How in the world do you describe your Outward Bound experience when someone asks you, “Hey, how was your trip?” Because really, once you have taken one of these “trips” you are forever changed, and that’s hard to convey! I finally settled upon this reply:
“It was all that I had hoped for, and more than I could ever have imagined.”
I have always had an adventurous spirit. Particularly fascinated with cold-weather survival, I have read dozens of books on mountaineering and alpine travel. Two years ago, desiring a first-hand experience, I signed up for the adult renewal Dog Sledding & Skiing course on the frozen lakes of Minnesota’s Boundary Waters region. For eight days the group of us – 6 students and 2 leaders – came together and lived on the ice. We learned how to care for the dogs and drive the sleds; how to stay warm; how to set up camp in thigh-deep snow each night and then pack up camp each morning, leaving no trace. The bond we developed was remarkable. Total strangers soon became trusting friends. I was so moved by my Outward Bound experience that in our closing ceremony I committed to the group – and to myself – that I would do another course within the next 2 years.
So I did! This past October, at the age of 61 and despite my very real fear of rock climbing, I was on another 8-day adult renewal course: Blue Ridge Mountains Backpacking & Rock Climbing in North Carolina. The hiking was rigorous; the terrain varied. On our second day we came to a high pinnacle overlooking a huge valley with a river far below. Gazing out, we could see a ridge in the far distance, and I listened in disbelief as our leaders explained that we would be hiking in those very mountains! But you know, one foot in front of the other, and sure enough, we got there and looked back to that pinnacle! Break any daunting project down into small pieces, and it’s doable. Whether we see our destination ahead or not, we can achieve great things with determination.
Equally surprising, the rock climbing that I had feared was not nearly as scary as I had imagined! This was what I had come for: to face my fear, knowing that with good instruction and encouragement I could discover more of myself, more of my strengths. I found myself sitting on top of the rock face that I had just scaled, with an incredible view! It was a tremendously empowering accomplishment, one that I now call on to conquer self-doubts.
The solo is a trademark of any Outward Bound course. On the dog sledding course, we relied on our new winter camping skills. There was much to do: I gathered firewood, cooked my dinner, and prepared my sleeping site in the deep snow. To be completely on my own and safely pass the night in a frigid -15° gave me incredible confidence, and the winter experience that I had been seeking.
My solo in the Blue Ridge Mountains was very different. For hours I sat silently, simply watching the sun set, the moon rise, the stars come out. I was moved by the beauty of our universe, but more, by feelings of sheer gratitude. Gratitude that I was out on a course; gratitude that there were individuals – and an organization like Outward Bound – committed to providing these trips to those of us so inclined to challenge ourselves. How lucky I was!
It is when we finish a course and return to our individual lives that we exhibit what it really means to be outward bound! We now carry greater self-awareness. We have learned new and useful skills, and have made new friends. We can stay active, positive, engaged. We can set aside time to be outdoors, to be quiet and alone, reflective. As we apply these lessons to our daily lives, we can share them with those around us. After all, the best way to be a positive influence on those around us is to simply be a better example ourselves.
Everyone blossoms when they overcome challenges and succeed. This is the empowerment and achievement that I experienced with Outward Bound, and it’s available to anyone who, regardless of age, chooses to grow and live life to its fullest. Get out there and keep doing it! Not only is it great fun, but I believe that we come away better human beings having achieved all that we had hoped for, and more than we could ever have imagined.
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