Our class arrived in Kilmashogue Forest car park at around 11am. For some it was their first spanning view of Dublin city. By this stage of transition year we were a pretty close knit group, teachers included. The 30 or so students who gathered amongst the few cars at Kilmashogue were the ones who had agreed at the beginning of term to attempt the Gaisce Bronze Award. For all of us, it was to be the longest hike we’d have ever done.
An early April storm was gathering over North Dublin and we could hear the bashing of thunder in the distance. This amplified the nerves of some of the less outdoorsy of us. One girl in particular had a fear of lightning and went over to discuss the impending storm with teachers. Our group was void of any of the serious messers but that didn’t mean we were all innocent. We had planned to have fun along the way – rain or no rain. The 3 teachers supervising us were all likeable and we had gotten to know them well through transition year. They were over at the forests entry gate talking to what looked to be someone’s Grandad. A man was smiling with his hands and chin resting on a sturdy looking hiking stick. The teachers called us over.
The guide spoke a few words before we set out. He told us to have our rain macs “at the ready”. The teachers stressed us to behave as the man was volunteering his own time and, so, we set off. There was a lot of excitement early on and energy in the legs. We had all filled our bags with gunge that morning in the shop beside the school and some were asking the guide; ‘When are we stopping for lunch?!’. The guide was the navigator but he did let us go ahead and we all separated naturally. We were heading to a youth hostel which was called Knockree Youth Hostel is all we knew. If we were unsure of any turns we were to wait for instruction.
The rain came eventually out on an open and muddy path. A few close friends and I were walking with the guide with our own hiking sticks we had picked up. His name was Cyril. We were asking him what’s the most he’s ever walked, has he ever gotten lost, why he is doing it, how much he gets paid. Funnily enough, I can’t remember his answers. By the time we were getting close to the hostel – all our legs were finished. We were all tired and hungry. I was very athletic at the time and was surprised by the success of all the students. I was convinced there would be a few dropouts, but, here we all were arriving and chanting for dinner.
My Gaisce journey introduced me to a lot of things. It was the first time I had ever stayed in a youth hostel. It was the first time I had ever walked so far. It was the first time my legs had gotten so tired but I felt good because I had walked with my own two feet. I felt quite free being in charge of the bag on my own back for the first time – away from my parents.
When I graduated from secondary school amid the recession I got any job I could find. I made the decision to return to my own two feet and pack my own rucksack and hike on more distant hills. I walked and hosteled through Europe and have since come back and started volunteering with An Óige. Eventually I was asked to join the Board of Directors. One evening another Director and myself were invited to meet the council of An Óige. The council is the advisory body of experienced volunteers which help the Board. As the council meeting went on – I immediately recognised Cyril’s face. I decided to interrupt the meeting and ask the man if he ever led Gaisce hikes.
He said: ‘Yes, and I still do’.
Posted by Darragh Miller, Chairperson of An Óige
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