There’s nothing like a few random events and incidents to shape how exciting an expedition can be. One time, I had a group of Year 9s out on a mountain biking expedition and we headed to Canberra to ride Mount Stromlo.
Mount Stromlo, just south of Canberra, is an amazing area to mountain bike. We’d been doing a number of training and skills’ development sessions leading up to this final expedition. To start with, we’d done an introductory mountain bike course, an overnight down at Mogo, which has an awesome downhill called the snake track, and now, Stromlo was the biggest and final challenge for the students.
Getting down there in the afternoon, with a few coffee breaks along the way, we started riding the playground area. The playground is a cool part of the mountain which has different obstacles, drop downs, seesaws, berms and all sorts of things you might encounter on a ride up or down the mountain. It’s a great area to teach and reinforce some basic mountain biking skills before tackling something much harder. This went really well and we had a great ride that afternoon. That evening, we went into camp, set up, cooked dinner and settled in for the night. The only thing was that it wasn’t the warmest of evenings, dropping down to -3 C overnight. Waking up the next morning, the tents were covered in a thick layer of frost. To be honest, this is typical camp weather at this time of year, but it’s still bracing when getting out of the tent.
The morning was also thick with fog. Again, typical in and around Canberra due to the confluence of all the hot air that’s created in parliament and settles each morning to blanket the city with a layer that’s harder to see through than a public service investigation report. Whilst this layer usually burns off by about 11am, it didn’t disperse until well after lunch, making it a still cold, but now crystal clear afternoon.
Having ridden up and down the summit once that day and after lunch we were out on an extended ride. Being Canberra, a lot of the tracks are named after political things or euphemisms. So, for example, Pork Barrel, Double Dissolution and Party Line are all different tracks on the mountain.
Going down Pork Barrel, which is an awesome run, one of the boys hadn’t quite judged the steepness of the run as well as he should have. Flying over his handle bars, he didn’t bounce very well and managed to land hard on his knee. With a fairly obvious tear in his pants and a laceration to the side of his knee, I pulled out my first aid kit, put my gloves on and had a look. It was quite deep and deep to the point where you’re seeing the whiteness underneath the top layers of skin. I cleaned out the wound that had a nice bit of grit in it, attached some steri-strips to hold it together and put a sterile dressing over the top. It was one of those border-line cuts that if you were at home, you wouldn’t bother with stitches, but if you’re out on an expedition and not able to take things easy, then it’s probably worth getting them just to be sure.
Not deterred by this, the boy jumped back on his bike and kept riding. We continued along a different track which headed back towards the base of the mountain. With a few more ups and downs, and what I thought was some fairly light afternoon riding, suddenly, the next boy was off his bike and landed hard on his wrist. For this one, I took a look at his wrist. Despite having gloves on, he’d landed on his palm and a sharp rock had torn through the glove and a gritty bloody residue remained.
I cut his glove off with my shears, inspected the wound and quickly stopped the bleeding before cleaning it as best I could and bandaging. Because it was so deep, getting in there and trying to clean anything out was a little bit beyond what I wanted to be trying by the side of the track. Added to this, the complaint of the hot pain in his wrist was a worry as well. Rather than patch and keep riding on this one, I strapped the boy’s wrist, bandaged it up and walked the rest of the way down the hill with him and the other walking wounded to the car park and finished for the day.
Since both students required a little bit more medical assistance than I could provide, I decided to take them into the hospital. The last time I was in Canberra hospital, I was supposed to be in and out of there in an hour. However, it turned out to be seven hours and I had to stay overnight. Given this was the last experience, I decided that we should have dinner first, which was nachos that the boys had made with guacamole dip, salsa and sour cream. It was great meal, one of the best camping meals I’ve had in a long time. We quickly had that before we jumped into the troopie and headed off to hospital.
It’s always interesting when you turn up to hospital with multiple students with injuries for the same activity. You get the ‘you’re an irresponsible teacher look from everyone around you.’ So after checking both of the boys in with the triage nurse, we sat and waited whilst getting stared at by those around us. Remarkably enough, we probably only waited about twenty minutes at the most, which was exceptionally good timing considering the last time that I had to wait in Canberra Hospital. The boys were seen by two different doctors who were quite amused by the whole afternoon’s events and being mountain bike riders themselves, didn’t give me the ‘you’re irresponsible look’ after I explained what had happened.
It turned out though, because one of the boys was over the age of 15, under the ACT Laws, due to an accident in a public place, he had to undergo a mandatory blood alcohol testing. As a result, this boy had his blood taken and sent off to the police for analysis, which he thought was pretty exciting.
The other boy, as his tetanus shot was out of date, he had to get a tetanus injection. Hence we had the needle nurse who came to take blood out of one and then back to jab the other. I saw all of this as I moved between the two emergency beds and chatted with both the doctors. The end result was one student with six stitches and a blood alcohol test, but thankfully no fractures in his wrist. The other had three stitches and a painful jab in the arm. All in all, a reasonable result!
The boys were quickly discharged from hospital and on the way back, we had to for the ‘mandatory fast food run after a trip to hospital’ drive. I managed to make my calls to their parents from the warmth of McDonald’s whilst eating a caramel sundae. It was sub zero outside, so we were in no hurry to get back. After dessert, we went to the shops, grabbed a few things such as milk and chocolate and back to camp.
Everyone was asleep when we arrived around 10pm and it was even colder here than it had been in town. I quickly sorted myself out for bed. Jumping inside my sleeping bag, I had a pleasant, long, cosy sleep.
The next morning, I checked on the boys and unfortunately given the injuries, we decided that we couldn’t ride because we didn’t have any spare staff to look after the injured and effectively supervise the rest of the group. Hence I decided that as we were in Canberra, we could have a look at a few things around the place.
We started at The Australian War Memorial, but turned up too early, so we ended up going to the cafe for coffee and cakes before heading inside. I always love going to The War Memorial and to hear a really interesting interview with the Memorial’s director, Dr Brendan Nelson, check out Xperiential Education. We never seem to have enough time there, but on every trip, I always learn something new.
After this, I rang the Deputy Prime Minister’s Office. Yes, I know he’s now no longer the Deputy PM, but before his philandering day, I worked on his campaign, after running against him at preselection. Unfortunately, he had back to back meetings but his secretary organised for us to have a tour in Parliament and tickets to Question Time.
Question Time is a big thing in Australia where all the politicians are in the house and questions are asked of the Prime Minister or the various ministers. Some questions are with notice so they are pre-known by the questionee and some questions are without notice, but generally still known to the person. It’s more theatrics than anything else. I’ve actually done some of the preparation work for this in the past where you prepare a briefing for each question that’s going to be asked. Generally, the politician doesn’t bother answering the question anyway and instead answers something else completely.
Before going in, we’d parked in the basement. The troop carriers that we were in were too tall to go in the general car park and so I drove up to the oversize vehicle car park, took a ticket from the machine and drove in. Glancing back in the rear view mirror I notice the other 4WD drive in straight after me. Despite the bright yellow boom gate, the driver had not realised that he had to actually stop and press the button for a ticket. Now we’d managed to get two vehicles into the parking lot with only one ticket. ‘Well, that’s going to be an interesting problem to solve when we’re leaving.’
After explaining to my colleague that the big yellow barrier means stop and collect a ticket, we headed up to security and through into Parliament where our guide was waiting in the foyer. We’d managed to all get through security without issue, or that was what we thought until the other instructor was marched over to us by a security guard to let me know to start the tour, as he’d been caught with a credit card knife in his wallet and had to go and have a chat with the federal police as it’s a prohibited weapon in the ACT.
I was trying not to laugh in front of the boys because even though it was pretty funny, it wouldn’t have looked good laughing about it. Unfortunately, this didn’t work when the boys all broke out in laughter. I wished him luck and off we went, with the boys speculating on whether or not we would have to bail him out of jail that afternoon.
On the tour, I ran into a couple of politicians I knew, briefly saying hello and moving on so as not to distract the guide from his talk. We finally caught up with the other instructor at the end of the tour. Luckily for him, he wasn’t charged with anything but he had to surrender the knife to the police.
We headed back out the front of Parliament, where we made our lunches before heading back in for Question Time. Since the Deputy PM’s secretary had organised tickets, we managed to skip the line and were ushered straight in to the southern gallery which looks straight down on the government benches. Question time was the usual back and forth and nowhere near as exciting as one time years ago when people were getting dragged out by security and the place went into lock down. Having said that, it was an entertaining afternoon and kept us out of the cold for a bit.
Finishing up at Parliament, we managed to drive both 4WDs out of the parking lot by running them bumper to bumper. Ok, so there were probably other better solutions, but this was the most challenging and fun one to try. Then we drove back out to camp. It was now later afternoon and getting quite cold, but despite the random change of plans, the boys had a solo activity to do. They had one hour to write a final reflection on their experience on camp and what they had learnt from these experiences. Whilst most of them probably wrote about the instructor getting taken by security for possessing an illegal weapon, hopefully others wrote a little more reflectively.
By the end of the hour, the sun had dropped behind the hills and it was freezing cold. I wrapped up the activity at 5pm then we were all ready and headed back into town for dinner.
Wait a minute! What did we go to Canberra for again? Sometimes, in outdoor ed, events can dictate the program, or at least changes to the program if and when things don’t go to plan. The best thing to do is to be flexible, adaptable and always know there’s another learning experience and teachable moments outside of what was originally planned. Going forward with an activity just for the sake of the activity more often than not can lead to negative outcomes. It’s always good to be able to adapt and change plans if circumstances dictate. In this case, we had to do it because of injuries, but in other cases it could be weather, equipment or a range of other random possibilities that are sometimes hard to predict. Ultimately, it was still an interesting couple of days and a memorable expedition and adventure for all involved.