Outward Bound Student Interview: Memekas Boyland
“It started raining the moment we showed up, and it literally rained every day for the whole course!” While it may sound less than pleasant, Memekas Boyland (pronounced muh-MAY-kahs) has nothing but fond memories as she remembers her Outward Bound course. In 2013, when Memekas was 14, she attended a 14-day backpacking and rock climbing course with the North Carolina Outward Bound School. Having grown up in North Carolina, she knew the annual rainfall of the region was just short of being classified as a temperate rainforest, but she didn’t expect an experience like this. “We put on our rain gear before we got out of the van at the trailhead, and pretty much wore it for the rest of the trip. We looked like crew from the Deadliest Catch!”
If there was one word to describe her group, it was a crew. “Even though we were backpacking and climbing, our course had a sailing theme. Every day we learned more about ‘running the ship’ as crew, not passengers, so by the end we were able to ‘set sail’ and run the days on our own.” The sailing theme springs from Outward Bound’s roots as a training program for sailors in the Merchant Marines, and despite the difference in environments, the idea of having to work as part of a crew to get things done is something all Outward Bound courses have in common.
Why Outward Bound?
Memekas, whose name means “Butterfly” in the Lenape (Native American) language, was ready to grow, but she didn’t know what to do to make that happen. In the summer before her freshman year of high school, her mother and her mother’s partner inspired her to look into Outward Bound. She tells us, “My mother was working in the office for North Carolina Outward Bound, and every day she came home with stories about another person’s life that was changed through an Outward Bound course.” Her mother’s partner had been an Instructor with Outward Bound in the past, and he often told stories from his time in the field. “I wanted an experience like that,” Memekas says of hearing about others’ experiences.
When she registered for her Outward Bound course, she was excited and nervous at the same time. “I was nervous about how much weight I would be carrying. And later, I found out I was the youngest person in my group, going into my freshman year of high school. Most of the others were going into their junior year! It made me nervous that I wouldn’t be able to keep up.” But Memekas fought back her fears, because as she said, “I was excited to become stronger and learn new skills.”
So why did Memekas choose Outward Bound over another outdoor program? “I saw a lot of people come out of Outward Bound with positive experiences and personal growth. I talked to people who had done Outward Bound and other programs, and they said at Outward Bound you learn the practical skills like tying knots, but also the soft skills like how to communicate in a group and how to set the day up for success.” This is what Memekas wanted from a course. “I wanted to have tools for my future self, to help me in my everyday life.”
We are Crew, Not Passengers
Memekas found the skills and tools she was looking for. “I learned technical skills like how to tie a taut-line hitch, how to pack a backpack, and how to belay another climber. I still use some of the technical skills I learned; however, the most useful by far are the interpersonal skills.” Memekas says she learned how to communicate within a group so that everyone is included and supportive of each other. “These interpersonal skills have helped me when living with other housemates, and when differences of opinion come up I know how to communicate in a respectful manner.” Inspired by her time at Outward Bound, Memekas attended a semester at the Outdoor Academy in Brevard, NC, while she was in high school. She tells us these skills were particularly useful there, as living at the semester school was similar to being on course with her crew 24 hours a day.
Memekas remembers the hard moments of her course with pride. “It had been raining literally since we got out of the van, and now it was day three. I had heard that day is the hardest, because you are sore from the first two days and haven’t had time to rest from all the elevation gain. All of us were soaked, and we were hiking up the back side of Pilot Mountain. I thought my shoulders were going to snap under the weight, and my feet were soggy from the very first puddle I stepped in. All I could do was focus on the trail and keep up with the rest. I felt a wave of hopelessness, like I was just a burden holding the group back and I was struggling by myself. Then I looked up, and I saw that my whole crew was struggling in the rain together, and I saw that my instructors were struggling in the rain too, and that was my defining moment! I realized it’s okay to be struggling, it’s okay to be tired. The important part is that you keep going and don’t give up. And I didn’t give up.” Through all that rain, the crew was able to keep their spirits up. “There was a guy in my crew who was always singing show tunes, especially from the musical Les Mis. He would start singing, and we would join in, and it helped us ignore the rain.” Learning that they could have fun and have a good attitude even when times were tough really stuck with the crew. “We were sitting in the dark, with rain pouring down on the Fourth of July, and we all just turned our headlamps on and starting singing the National Anthem!” Learning to count on the crew and to seek inside themselves for positivity were important lessons early in course, and by the end, the group navigated on their own back to base camp, singing all the while. Memekas recalls, “I think there’s even a video of all of us singing a Taylor Swift song!”
Of course, it didn’t rain for the WHOLE course; the persistent precipitation only served to make the moments of sunshine and clear skies more valuable. “The sun came out on our rock climbing days! I remember a day when we all hung out with each other in camp after climbing and it was warm and nice out. The hard times make good memories, but so do the fun times! That was the day we all knew we would keep in touch with each other; we really got along as a group.”
How it Changed Me
When we asked how her Outward Bound course had changed her, Memekas, now 18, smiled. “Before my course I was very shy, hiding behind my hair and never confident enough to speak up.” Now, Memekas is finishing up high school and getting ready to embark on a year of international travel. “To celebrate my graduation, my godmother and I are going to backpack through England for two weeks. From there, I am going to travel in Europe and South America.” Like her name foretold, Memekas went through a profound transformation, and it seems that her experience with Outward Bound was the catalyst that ignited her metamorphosis.“I have no doubt that Outward Bound is the event that set me on my path of travel. I am a different person than I would have been if I hadn’t gone on my course.”
About the Author
As a young girl growing up in Girl Scouts in northern Virginia, Lindsay always loved camping and other outdoor activities like rafting, horse packing and caving. It wasn’t until college, however, that she found out that a person could actually become a professional camper. This immediately became her life’s goal and she pursued it ferociously. After taking a 50-day Outdoor Leadership Course with the North Carolina Outward Bound School, Lindsay was hired there as an Assistant Instructor and the rest is history! She now has seven years with NCOBS under her belt, and has served the past two years as the Associate Program Director of the Table Rock base camp. She spends most of her time there course directing and visiting crews out in the Appalachian forests with her energetic puppy, Turbobiscuit.