Outward Bound basecamps make every expedition possible. It’s the place where we organize expedition gear and food, select maps for routes, and it’s where we open and close most courses together. Throughout the summer, these basecamps around the country are usually bustling with students preparing for an adventure, going on a run or taking a dip. Meals are made and supplies are packed for expeditions underway. Crews greet each other and say goodbye. In 2020, the possibility of that summer scene was cut short in March due to the COVID-19 pandemic. But a few Outward Bound Instructors stayed on their basecamp to take care of these spaces during quarantine and had really unique experiences doing so.
The Melon Basecamp
Yoshie is an Instructor with the Outward Bound School in Big Bend, Texas—a rugged course area in the Chihuahuan desert of west Texas along the Rio Grande. As the pandemic descended in March, Yoshie found out what was going on through check-ins with a course supervisor. Once students departed, she was one of 10 Instructors to stay ‘on-base’ for the next several weeks. “I feel so lucky that I got to be down there. It was a huge gift for Outward Bound to say ‘it’s okay, here’s a place you can be,'” Yoshie said.
A little community formed at the Big Bend basecamp, fondly called ‘the Melon’ because it historically was the site of a melon farm, a compound in the midst of vast and silent desert wilderness. Just like on a course, the Instructors split up jobs like sanitizing and organizing food. One person would go into town each week to get groceries for everyone, and someone else was in charge of organizing fun events each week. Another person had a job of making poster boards announcing weekly events, which played a similar function to a group journal used on Outward Bound courses.
At the beginning of the quarantine, the group came up with a Quarantine Living Agreement which was inspired by the Group Living Agreements many Outward Bound crews make. It’s a type of contract for how to make living together a positive experience for everyone. Crews also often have a group meeting at least once a day. The crew at the Melon did that at noon each day when they decided on chores for the day and checked in for announcements.
The Big Bend Instructors filled their days inaugurating daily ab workouts and occasionally ventured from the basecamp on bike rides on the dusty desert roads. Staying close to home and avoiding adventure activities, Yoshie said that neighborhood biking through the blustery silence of dispersed west Texas ranches left a special impression rounding out the day.
The community of Instructors also engaged in a schedule of project work on the base, taking advantage of the unique opportunity. Yoshie said it felt good to have a sense of purpose, “like we were giving back to the base in some way.”
Yoshie said that her experience mirrored an expedition in so many ways—an intense challenge that led to real bonding. “Everything kept changing always,” she said. “The whole world around us, I didn’t know when it would settle. There was a foreboding feeling of that. But that community and place felt really consistent. It made me really grateful to be a part of the Outward Bound community. The Outward Bound community exists whether courses are happening or not.”
The Bean Basecamp
Morgan is an Instructor with the Outward Bound School in Maine, which runs sailing courses in Florida through the winter and various courses in the mountains and coast of Maine during the summer. Morgan was at sea off the Florida coast in March at the beginning of the pandemic and came ashore with her crew to a shifted landscape.
After she said goodbye to students, she was part of a team that packed up the basecamp in Florida and drove up the east coast to Maine. They quarantined at another basecamp in the mountains of Western Maine, affectionately called ‘the Bean’ after funder L.L. Bean.
When Instructors arrived at the Bean, other local Outward Bounders had left them gifts and a sign that said, ‘Welcome Home!’ While the Texas crew was completing a season of winter courses in the desert and stayed just long enough to close down the Texas base, the Maine Instructors were hoping to begin a summer season in the Maine mountains and coast and continued caretaking the basecamp through the summer.
Just like the Texas crew, the Maine crew settled into Outward Bound rhythms—they held a chore rotation, had morning meetings and completed service on base. “Each time the start dates for programming were moved back, it felt a little disheartening. We wanted to prepare the space for students,” Morgan said. It turned into an opportunity to give care and feel ownership toward a space that’s often a site of coming and going. “It always feels a little empty,” Morgan said, “but we’re really grateful to have each other.” The L.L. Bean Mountain Basecamp has a network of forest trails, a climbing wall and ropes course and campsites and cabins set back in the woods. Dreaming of future seasons, the Instructors painted, completed trail maintenance and built new bunk beds for staff cabins.
In May, the crew on base participated in a schoolwide ‘Run and Dip,’ a classic Outward Bound activity of going on a run and then jumping in the nearest body of water. Oftentimes during the summer, early morning shrieks of students are heard at the dip hole, plunging into the icy creek and refreshing at dawn. This year, the crew of Instructors ran the loop on base, and Instructors across the country shared photos of their own run and dip.
Like a crew on an Outward Bound course, Instructors eventually departed from their basecamps to diverse parts of the country, and they still share a tight bond built through a shared experience. The Texas Instructors have even continued their routine of a 15-minute group ab workout every other day!
About the Author
Nora Spicer has instructed backpacking and canoeing courses at the Hurricane Island Outward Bound School for five years. She has an MA in Environmental History from Harvard University and aims to bridge wilderness living and academic study through outdoor education. She is currently developing a curriculum for an expedition-based semester program traversing US-Mexico borders by human-powered travel, and is traveling for research on Borderlands education.
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