Wednesday, November 19, 2008

Open Mic Night

During our WFR section of course, we spent a lot of time on Table Rock Base camp. As a treat, we got to have a night of coffee and desserts. Not only were we expected to dress up from a pile of costume clothing, but people were encouraged to do any type of performance they wished or play one of the many games layed out for us. Some people sang, some people told jokes and some read poems. It was a really neat night that gave you a sense of community. It was also cool to see how many people in the group were so talented musically. I stuffed my face with sweets and coffee as the rest of the people took turns in the spotlight. I don't have any pictures of myself from this night, but here are some black and whites courtesy of my crew mate Mitch.

I am Weefur!

During the course, we spent 9 days of training to be Wilderness First Responders. Or as the wilderness folk call it "woofer". We learned everything from CPR to building traction splints for mid-femur fractures. Throughout the process we did a number of scenarios that were designed to help us refine our patient assessment skills and properly diagnose problems. Each scenario was intended to be as real as possible, so there was a lot of stage make-up involved. During the certification we had a couple night simulations, to test our skills in the dark. I was one of the lucky chosen patients for one night session. The "secret" plan was that I would trip and fall on our way to find the "patient", but then I would end up being the patient. During the day that day, they bloodied up my leg and wrapped a stick to my shin, to make it appear as though I had a fracture. What I didn't know, was that another member of my group had been pulled aside to "have a seizure". Needless to say, I thought the guy really was having a seizure and I couldn't even help because I had a full-leg splint on and was supposed to be acting really hurt. It was a really good way to help prepare us for what might happen in real life.

Anyways, one of my instructors was a guy from North Carolina that I could have sworn came straight from his surf board off the beaches of California or something. He commonly used the phrases "that's bomber" and "right on dude". But, he had also spent a lot of time in Spanish countries teaching WFR courses. He of course taught them in Spanish, but he would joke about how they would run around saying, "I am Weefur" in their Spanish accents. Every time you approach a patient you must tell them that you are a Wilderness First Responder and ask for their permission to treat them. So, it became a funny thing for us to do to pretend we were Spanish and tell our patients, "I am weefur". It sounds disrespectful, but it was done all in good fun.

And of course, at the end when we had all passed our exams we disclaimed in unison, "We are Weefur!"

Oh and just so you all know, I'm no doctor. I just know how to make patients more comfortable in the woods until further medical assistance can be gotten to. But, if you ever have a shoulder dislocation I can totally fix that for you.

Pee Rag

This is going to be a short one. There isn't much to say about a pee rag, but I thought I would share some insight about it because it's a good tool to have if you are in the woods for an extended period of time. So, what is this pee rag you ask? Well, it is simply a bandanna that you designate as your toilet paper for your "numero uno" bathroom duties. When I found out early on that the "group" toilet paper was only meant to be used for our number 2 bathroom duties, I was a little nervous. However, our instructors told us about using a bandanna as toilet paper. It sounds kind of gross and unsanitary, but it really was the best thing ever. We could wash it out every couple of days and it is a lot softer than the alternative of leaves. I highly recommend this method for anyone who plans on spending several days in the woods.

Just make sure you ALWAYS know which bandanna is for wiping!

Friday, November 14, 2008

Captain of the ship...or not

Five days out of the fifty were spent on the river learning how to read white water and operate rafts and canoes. We spent three days on the Nantahala River and two days on the Tuckaseegee River. The first day, we went rafting in an effort to get to know the white water and how it maneuvers you down the river. I had been rafting several times before and wasn't worried about this day at all. That is, until they told us we would be guiding the rafts after some practice with the strokes. I already knew the strokes, but I was definitely a little nervous guiding the raft as I would be responsible for any mishaps. Well, the first time in the driver's seat everything went really well. On our raft was myself, Brian and Katie(two of the people I got pretty close with over the course of the trip) and my two instructors. Everything had been going very smoothly the whole day. We had named our "ship" Cinnamon after it's red color and the general awesomeness of the people aboard it. We were making jokes and telling stories all day as we smoothly road the waves. Soon after we had stopped for lunch it was getting towards the end of the River where we would hit our most challenging rapids yet. We would only reach a class III, which I had done several times before. Despite my lack of enthusiasm to guide us down these rapids, my boat mates nominated me to be "captain". As we approached the more difficult rapids I was getting rather nervous. We hit a rock and bam, one of my instructors fell out. I was terrified. But, we kept on trucking. We quickly arrived at "Nantahala Falls" and even more quickly we arrived at a huge rock. Well, I proceeded to take complete cover and dove into the ship while completely abandoning my role. We managed to somehow make it down the falls without a spill, but I was rather embarrassed. I guess that is one of those moments where you just have to tell yourself, "live and learn".

The next four days, we spent in tandem canoes. This was a little bit frustrating for me as some of the strokes were difficult to learn. I was also placed with a partner one day that outweighed me by 80Lbs, which didn't make things any easier. Once I found the right partner and got more comfortable, I really enjoyed canoeing. It was definitely hard on my knees, but a great new challenge for me. On the last day we got to pick our partners. I was again with Katie and we of course named our boat. We had been told early on that "loose hips save ships". This was a motto to live by if you felt as though you were going to flip. Well, Katie and I were not the strongest paddling pair and so we followed this motto very strongly all day long. Therefore, we of course named our boat Shakira after the "hipy" singing artist. My strokes may not have looked pretty, but I was the only one who didn't fall into the water the entire 5 days!

Everything is better in the woods

And it took me only 8 days to figure this one out. Obviously the average person wouldn't for a second believe this to be true. How could sleeping on the ground be better than a bed? How could dehydrated food taste better than fresh food? You get the idea. Well, what I mean by this statement, "Everything is better in the woods", is that everything is more satisfying in the woods. When you are hiking all day and sometimes into the night, just laying down to finally sleep is about the best thing in the world. Despite the repetitive foods and limited menu, it somehow feels so much more satisfying and tastes so much better when you have just prepared a meal in the woods. Water is even more satisfying in the woods. When it started to get really cold outside, being able to crawl into a warm sleeping bag was such a reward. Even though it was under a tarp and on the ground. Getting up in the morning was somehow easier, because I knew my days were going to be full of awesome adventures and it felt so amazing to get up before the sunrise. It felt good to have already covered a few miles when the sun was coming out.

I don't really have any pictures to illustrate this blog, but I just wanted to share some insight into why I am now sold even moreso on the outdoors. And, maybe this blog wont make you understand it. Maybe you just have to go out there and experience it yourself.

Wednesday, November 12, 2008

Surprise Visitor

On day 2 of Immersion, the whole crew was just finishing up breakfast when someone said, "Hey is that a bear over there." To my complete surprise there was a real live bear in a meadow in the distance. One of my fears going into the course was bears, so I was of course quite intrigued. The bear looked quite peaceful and cute, until it showed up at our camp! Mostly, it seemed interested in smelling our packs. And then all of a sudden it ran off with one of my instructors packs. At this point we decided we definitely needed to get out of there sooner rather than later. As we continued to pack up camp, the bear showed up in a tree and tried to bully some of the other members of the group out of their food. He then showed up again at camp and stole a food bag. At that point, our food bags were extremely full so it was a pretty big deal that we might be losing an entire food bag. We finally managed to shew the bear away.

We then decided to send out a search party for the food bag and backpack. The pack wasn't far outside of camp, but we had to disperse quite far to retrieve the food bag. The bear had completely torn the food bag apart, but to our surprise he had only taken one snack bag out and left the rest. It was pretty amazing that we were even able to find the food bag, much less to find food in the bag. After we recovered everything, we decided to make our way to the first water source.
As we were learning about water filters and the system of cleaning the water for us to drink, we discovered that the bear had followed us! He continued to try to get close to us. Our instructors were a little nervous at this point and decided to get the bear spray ready. Of course, some of us thought it was really cool and were trying to snap pictures. We quickly got the water we would need for the day and hiked away in efforts to lose the bear. This time it worked.
The whole experience was really helpful for me. Even though the bear was relentless, the event really made me feel a lot better about bears. The bear didn't seem intimidating or aggressive at all the entire time. In general, he seemed totally uninterested in us as humans. It was just the experience I needed to feel a lot more comfortable in the woods.

On a side note: It was raining on and off that day, but the rain jackets they provided us with were really hot. In an effort to still stay dry, but not get too hot I chose to wear my jacket on my head and on top of my pack. Everyone in the group decided I looked just like a turtle. When I look at the picture now though, it appears as though I was creating some kind of hiding device from the bear. I also managed to fall straight backwards onto my pack when trying to get over a huge log. What a day!

Tuesday, November 11, 2008


The first part of the Outdoor Leader Course (to be referred to as OLC in future blogs) was an 8 day immersion. The goal of this part of the course was to teach us how a normal Outward Bound course operates for regular students. We spent the entire 8 days backpacking and learning about camp craft. By day 2 we were cooking for ourselves, setting up our own tarps, hanging the bear hang by ourselves and we had already started to navigate ourselves.
The first day was spent meeting our crew, crew #9, and our instructors and also learning how to pack our packs and take the appropriate things with us. This was the point at which we said good bye to our cell phones, wallets, i-pods and any food items we had brought. We then divided the food among our food groups that we had been split into. Once we were all packed we headed to our first campsite.

Throughout the 8 days, we did a lot of hiking. Some of it was rather mild and some of it was more challenging. We hit the peak of several mountains and did a number of grueling climbs. We were also introduced to a new term to me, "Bush Pushing". This is literally what it sounds like. You travel off-trail and push through the bushes. It is a much more challenging way of hiking, because you have to use navigational skills to figure out where to start and what route will be the best to travel on and then you have to use landmarks to distinguish where you are on the map. We got really familiar with our compasses at this point. One day, we were bush pushing up a huge mountain and we ended up not getting into camp until 10:30pm. It was a pretty rough day. I also managed to get a stick lodged into my eye during that day. By the end of the day, I was pretty fed up with hiking off-trail. However, it is an extremely rewarding experience when you reach your destination. We also did a day of blind folded hiking which was pretty funny.
We also did quite a bit of team bonding activities during these 8 days and had a lot of lessons on group dynamics and living in the wilderness. We had several river crossings, sometimes having to hike up our pants as far as we could. We even had a couple members fall in, which isn't always pleasant. Luckily, I was able to stay on my feet and not have any unexpected water incidents.

The first couple of days were probably the hardest because it rained. It's hard to feel positive about forcing yourself to be in the woods when it's pouring rain outside. But it was a great lesson about how despite the weather, you can still be outside and have fun. I also got sick during immersion, which was really tough for me. At one point, a couple members from my crew had to carry my pack. It was hard for me to admit that I needed so much help. Luckily it only lasted a couple of days and I was back to normal.
Immersion was a great way to start the trip and really got us acclimated to the environment and values of Outward Bound.

Monday, November 10, 2008

Back to reality/what did I learn?

It's a very strange feeling to come back from living out of a backpack in the woods for 50 days. All of the things that I have been doing for the past two months seem to no longer apply and that feels odd. It feels weird to be sleeping in a soft bed under a roof, to be using a porcelain structure as a means to go to the bathroom, to be changing into fresh clean clothes every day, to have clean hair, to not have to eat food off the ground when you drop it and mostly it feels weird to be able to escape from the outdoors. There was something very refreshing about the simplicity of it all and yet, I have a hard time explaining what exactly it all was. All of the luxuries that I thought I missed, really aren't that great. But, it's so hard to explain to people how 50 days can change a person.

So, in an effort to do so I will use someone else's words. On the last day of the course, one of the instructors read us this piece of literature. Take it for what it's worth. Many more blogs about my adventure are soon to come.

"People always talk about what you can't take home with you after a course. You can't take home the backpack, or at least it has no place in your daily life. You can't take home the rations, and if you did, your friends wouldn't eat them. You can't take home the mountains. We seem to have to get rid of all of our connections to this place and our experiences here. It's frustrating and can be depressing.

This essay is about what you can take home. What you can take home, and what, if you work at it, can be more important than any of those things you have to leave behind.

Let's look at what we've really been doing out here. We've been organized. We lived out of backpacks the whole time, and mostly we knew where everything was. We've been thorough: we counted every contour line on the map and put every little bit of trash in a bag. We've been prepared: at this moment, every one of us knows where his or her rain gear is. We've taken care of ourselves. We've been in touch with basic survival tasks. We've taken chances with other people, entrusted them with our lives and seen no reason not to grow close to them. We've persevered and put our minds to things that never seemed to end. We've learned to use new tools and new techniques. We've taken care of things we have with us. We've lived simply.

These are the things you can really take home. Together they comprise the set I call "mental hygiene," as if we needed to take care of our minds the way we take care of our bodies. Here they are again, one by one.

1.Organization: The mountains are harsh, so you need to be organized. But that other world is much more complex, and even harsher in ways that aren't always as tangible as cold, wind and rain. Being organized can help you weather storms.

2.Thoroughness: Here it is easy to see the consequences of leaving things only half done. That other world has so many interruptions, distractions and stimuli that it is easy to leave things half done, until you find yourself buried under a pile of on-going projects with no direction.

3.Preparedness: Out here you've only had to be prepared for every eventuality of weather; but in that other world you have to be prepared for every eventuality - period. There are no rules, shit happens, and only the prepared are not caught off balance.

4.Take care of yourself: and do it even more aggressively than you do it out here. The environmental hazards are even greater: crowding, noise, schedules. Take time to be alone and think. Never underestimate the healing power of being near beauty, be it a flower, music, a person, or just dinner well-prepared.

5.Stay in touch with basics: Continue to cook your own food and consciously select the place where you sleep at night. Take care of your own minor injuries and those of your friends. Learn about how the complex vehicles and tools you use work. The other world is far more distracting and seeks to draw you away from the basics.

6.Keep taking risks with people: Your own aliveness is measured by the aliveness of your relationships with others. There are so many more people to choose from in that other world, and yet somehow we get less close. Remember that the dangers are still present; any time you get in a car with someone you are entrusting that person with your life. Any reasons that seem to crop up not to get close, examine very carefully.

7.Remember you can let go and do without seemingly critical things: Here it has only been hot showers, forks and a roof overhead. But anything can be done without; Eventually for us all it is a person that we have to do without, and then especially it is important to remember that having to do without does not rule out joy.

8.Persevere at difficult things: It may not be as concrete as a mountain or as immediately rewarding as cinnamon rolls, but the world is given to those who persevere. Often you will receive no support for your perseverence because everyone else is too busy being confused.

9.Continue to use new tools and techniques: Whether it is a computer or an ice cream maker, you know now that simply because you haven't seen it before doesn't mean you can't soon be a pro. Remember that the only truly old people are the ones who have stopped learning.

10.Take care of things: In that other world it's easy to replace anything that wears out or breaks, and the seemingly endless supply suggests that individual objects have little value. Be what the philosopher Wendell Berry calls "a true materialist." Build things of quality, mend what you have and throw away as little as possible.

11.Live Simply: There is no substitute for sanity.

These eleven things are the skills you've really learned out here and they will serve you in good stead in any environment in the world. They are habits to live by. If anyone asks what your course was like, you can tell them. "We were organized, thorough and prepared. We took care of ourselves in basic ways. We entrusted people with our lives, learned to do without and persevered at difficult things. We learned to use new tools and we took care or what we had with us. We lived simply." And if they are perceptive, they will say, "you don't need the mountains to do that.""

-Morgan Hite (1989)

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