Justin ramms his walking sticks into the muddy ground. It has been raining all night, again. It still drizzles from above but Justin is in a highly positive mood. He knows that today only three hours of hiking lie ahead. Usually, we never walk less than five hours per day…
Justin is part of a group of thirteen teenagers from northern Germany who were involved in an extraordinary school project this September. All 8th graders of Friedrich Junge School in Großhansdorf take part in this anual program titled My Challenge. For two weeks after the summer break there will be no traditional tuition for the 13- to 15-year-olds. Instead the schedule stipulates outdoor experiences. Studies show how important it is for young people to make experiences outside of school, to be physically active and to learn in and from environments different from their usual surroundings. The German educationist Hartmut von Hentig found that school becomes agony in the age of puberty. It is a period of self testing, of seeking relationships with other people and a period of emancipation. What young people need in crucial times as these, Hentig claims, are experiences, adventures and challenges. The My Challenge project was designed to respond to this natural development stage of teenagers. The project has been running successfully in the fifth year now.
We, Justin and his fellow pupils plus two teachers and a student, crossed the Alps on the E5 route. We walked from Oberstorf (Germany) to Bozen (Italy) in 13 days, crossing all of Austria inbetween. For most of the days that meant to be on our feet for 5-8 hours straight. Most of the kids, grown up in the flat country, had never done any serious hiking before. When we left, most of them could not imagine to survive a day without their cell phone and few had ever slept in a room with narrow bunk beds accommodating up to 30 people. We hiked off on the 5th of September and we truly experienced horrible weather, walked in pain with blistered feet and sometimes, when the backpacks became too heavy and the days too long, all we wanted was to go home, enjoy a good bath and crawl into our cosy beds. On September 17th though, we arrived in Bozen and looking back, it wasn’t all that bad. Especially with Italian Pizza in our bellies and ice cream for desert. We will remember this challenge for a long time. We will remember the wild marmots and cute calves we met on the way, the tasty Kaiserschmarrn on the mountain huts and the huge suspension bridge we crossed. We will remember how we went for a bath in an ice cold mountain lake and how the sublime landscape left us breathless. The journey was a hard and exhausting one, for our bodies and our minds. But what we learned was how much we could endure. We became stronger, in our will and in our belief in ourselves. We discovered that we can accomplish things that we thought were impossible. We are happy and proud that we can now officially state that WE HAVE CROSSED THE ALPS.
Preparation for the challenges started about eight months earlier. The teenagers were actively involved in the planning phase. They found sponsorships for the projects, they earned money by finding small jobs and they cooperated with the tutors lanning the project. Thanks to the It’s Great Out There Coalition, Primaloft and The North Face we received significant financial and material support. It made our trip a great deal easier and helped us to reach our goal. We know now that #itsgreatoutthere!
Ben, Marten, Lara, Justin, Lea, Folke, Marvin, Yannick, Janina, Laszlo, Jannik, Hauke & Lennard with Ms. Kilmer, Ms. Hilgenböker and Bentje (student)