Have you ever rinsed your bowl after a meal of mac and cheese, then drank the rinse water to avoid spreading micro-trash on the alpine tundra?
How about digging a hole in the forest floor for your bathroom (after counting your steps from the nearest water source), then wiping with a rock, sticks, or a snowball (cold, but clean!) to minimize your impact on the environment?
Or maybe rigged a heavy duty tarp into your only shelter for three weeks, because tarps last longer, are lighter, and more reparable than tents, and therefore save resources?
These things aren’t afterthoughts at Outward Bound. This is daily life on an Outward Bound course. These, and many other daily rituals, become as much a part of the experience of a course as a rappel into a pot-hole in a Utah canyon, or gasping for breath in the thin air of a 14,000 foot peak in Colorado.
When I think about Earth Day, I think about celebrating our amazing planet, and giving back to Mother Earth. At Outward Bound, that celebration might be sharing a sunrise with your crew from the top of a peak, or learning about how all Aspen trees in a grove are connected by their roots and form one of the largest living organisms on Earth. Perhaps you might celebrate by watching a herd of Bighorn Sheep grazing in the alpine meadow where you camp, or, like Major Dan in the movie Forest Gump, shouting “Bring it on!” to an oncoming storm.
Service, to yourself, your crew, and the planet is one of the central outcomes of an Outward Bound course. This might take the form of removing an illegal fire ring from a pristine campsite, or “sweeping” your camp for micro-trash and fluffing up the grass before hiking away, so that nobody would ever know that 10 people camped there the night before. Many courses also include a dedicated day of service, where you might help to divert water off a trail and harden it with rocks to prevent topsoil erosion, or help re-vegetate a stream bank damaged by cattle grazing. By giving back during course, I believe each Outward Bound course leaves the environment a little better than we found it.
Of course, we also have our impacts. Flying and driving to course start, the food that must be grown to feed us during course, the campstove fuel that provides a hot evening meal. While we continuously strive to minimize these impacts, we must accept that, like in our “normal” lives, we play a role in our environment. The important question to me is: Why should I reduce my impact?
For me, I find the answer each time I’m in the field on a course. The beauty of the wilderness – sure. The amazing wildlife – of course. But to really answer the question of why I should care, I look to my crew. The students, and fellow instructors that I’m with- deserve to be able to have this same experience for many years in the future. And the people that they, in turn, might introduce to the wild deserve to see it in all the majesty that I have been fortunate to experience.
There are so many ways we can all help our planet. Saving water, buying food from local farmers, buying less stuff, biking or walking instead of driving, turning off the TV, reusing bags and water bottles, and on and on. Knowing what we can do is half the answer. Having a reason to do it – that’s why I work for Outward Bound.
Blog Contributor: Rohan Roy
Rohan Roy has worked for Outward Bound in Colorado for 10 years, as an instructor, course director, and is currently the Staffing Director for OB in Colorado. He grew up in a house where such things as riding a bicycle-powered water pump in order to take a shower and waiting for the sun to hit the solar panels before running the washing machine were the norm. But he believes that the most important thing he can do is find a beautiful place, and share it with others.
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