Vacations, Part Two: Expanding Horizons
Northwest Outward Bound School
Right after high school, I had the opportunity to go to Outward Bound for the first women’s course ever held at the Northwest School in the Three Sisters region of Oregon. For me, it was the first chance to do the fun things the boys always seemed to do in Boy Scouts and in general. I think I was like a horse let loose to run to the barn!
We had a base camp that had a ‘three-holer’ (latrine) with the best view I’d ever seen from one. We set up tents and, since even that was a new experience for me, I was glad to have Jill as my tent-mate. She already knew what she was doing! While we were in base, we had ‘run and dip’ every morning and would stand out in the cold mountain air waiting for Beatrice to get dressed. She was a city girl from the Bronx and the only one who wore pajamas to bed. When she was finally ready, we ran a couple miles, jumped in an ice-cold creek and ran back. Then we’d have a full day of ropes courses and various initiative tests and exercises designed to build teamwork, trust, push limits and teach skills for climbing and surviving in the wilderness. In one of the tests, the four patrols competed to split a huge log twice, then carry it to a specified place. The second cut only split off a small piece, leaving Jill (see picture on the left) with a really heavy load, but she made it! On the right you can see ‘the wall’ but you may not be able to see the four people standing on a board on the other side pulling up the last two. The first few people were easy to boost over, but the end was a challenge and we felt really good when we figured out how to do it.
Our instructor, Leslie, told us we’d be in better shape to enjoy the rest of the course if we ran everywhere we went, so we did. Apparently we weren’t especially light on our feet, so they started to call us the “Thunder Patrol”. Our first overnight was a map and compass trip to a meadow eight miles away. Half the group went on the trail and the other half came back on it. We were supposed to have mac and cheese, but the macaroni dissolved in the can (who knew THAT could happen?) so we had a starchy past with cheese and peas in it. Awful as that may sound, there were no leftovers!
Our biggest excursion was about a week long backpack trip. We crossed lava fields (which make poor footing) and climbed Mt. Washington and the North Sister. The former was where we did our first rappel. There was a boy’s patrol just ahead of us and some of the boys were so scared that they climbed back up after they had gone over the edge. That meant it took them a long time to get down and we were waiting, besides which we got on the wrong side of the ridge for a while, so we ended up coming down well after dark – singing. We had a terrific group!
At the end of that trip, we had our Solo during which we were distributed along a creek to spend three days and four nights completely by ourselves. We had six matches, the clothes we could wear, a Sierra cup (metal cup that could be used over a fire) and, I think, a poncho. My biggest fear was not being able to start the fire and consequently freezing. I struck the first match and tried to light my little pile of twigs. It all went out. I gathered a MUCH BIGGER pile of twigs. Second match. It broke near the head! Oh, no! I lit the head, then the rest of the match and finally my twig pile. It worked! I had fire! What a relief! I was able to keep it going with more fuel and had plenty of wood for the night. It wasn’t easy to sleep with one side hot and one side cold, but the next day I found a way to make it worse. Sunburn! I lay out in the field and burned myself in the worst places. I had thought I’d have some profound revelation(s) during the solo experience and was a little disappointed that it didn’t happen. Leslie came around before the fourth night and asked if I wanted some soup. OF COURSE. The hardest part of solo for me wasn’t being cold or sunburned or hungry, but missing my friends and not being able to talk to them. I suppose that was my revelation.
For our Final Expedition, we were supposed to split the group in halves. Since there were eleven in our patrol instead of the usual ten, that wouldn’t exactly work, but the real problem was that we had bonded and didn’t want to be separated. We were from all across the country and knew we wouldn’t see each other much, so we wanted to spend our last few precious days together as a group. They finally yielded to our demands. We even did our Run and Dip after we returned to Base Camp when it wasn’t required. We stripped down and put our shirts on our heads for one last picture. Since we wore the same clothes all month, everyone knew who was who by the shirt. Sorry folks, I don’t have that photo!
The ‘featured image’ at the top of this post is of my NOBS friends, Jill and Mariel, who came to visit me in New Hampshire this year for the first time ever! I did see them a few years ago in Oregon and in 1971 when I went out to backpack in Washington state with another NOBS patrol-mate, Stephanie (next post). Other than that we’d mostly stayed in touch with Christmas cards. They remain very special friends!
Silver Nugget#1: Don’t underestimate the importance of the people in your life! Just having someone to talk to can be more important than food.
Silver Nugget#2: Be careful what you expose, even if you’re alone and even just to the sun. Ouch.
Silver Nugget#3: Stay in touch with special friends if you can. They’re a wonderful gift to yourself and they last many years.