Traditionally, when many people think of Outward Bound they think about scaling an 80 ft. rock cliff or paddling down whitewater in the rugged wilderness. And all of this is true. We do these things everyday. But have you considered the wilderness in your city? Yes, the city! Where skyscrapers stand tall and commuter buses buzz by at 5:00 pm… to us, this is also the perfect wilderness! Welcome to an Outward Bound Center.
The city can be a wild place – as foreign as being dropped into the middle of the Appalachian Mountains. Especially if you haven’t ventured out of your neighborhood in 17 years (this is common for our students in the Mid-Atlantic). We find challenge and adventure everyday in navigating our way on city streets.
Students explore the city wearing 35 lbs. backpacks. They learn to read a map, set up camp, navigate the streets, and work together. Our night can be underneath the stars in a nearby city park or within city buildings. And just like backpacking through traditional wilderness, we find interesting spaces to explore, encounter mental and physical challenge and learn from our crewmates.
Here’s a snapshot into a typical day: Students are given a set of clues that will lead them to a mystery location within the city (answer: city hall, but they don’t know that). They tap into the collective knowledge within the group and realize they need to ask someone on the street to find the answers. After politely approaching some folks near the bus stop, they have what they need. They collectively agree on which route to take and hike down the street. Once they get to city hall, they eat lunch and are presented with challenge #2, a service challenge: $40, 40 homeless men to feed, 3 hours. They need to create a menu, price items at Reading Terminal Market, decide how to spend their money, and divvy up responsibilities. Once they maneuver their way through the market, purchase their food and navigate their way to our sleep spot, they finally have to opportunity to get busy chopping and cooking. That evening they serve the men and both groups learn a little bit about the other.
And after 5 days of conquering the challenges of the city, our students walk away with a new sense of confidence, new appreciation for their crewmates, and ideas of how they can make their city a better place. All of this was found close to home, right out their front door in some of the wildest and most challenging places I have taken students – right here in the heart of Baltimore.
Blog Contributor: Gabe Eklund
Gabe Eklund works in the Mid-Atlantic as an instructor and course director. Growing up in Montana meant that the cities of Baltimore and Philadelphia were, in fact, wilderness when she arrived in 2006. She enjoys exploring new neighborhoods, as well as the opportunity to work in pristine wilderness out of Red Lodge, MT and Ely, MN.
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