We started day two of The Fall Exercise still under overcast but dry skies and a little later this morning. The second day of the hike is a bit shorter and not quite as difficult because we run along the top of the escarpment for most of Day 2 before descending near Queenston on our way to Fort George National Historic Site.
This morning, knowing exactly what to expect and having run and walked 30 km the day before, there was much less vim and vigor among the group but the students were still excited to get the day started.
Capt. Krywulak’s section finished yesterday with the best time of 6:28, so they headed to the trail last today. Watching this group of boys dig deep and push hard to maintain their best time, and catch up to the groups ahead of them, is rewarding. They’re mentally and physically pushing themselves, overcoming obstacles and working together. The other groups are doing the same, digging deep to improve their own times and ensure that Capt. Krywulak’s group doesn’t catch up to them. It was all for naught as Capt. Krywulak kept his group moving all day and finished day two still with the best time.
Throughout the day small scuttles amongst the boys could be seen as one group tried to overtake another – both teams trying their hardest to stay ahead of the rest of the Academy and the clock.
One of the best things to see on the march are when we reach a big embankment – and this happened more yesterday than it did today because we did not go up and down the escarpment as much today. This is when you truly see how the boys are bonding, learning to be part of something bigger than themselves and relying on each other. As the boys reach a steep hill or embankment there are boys scrambling to get up and over, boys struggling to get up, and boys behind them pushing and encouraging to help the entire group overcome the hill. It is a scene that is repeated over and over again during the exercise and I never get tired of seeing the boys helping each other.
There are a handful of ghost stories that are popular in Niagara, including the legend of “The Screaming Tunnel”. Our march takes us through this tunnel, which passes under a railway line, but the boys are oblivious to the legend and only see this section of our walk as a really cool change of scenery from trees and rocks.
Once we leave the escarpment behind we use the Upper Canada Heritage Trail where it runs parallel to Concession 1 Road in Niagara-on-the-Lake. It’s a bleak stretch of road, vineyards and farm fields on either side and nothing but flat gravel ahead as far as the eye can see. The boys refer to this section of our walk as “the road that never ends”. It is the most unchanging view of the three days and the least pretty as well but this is where we do start to perk up a bit. Those who have taken part in the past know the road does indeed end and it ends just a few kilometres away at Fort George where we get to bunk for the night in the reconstructed War of 1812 fort.
A National Historic Site, Fort George gives our students a wonderful, tangible demonstration of Niagara’s history, specifically during the War of 1812. It’s always fun to see the Fort and learn about the history of the area but it’s also a lot of fun to bunk in an old British fort.
The boys sleep on the second floor of the barracks, reconstructed but very faithful to how soldiers would have lived in 1812. The floor is wooden, the rafters are visible, the bunks are square timber construction with basic mattresses and they sleep boys four to a bunk – double wide and two high. It’s dark, with no electrical light, it’s cramped, and it’s a heck of a lot of fun.
Just a few minutes after we entered the fort the boys had stripped off their boots, discarded their ruck sacks and strewn their belongings all around. As in past years, it is at this time that the younger boys seemed to find some extra energy they had hidden away and looked for ways to expend this extra energy.
The boys are settling for the night inside the barracks at the fort, after a good meal delivered by our kitchen staff, and resting up for the big day tomorrow – the final day of The Fall Exercise – while RLA leaders offer our guests some hospitality before we call it a night.