Therapeutic Adventure: Paddling Out Of Your Comfort Zone 

Young adults living with cancer join an expedition with the 'On The Tips Of The Toes Foundation' and Boreal River

adventure therapy wilderness expedition on the Magpie River with participants from Nova Scotia, Quebec, BC, and Ontario

The comfort zone is not a new concept. Back in 1908, psychologists Robert M. Yerkes and John D. Dodson explained that a state of relative comfort created a steady level of performance. In order to maximize performance, however, we need a state of relative anxiety—a space where our stress levels are slightly higher than normal. This state is called “Optimal Anxiety” and its where we can push boundaries, learn and develop new skills.

This is what the foundation, On The Tip of the Toes (Sur La Pointe des Pieds), aims to accomplish for its participants. Every year, the Quebec-based foundation organizes and funds an outdoor adventure trip for young people from all over Canada who are living with cancer.

One of the objectives of the organization is to provide participants with a break from the hospital and their regular lives and to be put in a new environment outside of their comfort zone. The idea is to introduce the participants to something new and different, to help them raise awareness of capabilities, strengths and skills that they may have previously underestimated, or never knew about.

This year, the foundation asked us to organize a custom trip on the Magpie River. The 8-day program included 2 days of training and 6 days of whitewater rafting and other wilderness activities. The 15 participants in the program were accompanied and supported by the Tip of the Toes team, a nurse, a doctor, 2 program leaders and a social worker. As well as a blogger and a camera crew. The Boreal River crew consisted of 6 guides.

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For most of the participants, it was their first time rafting. Much less an expedition on the Magpie River, one of the “go-to” destinations in North America for whitewater rafting.

Jean-Christophe was one of the participants who was on the expedition this past August. Last December, he was diagnosed with cancer. He was 23 years old. Since then, he has received 8 months of chemo and radiotherapy and was declared in remission in July. That’s when he decided to register for the expedition.

“The trip definitely took me out of my comfort zone; spending over a week rafting on the Magpie, with people that I had never met before was a little bit intimidating.”

For Jean-Christophe it was an experience with a lot of firsts.

“We spent a night in Mingan and then took a bus for an hour and a half to where we were picked up by a helicopter and brought to Magpie Lake. I’ve never been in an helicopter before.”

The first two days of the trip are spent preparing the participants for the expedition. They learn how to take care of themselves in the wilderness, set-up camp, prepare meals and key whitewater rafting skills.

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The next part of the trip is a few days of awesome rafting, combined with hiking and fishing, excellent meals as well as the opportunity to surf waves and paddle their own inflatable kayaks and stand-up boards on easier rapids (one of Jean-Christophe’s favourite parts).

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This trip was particularly special because the group organizers worked with the Innu community to name the second falls along the Magpie River. The naming ceremony took place during the trip and was named “Chutes sur la pointe des pieds (Tip-toe falls)” in honour of the foundation.

Since the end of the trip, Jean-Christophe has started working again in Montreal as a Financial Analyst.

“The whole Magpie adventure was just awesome. I was getting back to work a few days after the expedition and I couldn’t have asked for a better way to end an important chapter of my life. It was definitely the boost of motivation that I needed to help get back to regular life. It made me realize that I could, again, set myself new goals and decide where I want to go. The expedition was way beyond my expectations, I can not think of a negative part of it. I’ve made friends, it allowed me to grow as person and it has woken up the man I used to be before cancer.”

Adventure therapy wilderness expedition on the Magpie River


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