us at that first peak and the end of the route. Going downhill through thorny shrubs and frictionless ridges came with its risks, but none so big that it affected any of the groups in a major way!
Happy, healthy and filled with memories, I found that the Bronze Adventurous Journey was unquestionably one of the most rewarding school trips I have been on so far, making me want to continue the International Award all the way to Gold!
Writer’s note: The International Award (Duke of Edinburgh Award) is an award given for completing a program of activities that can be undertaken by anyone aged 14 to 24. There are three levels, Bronze, Silver and Gold that each requires a longer amount of work to complete.
This article originally appeared in the September 2012 issue of UNIT-E. It was written by Isabella Golding-Duffy, a student at Dulwich College Beijing.
UNIT-E was founded in the spring of 2010 with the aim of establishing a non-profit, student-run magazine for international students in Beijing. Staffed by current students from a range of international schools, the magazine provides an amalgam of cultural tidbits, fragments of Beijing student life, and a broad spectrum of unique perspectives from a diverse group of young adults.