Back in 2016 I was going through a really rough period in my life. What’s more, it wasn’t the first such period – on several occasions since my university graduation I’ve found myself wondering what I should be doing in life, especially when no one seemed very keen on employing me. My confidence at an all-time low, I decided to set a measurable goal and take calculated steps to achieve it.
It was hard work but the feeling of achieving something that just years earlier I would have thought impossible was unlike anything else.
Of course, after the highs of success sometimes come the lows of going back to a regular routine. No more having to run 20 km every weekend, no more abstaining from alcohol for weeks at a time before the run, nothing concrete to aim for.
A few months ago, during one of my usual Instagram browsing sessions, I read something about the Duke of Edinburgh Award. It’s a program that helps young people around the world, including many in tougher circumstances, to get involved in their communities and learn important life skills by completing various challenges. Unfortunately, I was already too old to participate in the award (cue existential crisis at the thought of no longer being a “young person”). But luckily, there is a way anyone can support the program: the Duke of Edinburgh Challenge.
So, I am taking on a challenge for 2018. By December 31, I plan to have hiked 200 km of the Black Forest.
Want to support me in that quest? You can donate to the Duke of Edinburgh Award on my JustGiving profile: https://www.justgiving.com/fundraising/hiking-the-black-forest621
I’m aiming to raise 200€, one Euro for every kilometre. And if I can exceed it, I’ll hike every additional kilometre as well, even if it takes me until 2019!
Why the Duke of Edinburgh Award? Well, in the past few years I have felt firsthand the effects of loneliness and like I’ve lost my identity when I can’t find a group to connect with. The Duke of Edinburgh Award brings young likeminded people together and encourages them to improve their fitness, volunteer, get outside, and share their skills. All of these aspects are so important for good mental health.
Here’s a quote from the DofE site that really resonated with me:
To start with, I was just going to the youth club to complete my DofE Volunteering but soon found it became a huge part of my life. I always talked about it in my day to day and looked forward to attending each week. Not only has it enabled me to build my own skills while supporting others, but it is also really fun. The club has become like my little family.
– Kyle Kinsella, Bronze and Silver Award holder
Why am I hiking the Black Forest? I bet I’m not alone in being one of those people who often says, “Oh, we should do that sometime.” The fact of the matter is, we never know when “sometime” will be, and it often turns into never. I’ve become somewhat of a nomad in the last few years; I never know how long I’ll be living in one place. If I want to see something, the time to do it is now. Plus, I love a challenge!
The Black Forest is practically outside my door and yet I rarely experience its natural beauty. By hiking 200 km of its trails in the next few months, I want to be able to test my physical abilities, see new places, take advantage of the amazing location I live in, and just be one with nature.
So far I’ve hiked 54 km. At the quarter point, I’ve already had lots of experience getting lost. But I’ve also enjoyed beautiful paths (with wonderful signage), dozens of butterflies dancing along the trail, and some quality time with my family.
Help make positive experiences like this a reality for other young people by supporting the Duke of Edinburgh Award! You can read more about why I’m doing this and keep track on my progress on my JustGiving page here.
Thanks for your support!