If you’ve made it this far on the Outward Bound website, you’ve probably seen some pretty cool pictures and videos. You’ve seen people of all ages paddling through whitewater rapids, carrying big backpacks far away from home, climbing vertical rock. Perhaps, while seeing these pictures, you’ve thought to yourself, “Could I do that?” Backpacking, climbing mountains and being active in the outdoors are often presented to us as being an activity meant for only a certain type of person: the “outdoorsy” type. I’m here to tell you that an outdoorsy person doesn’t really exist. An Outward Bound course is not meant for a specific type of individual. We have programs all around the world and every person can find something that suits them.
As an Instructor, I often hear the same questions and curiosities from my students regarding their outdoor experience and nerves surrounding certain parts of course. Below is a list of these statements and an explanation about why being outdoorsy isn’t a prerequisite to coming to Outward Bound.
“I don’t like being dirty.”
If you’ve never spent consecutive days away from running water, it is easy to be concerned that you’ll be smelly and dirty. However, most Outward Bound courses take place near different bodies of water. Whether it’s rafting down a river or hiking and climbing near lakes, some of the best memories of your course might be dipping your toes (or more!) into these natural pools. Although you might smell differently than you normally do, it will be the same as everyone else you are with.
“I don’t think I can hike very far.”
Hiking with a heavy pack is certainly challenging and can take a little bit of getting used to. At the beginning of your course, your Instructors create an itinerary that starts off with short mileage days and, depending on the group, slowly increases to longer distances each day. At the end of your course you will be stronger, fitter, and more accustomed to the routine of carrying a backpack over all types of terrain. Very few people come to Outward Bound with enough experience to hike huge distances carrying a big pack, but almost everybody leaves knowing that they can do it in the future.
“I’m afraid of heights.”
Many Outward Bound courses take place in the mountains and in beautiful rock climbing destinations. Even if you sign up for a different course, it is always possible that you will go on a hike or an adventure that will expose you to heights. The very nature of Outward Bound means that you come face-to-face with your fears. Being afraid of heights is very common and it’s likely some of the other students you are with feel the same way. Our courses are full of perceived risk and inherent risks – risks that we accept as fundamental to the Outward Bound learning process. Risk management is an essential element in our programs. In addition to taking the necessary steps to mitigate inherent risks such as activity-related or environmental risks, our Instructors are always there to listen, hear and discuss your personal fears and hesitations and decide the best plan of action for you.
“I’m not a very good swimmer.”
Not everyone comes from a background where they learned how to be in the water for a long period of time. Similar to heights, many people are very frightened of deep water—especially if they aren’t confident enough to swim. No matter the activity, you will be provided with the proper gear and training for that activity, such as life jackets and rescue techniques. Your Instructors will never force you to do something that feels too far outside your window of tolerance, but if you are open to pushing your comfort zone, an Outward Bound course is a great supportive environment to practice new skills or build on skills you already hold.
“I don’t know if I’ll be as strong as everyone else.”
What you might not know is that the other students on your Outward Bound course are probably pretty similar to you. What you’ll soon discover is that the strengths that make a successful team aren’t always the physical kind. Sure, some amount of physical fitness will make your course experience more enjoyable, but ultimately, that won’t be the core focus of the challenges your crew will meet.
Nonetheless, if you still find yourself nervous about your strength as your course approaches, don’t hesitate to start jogging or working out a little bit beforehand. This is a great concern to bring to your Course Advisor, as they will be able to help you create a pre-course exercise plan that works for you. And as time goes on during your Outward Bound experience, you’ll get stronger and begin to realize that physical fitness doesn’t necessarily hold you back from having a great time. And remember, you’re going to learn and grow no matter where your strengths lie.
“I don’t know if I can do this alone.”
Going on an expedition with strangers is scary and brave, but over time, you and your fellow crewmates will start to develop amazing close-knit bonds. The people on your course become your family and your best friends. You develop lifelong friendships with these people. You will never forget them. When you return home, you will also miss your Outward Bound friends and family and realize that you were never alone.
“What about the bears?”
While there are a handful of expeditions that take place in areas where bears might be present, your Instructors are trained in how to handle these situations and will teach you what they know. Generally speaking, all types of wildlife, including bears, are much more afraid of you than you are of them. By listening to your Instructors and following their guidance and direction, you’ll be skilled with the knowledge and hands-on skills to reduce the risk of attracting a bear and coming in close contact with one.
“What if I get hurt?”
The most common injuries on expeditions are very minor sprains and blisters. If you have this happen to you, you are in the hands of highly trained individuals who are there to help you. All Instructors have cardiopulmonary resuscitation (CPR) and first aid certifications. Instructors who teach overnight courses are required to hold a Wilderness First Responder (WFR) certification. In addition to these trainings, all expedition crews are supplied with an extensive first aid kit and a satellite phone to contact additional support if needed.
Everyone is outdoorsy enough for Outward Bound.
The majority of the above statements revolve around being afraid of different activities and experiences you might have in the outdoors. A key ingredient on any Outward Bound course is exploring the edges of your comfort zone. Your Instructors are trained in how to present challenges to you in a way that supports your personal growth. Developing character involves realizing there is more in you than you know. We’ll help you find it.
If you want a life-changing experience in the outdoors, then don’t worry about the dirt, the bears, or your physical ability. Everyone is outdoorsy enough for Outward Bound.
About the Author
Nick McEachern is an Instructor at the Northwest Outward Bound School where he enjoys watching the sunrise from his sleeping bag and rowing a raft into a headwind. His favorite part of working for Outward Bound are the students who remind him not to take life too seriously. He is currently trying to Stand Up Paddleboard from the source of the Colorado River in the Wind River Mountains of Wyoming all the way to its terminus in the Sea of Cortez in the Gulf of California. He believes that he is capable of more than he knows.
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