Anyone who has been on an expedition knows there’s something special about it. We often struggle to describe it, ending up sounding starry-eyed or silly. Spending long periods of time in a small group out in the wild can lead to surprising places, both in the scenery and with those around you. Have you been in the woods long enough to have any of these magical moments happen?
1. You Witness New Weather Phenomena
A rainbow in a cloud. Thunder under a bright sun. A waterspout. Hail and sunlight on ripples behind canoes are all weather phenomena that I can never seem to get enough of. Being outside all of the time leads to noticing things we don’t usually see. Being small and vulnerable to the whims of nature leads to a healthy sense of fear and awe.
Even when I’m safe in a house or a car, I never experience thunderstorms or freezing rain the same—they’re always tinged with an understanding of what it’s like to be out amidst the storm with no other options. An understanding that creates a strong sense of gratitude for all the comforts of the frontcountry.
2. At the End of a Long Day, You and Your Companion Both Turn Around to Give Each Other Half of a Matching Candy Bar
It’s more than just telepathy, it’s feeling the same thing at the same time and reacting in the same way. Sometimes, there are fewer variables in human connection in the woods, fewer distractions, fewer different things you could be doing at any given moment, which under the right circumstances, can lead to accelerated friendships and stronger connections. An experience that keeps me coming back.
3. You See a Brown Rock Stand up Out of the Water and Become a Bull Moose
You see a moose calf nursing with its mother. Before your eyes, a hillside becomes a herd of caribou, flowing like water across the land. You see silver-dollar-sized baby snapping turtles in the mud of the trail. The more time you spend outside, the more likely you are to see completely unexpected events.
4. You Laugh So Hard That You Can’t Breathe
The memory will always make you laugh, but you’ll struggle to explain what was so funny to anyone else. It may be the lack of outside entertainment, a deeper level of connection or maybe just a deeper level of exhaustion that leads to full belly laughs, ridiculous jokes and unforgettable pranks.
5. You Invent a New Food or Recipe
Expedition life doesn’t have to mean bad food, but it does often mean more limited choices and greater hunger than many of us experience day-to-day. Things taste more delicious in the woods, and sometimes the limitations of the pantry help the creativity flow. Find some favorite backcountry recipes here.
6. You Start Appreciating Even the Unpleasant Parts of Expedition Life
It’s a special kind of accomplishment to appreciate the rough moments (like the patterns of wind and rain on the water) for what they are, not for what they might be in the future (a good story, a distant memory, an experience you’ll never have to go through again.) The Instructors and students I admire most are the ones who always find something to laugh about even in the toughest moments. The ones who spot the bear climbing a tree while the rest of us have our heads down paddling, the ones who are quick to grasp the lesson held within a mistake.
7. You Achieve a Maximum Level of Comfort With Your Body
By wearing the same clothes without thought or feeling your muscles do what they were designed to do, you become confident and at ease in your skin. Taking a long break from mirrors and societal norms can feel refreshing and healthy, where the traits that are impressive or valued by the team are based on skills rather than appearances.
8. You Wish for Your Expedition Not to End
There may be a long list of things you miss from home and can’t wait to return to, but you hold it side-by-side with the bittersweet sense of knowing you’ll never recapture these days in the backcountry.
Part of the magic of instructing for me was watching individual after individual experience these same moments, on different trips, in different places, different age groups, different reasons for being in the woods, and so many other variables. There seems to be, at the heart of each long expedition, a certain amount of commonality, of unavoidable magic, and Outward Bound courses bring me there again and again.
About the Author
Renee Igo was an Outward Bound student at age 15 and has been instructing wilderness expeditions for the Voyageur Outward Bound School for the past eight years. When not instructing, she holds a variety of other teaching positions and raises sheep in Maine.
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