At the beginning of 2015, inspired by the Woods Explorer dream job, I had decided to spend the year following my biggest passion, spending as much time as possible outdoors in nature. Whether that be camping, hiking, biking, kayaking, swimming, climbing, or any other activity I could perform, I just loved being outside. A few years ago, I’d started bringing my 70 year old mom on my adventures with me. She was hesitant at first, but loved them more and more as time passed, and now it was next to impossible to go somewhere without her wanting to come. Due to her age, and that we would sometimes hike in the woods for hours without seeing another person, I was concerned. I was concerned that something could happen to her, or anyone else that was in my care, when I took them out adventuring with me. I had no first aid training and thought it was a good time to invest in a course and learn as much as I could about how to take care of someone if, heaven forbid, some terrible accident occurred while out in the woods.
I discovered courses that were offered through Frontenac Provincial Park. I had never been to the park but the courses looked pretty awesome. I found a wilderness first aid course that was taking place in the backcountry of Frontenac in June, and decided that I was going to be there to take that course and learn what I wanted to know about helping someone if some type of emergency took place while I was in the bush.
I took Friday off work as we were supposed to be at the campsite designated for the course by 5pm to start class. As I lived about 4-5 hours from Frontenac, I wouldn’t possibly be able to arrive on time after getting off work at 430. Instead, I got up at 4am and headed out arriving at Frontenac around 9am. It was the first time I was taking my wee little kayak into the backcountry with gear on it and I was a bit nervous. I had packed it up in the backyard the week before and knew everything would fit, but would the boat float? Would it be unbalanced and tip me? Who knew? I only had a 10 minute paddle to the sites, and I brought my backpack in case I needed to hike in instead, but I was determined to pack my 3 days worth of gear on my little kayak and prove that I could use my boat to do backcountry trips. I really didn’t have a clue I could do that until I attempted recently, due to this trip.
When I arrived at the boat launch after registering with the front desk and paying the $200ish for the course I was happy to see I was all alone. It was a gorgeous day, even though it was supposed to be raining and I was anxious to get to the site and set up my gear in case it did rain and see if anyone else had arrived. As I was packing my boat, I heard voices and shortly after saw several canoes coming towards the launch full of gear and students. I did my best to get out of the way and waited until they all pulled their boats in before putting mine into the water and starting to pack it.
A few of the chaperones/teachers came over to talk to me and said they were curious to see my kayak loaded with gear successfully going along in the water. I told them I too, was interested to see if it worked as I’d never done it before. I did my best to pack without worrying about the eyes watching me and soon they tended to their unpacking and didn’t watch me as much. I did have a full sized bear barrel on the front of my boat that literally could tip me with a few heavy waves or a wrong turn in my boat. But, after a very slow takeoff I made it to the site without issue and was so happy that I could now backcountry camp with my wee little kayak! What a cool discovery!
I was the only person from the course here for the day it seemed. I set up my tent and had something to eat and then got in my kayak and explored the lake for the day. It was gorgeous here and the first time I’d been to a park that was not north from me, but actually northeast. It was just like being up north but with a larger variety of plants and trees and what seemed to me, more wildlife than I’d seen in a while in the north. There were loons everywhere, beavers, cranes and I hoped to see lots more.
Around 3pm I finally saw a classmate of mine arriving by canoe. I let him get settled a bit and then went over to say hello. Frontenac, consisted of only backcountry sites, but they were actually cluster sites. This meant that they would have 4 sites all together in a cluster and they would share one privy or outhouse in this case. I had set up my tent on the farthest of the 4 sites in the cluster but my classmate set up on the first of the 4 sites. I went over to introduce myself and chatted with him as he setup camp. Shortly after a girl named Laura arrived and we helped to set her up as well.
For quite some time it was just the 3 of us and at that point I’d decided to move my tent over to their site as I’d already knew them a bit and thought it’d be more fun to camp with people I knew I already liked. We went out and got some wood in Brians’ canoe as it was going to rain soon and no one else had arrived yet. It was almost 6pm and the weather was turning and we thought it’d be nice to have a good fire going when everyone else made it to camp. As soon as we returned I went to move my site and that is when the rain started pouring down and I discovered my marmot jacket I’d had for about 8 years now, was no longer waterproof. It poured for hours and thankfully we were mostly setup but everyone else arrived in the rain and we assisted them in setting up their sites and getting settled in without them getting soaked in the process. Around 8pm the rain slowed up and most of the 12 participants in the class had arrived, along with our instructor….Steve Tripp.
We sat around the fire and introduced ourselves and went around the circle. Everyone was to advise why we were here and there were quite a lot of different answers. Some people were here for work, to add it to their resume, a group of three were headed to Yellowknife soon, a mother and son were here mostly for the same reasons I was, etc. etc. It was really interesting to learn why everyone was there and get to meet everyone.
Around 10:30 or so, we were advised we should head to bed soon and that we would start at 830am sharp the next day. This was not going to be a leisurely weekend. My sitemates and I stayed up till around 11 and then headed off to our tents. I told Laura I would be up at sunrise to go for a paddle before class and she said she would go also, so I promised to wake her up. Sleep did not come for me and I spent most of the night trying to get comfortable. My tent was on an incline and I was sliding all over. I was used to not sleeping well in the bush and at daybreak, I popped my head out of the tent, swearing I would go back to sleep. But when you open your tent and see the most beautiful morning fog ever, on a mirror lake, there is no sleeping in.
I went to the privy and scratched on Laura’s tent on the way by. She was awake. When I returned she was out of her tent and getting ready to go. We grabbed our kayaks and hit the water. We had about an hour to get back and make some breakfast before our class started so we went out exploring enjoying the beautiful morning sun and perfect calmness of the water. By the time we returned, the wind had picked up, the fog was gone and the water was rippled. No one else saw the magic but us and I was truly grateful I’d gotten up so early, even though it would make for a long day.
We had a quick breakfast, grabbed our notebooks and headed to Steve’s Tripps site to start our First Aid Wilderness Rescue course.
In my head I have always thought how amazing it would be to have school outside. It turns out, it is even harder than having school inside, and wishing you were outside. We sat around Steve’s fire pit going through the first aid handbook that came with the course. A beaver swam by distracting us and many other representatives of nature were there to take our attention away, as hard as we tried not to have that happen.
We basically spent the whole morning going through the booklet page by page, reading each page and sometimes having a discussion about one of the topics. From what I could tell so far, the main goal of knowing wilderness first aid was preventing accidents from happening at all, so first aid was never needed. We broke for lunch and all went to our respective sites to make whatever we’d brung for ourselves.
After lunch we moved up into the forest and sat in an open area Steve had located. Steve laid out a tarp and brought up a few bins full of CPR dummies, both adult and children dolls and we learned how to perform CPR and how to use the dummy/dolls to do it correctly. I was learning so much!
The course was really awesome so far. I wasn’t too crazy about just sitting around going through the booklet but there couldn’t be exercises for the whole thing I suppose? Steve had planned many activities and demonstrations throughout the day however and that made the course really fun and in my opinion, easier to learn. Many scenarios were created where we needed to actively use what we’d learned and show that we were actually understanding the information and retaining it. Before I knew it, it was time for our dinner break and afterwards, it was time for our first rescue mission.
Our class was split into two teams. One team tonight would be the rescuers and the other would be the rescuees. I was put on the team that needed to be rescued and we were doing a night rescue so that was even more cool. Steve sent the rescuers to his supply station where they were to load up on all types of items you would bring to a rescue mission. We were brought into another area of the forest and literally dressed up. Steve had clothing for us to wear, fake blood, bandages, and a huge storyline we all had to follow. We were given fake names, fake situations and fake injuries, then we were told to spread out into different parts of the forest.
My group, was basically out on a bird watching hike and our hiking leader had suffered a heart attack, possibly. Several of the group had gone off in many directions and some were injured in the process, others were just lost and scared. I was instructed to be pregnant, was given a big dress to wear with a fake baby bump and told to be frantic and to distract the rescuers from what they were doing. It had to be one of the craziest things I’ve ever seen, but also the coolest.
Once the rescue mission was in full force, people had all been instructed by Steve to do various things. There were people out in the forest, screaming in pain, crying, being frantic, basically reenacting a real life situation. The other team was brought in to find everyone, assess their injuries and get the group out of the forest and back to safety. We are in fact, doing this, in a real forest, at 10:00pm at night where there are real dangers and threats, not allowed to have flashlights and sitting in the dark and cold waiting for the rescuers to locate everyone. It was truly amazing and something I will never forget. Around 11:30 the rescue mission had been completed and we grouped up to discuss the situation, find out how it was handled and how it could’ve been better handled.
We were all totally exhausted, we’d been at it since 830am and on the few hours of sleep I’d gotten the night before, I was ready to fall over. Everyone did their best to wind down quickly, which wasn’t easy as we all wanted to discuss what we’d just done and everyone was totally hyper, but sleep needed to be found. Shortly after midnight we were off to our tents to find sleep, advised we would start again Sunday at 830am.
I woke up again just as the sun was coming up. I slept a bit but not much better than the night before. All the excitement before bed was more than enough to create lots of crazy dreams and little sleep, but there wasn’t much I could do about that. I promised myself I’d sleep and not paddle this morning, but I just couldn’t resist and jumped out of my tent to go for a paddle. Laura heard me again and she was up and in her boat right next to me and we were off, exploring the lake and looking for wildlife. It was another beautiful morning and I was glad I’d gotten up to enjoy part of it my way before having to get back to class.
We got back to camp by 8am and had our breakfast and got ready for the day, then headed back to Steve’s site for our morning class. We started off with a recap of the evenings rescue mission going over in great detail what was done and how and what we could’ve done better. We spent the rest of the morning going through the booklet again as we did the morning before, but touching on other topics we needed to cover before our test later that day.
After lunch we moved up into the forest again and did an exercise on cleaning out wounds. Steve brought a bag of oranges and we were given instructions to put the different types of lacerations in the orange, cover them with dirt and then clean the cuts out with syringes full of water that were provided. A lot of the course was hands on like this and it was awesome because I think it is one of the best ways to learn. We did rescue carry’s, were shown different ways to do so, and did a bunch of other hands on exercises during the afternoon. I was learning so much!
When we’d finally finished the booklet from start to finish, we did our second rescue mission. This time I was a rescuer and we had to go to the supply area to pack our pockets and packs with items we thought we would need to attend to the people we would be looking for in the forest. I came across a girl who had had a large tree pinning her legs under it and had to attend to her wounds, give her CPR for almost an hour straight and figuring out what was wrong with her. In the end she died, but I was told there wasn’t much I could do and I’d done everything I was instructed to do. I felt good about that, but sad someone had died on my watch. We were quickly running out of time. We finished up with the rescue mission and were brought back to our sites to recap while we started to pack up whatever we hadn’t gotten packed during our lunch break. Then it was test time!
We all were given our tests and a pencil and sat wherever we could find a spot. I was so totally exhausted at this point I had been nodding off and was having a very hard time staying alert. It was not the best time to write a test, but we had to get it done, so we did. We all wrote down our answers and after completing the test we marked the papers and totalled the scores. Everyone passed! If I had gotten one more question wrong, I would not have gotten my certificate. I honestly don’t think it was due to not knowing the answers, but just not being able to concentrate and fully comprehend some of the questions due to my state of mind. Regardless, I passed and we were all given our certificates, good for 3 years. We quickly snuck in a group photo and then everyone was scurrying off to get back to their cars and get on their way home. People actually headed home with dried fake blood on them still in their state of being rescued. LOL. I can’t imagine what would’ve happened if one of them had been pulled over en route!
It was a very long tough drive home and I spent most of it eating an entire bag of sunflower seeds so I would have something to do to keep me from falling asleep. It was almost midnight by the time I got my kayak off my car and got inside my house, so incredibly happy to be home. It was going to be a long day at work tomorrow but I was really happy about everything I’d learned and accomplished this past weekend. The course was simply amazing and I would highly recommend it to anyone who is thinking of taking it. It is a huge amount of information crammed into 2 days but I definitely feel far more confident now going into the forest, ready and prepared to take on anything that comes my way.
I really hope you enjoyed my post! If you have any questions, comments or suggestions, please leave a message and I will get back to you as soon as I am able to!
Happy First Aiding!