By Zoë Gilliard

My name is Zoë Gilliard. I’m 16 years old and a member of Hearts of Gold. I was lucky enough to be able to go to Zajac Ranch over the May long weekend.

This year, the trip started on Friday. The Vancouver Island HOGs boarded the bus at the Tsawwassen Ferry Terminal while the rest of us met up with it in Burnaby. Some of our HOG friends who live further east met us at the ranch.

I’m part of the Lower Mainland HOGs, and we get to do all kinds of amazing things throughout the year: Go Kart racing, the Christmas carol cruise around the Inner Harbour, Playland and the PNE, kayaking . . . you name it, and HOG does it!

But Zajac Ranch really is the highlight of our year, and you could feel the excitement building the minute you stepped onto the bus.

When we arrived, we got organized quickly. We gave all our meds to Meghan, who dishes them out like a sergeant major throughout our stay. Then, we set up our bunks and relaxed until dinner time. There was a lot of catching up to do because we only get to see some campers, who come from outside of the Lower Mainland, once a year.

We ate all our meals in the dining hall, where we sat six to a table with our friends. After dinner on Friday, the campfire brought all of us together at the amphitheatre, where we made s’mores and told memorable stories.

On Saturday, I woke up at 6 am, ready to go! Unfortunately wake-up time was not until 8 am, so early risers like me have to pass the time quietly until breakfast. Thankfully, by 7:30 am, everybody got hungry and the cabin was considerably louder. At 8:30 am, with morning meds taken, everybody rushed to the dining hall for breakfast. Afterward, Cole, Kristi, and Meghan led assigned groups, making sure we were all grouped with our friends for the day’s activities.

This was my second time at Zajac with HOG and my fourth in total, as I got to go twice before with Heart Beats when I was younger. The trips with Heart Beats run from Monday to Friday, so they are a little longer than the four-day HOG trips. However, the younger groups are larger in size and they are mixed medical camps with more than just heart kids, meaning there is less time for each activity. The smaller HOG-only group stays for less time, but we get to chill for longer on each of the cool activities.

The all-time favourite activity is the Skynet. It’s like a trampoline with two levels in the trees. If you are scared of heights, you can go on the lower level. There’s no judging because lots of people stay on the bottom level. Sometimes, we just sat and relaxed in the tree in the Skynet. Other times, we cranked up the energy and played games like dodgeball. Other popular activities include the high ropes, horse riding, archery, and swimming. The great thing is you can try all of them.

After two activities, it was lunch time and everybody was ready to eat! Then, it was quiet time. Some took naps while others just relaxed. Break time was followed by two more activities in our groups. At 4 pm, we all gathered to swim in the indoor swimming pool. We all complained that the water was cold, but soon got warm. Plus, there was a hot tub, which helped.

After two happy hours in the pool, we went for dinner and exchanged stories with friends about how the day went. The second night there was no fire at the amphitheatre, but there were lots of fun activities such as singing contests and games with the camp leaders.

All through camp, Devon directed an ongoing reenactment of The Lion King and assigned us roles, which we enthusiastically adopted. Once again, I was proudly “hired” as Pumbaa, the warthog. I took my role very seriously and knew all Pumbaa’s lines. I was happy that Devon didn’t “fire” me from my role.

Sunday ran like Saturday. We got to try more great activities with our groups. The highlight, however, was the big event of the afternoon: THE PUDDING FIGHT!

Dressed in our bathing suits, some of us sitting in wheelchairs covered in many layers of plastic, we covered each other in chocolate pudding, shaving cream, and lots and lots of water. This fight is always a scream and by far the most fun part of camp! We chased each other around with hoses, water guns, and buckets. We zipped along the slide downs. It all ended with a shower before heading, once again, to the pool.

After Sunday dinner, it was time for the talent show. The leaders did a great job of encouraging us to participate. I had a lot of fun, listening to everyone sing, act, and make us laugh. My favourite part of the evening was when we all stood on stage as one big group and sang “Girl on Fire”! It felt like we were one big family. We rounded off our last night together with Movie Night, watching Ralph Breaks the Internet.

Our final morning fell on Victoria Day Monday. We packed and cleaned the cabins after breakfast. We said some of our goodbyes at the bus and some of them later.

It was another brilliant long weekend at Zajac. Thank you, Children’s Heart Network!

After the famous pudding fight!

“HOGs on the Ranch” is from our summer 2019 newsletter, Heart Matters. See our Newsletters page for more stories and to subscribe.