I was planning for an Outward Bound summer. To be working with groups of teens and living in the woods for long stretches of time. To have a home in Western North Carolina and to be employed. I had planned—but none of this happened. COVID-19 happened, and I suddenly had a full summer and fall to fill. With more than enough unknowns, there was one thing for certain: I would not allow my life to stagnate.
On Outward Bound expeditions, self-growth is catalyzed not just for students, but also for Instructors—a formative experience that’s important for everyone, but especially for me in my 20s. With the loss of my Outward Bound season, I knew I’d be missing a lot of this. I wanted a summer in which I would continue to be “outward bound” even if there was no Outward Bound fieldwork.
After waiting out the initial months of the pandemic with my parents at home in Massachusetts, I made the bold decision to venture out on the road and live out of my car until ski season in Montana. I had four months to fill, and so my outdoor adventure of a lifetime began.
On the Road
I set out on the road with my small SUV loaded up, fully outfitted for backpacking, climbing and mountain biking. I kept a cooler with fresh foods and cooked dinner each night on my backpacking stove. Most nights, I camped in my tent outside the car and occasionally crashed with friends. I had no responsibilities. The productivity of the trip was entirely up to my own initiative. Its complete autonomy made the planning side of the journey an adventure in itself.
Aside from being COVID safe, my biggest goals for the trip were to maintain a high level of physical fitness and to develop my technical skills—aspects I would be able to bring back to instructing Outward Bound expeditions in the future.
First, I drove from Massachusetts to Appalachia, spending time climbing with fellow Outward Bound Instructors in Virginia and Kentucky. I completed a wilderness medicine recertification course in North Carolina and then drove out to Colorado. Spending all of August in Colorado, I backpacked a section of the Colorado Trail for a week, summited a number of Fourteeners (mountains exceeding 14,000 feet) and went on a bunch of great bike rides. Starting in September, I made a slow transition out to Utah, where presently, I’m climbing and hiking near Salt Lake City.
Happiness Isn’t Out West
From where I sat at home during quarantine, I kept thinking that if I got myself to big mountains, I’d be happier. Well, I did that and found it was not the case. As it turns out, life continues with all of its challenges, even while out on the road. It’s not a five-day resort vacation where normal life pauses and everything is heavenly—it’s life. A four-month chunk of my 20s spent on the road.
Every few weeks, I found myself looking for apartments in some hip new city as if settling back down would bring me happiness. But as I wound my way through the states, I pinpointed that my happiness, ultimately, comes from quality time and connection with others. Happiness is relative to you and your mind, not where you are.
I have to work just as hard to stay mentally afloat while on the road as I do at home. Eating properly, stretching, journaling—these elements remain the same. The grass is always greener, especially with toxic social media in your face—you must choose to ignore it.
Outward Bound Mindset
Being an Outward Bound Instructor prepared me to tackle this long and varied expedition. On a course, when an unexpected challenge happens, there is no choice but to manage it and keep moving forward. It could be an equipment issue, untimely weather, or literally anything else. Course quality relies heavily on the Instructors, and the safety of the students depends on it. As Instructors, we must operate with self-reliance and grit (the same goes for our students!)
I found myself using these lessons over and over on this road trip. An unseasonable snowstorm, lost credit card and already-full campgrounds are just a few examples of unexpected challenges that I’ve faced this summer. Operating while far removed from your safe harbor is a transformative place to be.
I see this in my students constantly. And this summer, I’ve seen it in myself—in a new way.
Outward Bound’s values continue to guide me even though it’s been a year since I last worked with students. Every day I am mitigating risk, pursuing physical fitness and allowing for quiet reflection. This whirlwind life experience will make me a better Instructor the next time I’m on course, and for all that follows in the decades to come.
About the Author
Addie Hurwitz is a field Instructor for the North Carolina Outward Bound School, primarily out of Table Rock base camp. Addie has a degree in Recreation, Park, and Tourism Management from Penn State University. She loves working in experiential education and takes similar joy from studying its academic side. When not on a course, Addie is likely skiing or traveling.