We cleaned out our garage recently and I came across a 20 page, handwritten story I had written in the Fall of 1974 for my Senior Creative Writing class. This experience had such a profound effect on how my life has unfolded that I thought I’d share it, as written, with minimal editing.
Getting off the plane in Duluth, Minnesota after six hours of flying, I could immediately pick out everyone else who was there for Outward Bound. They all had on brand new work boots, work pants, T-shirts and all were lugging around some sort of stuffed duffle bag; just like what I was wearing or carrying.
I found my suitcase and fought my way through the tiny airport lobby, tripping over duffel bags and boots, and out onto the front lawn. There were about sixty kids, male and female, reclining on top of and beside their suitcases which were spread out all over the grass. A lot of them were trying to get some enjoyment out of what would be their last cigarette for 24 days. Tobacco, alcohol and drugs were strictly forbidden here. It was sort of comical, some were passing a cigarette around among five people like a joint. They would take a couple of puffs and let the smoke out slowly with a look of heaven in their eyes. Others drank deeply from their canteens, which I’m sure weren’t filled with water.
Looking around, I could see groups forming already. There were gatherings around the kids who talked loud, and around the ones with cigarettes and canteens. Others like me, just sat back and took it all in, thinking of my last days at home and wondering what the next 24 days would bring, and hoping I would survive.
As soon as the leaders were positive everyone was there we were all herded onto buses for another two hours of traveling to get somewhere north of Ely, Minnesota where we would be divided into groups and dropped off. It was about 85 degrees outside and the bus was so stuffy, it was hard to breath. Everyone was going through the usual talk with total strangers; name, age, home, etc. I found out I was about the farthest from home in Massachusetts.
We stopped finally at a picnic ground to get into our groups. My group of all young women was named ‘Kitchigami’, which is the Indian name for Lake Superior meaning “Friend to All”. I liked it. We were given a welcome speech by the director, Derek Pritchard. I didn’t pay much attention because I was too busy fighting off mosquitoes.
I met one of my instructors and my six ‘brigade’ mates who would be my constant companions for a month. Lynn, the instructor was built like a bull dog. Her legs were as muscular as a man’s and as hairy. Her voice was deep and her hair was sun-bleached blond, and her skin very tan. She gave me the first impression of a grown up tomboy. She was about 22 years old. There wasn’t much time to talk to anyone else, because as soon as we had put all our valuables in an envelope and labeled our suitcases, we we piled on the bus again to get to our dropoff point somewhere farther into the wilderness.
After what seemed like hours we were finally dropped off. The bus left and we waved good by to civilization. Piled in front of us were four canoes, five packs and Margie, the other instructor. In contrast to Lynn, Margie was as skinny as a stick and had no body fat at all. Her hair was frizzy blond, almost an afro, and her eyes were the most beautiful blue I had ever seen.
Before we could even talk to anyone, they were showing us the proper way to get a 90 lb. canoe on our shoulders so we could carry it; portaging they called it. We couldn’t believe they actually wanted a person to carry the thing. We were also shown how to carry the big, green, canvas packs that we filled with all our food, clothes and all other supplies and belongings.
Then Lynn said, “O.K. we have a ways to go before we get to our campsite, so decide who’s going to carry a canoe and who’s going to carry a pack.”
We all looked at her like she was crazy. We hadn’t even had time to rest from our long journeys and already we were working. Besides, who had ever heard of carrying a canoe? I always thought you were supposed to paddle it. But since there was no water in sight, the next best thing must be to carry it.
With a lot of help from a girl named Jane we got the canoe up on my shoulders. I could tell right away that I wasn’t going to like this situation. The canoe kept teetering forward and backward, and I went forward and backward trying to keep the damn thing on my shoulders. It was probably funny to any observer, Jane was laughing but I wasn’t.
I started walking, or rather I started staggering. After about two minutes I thought I was dying. The sweat was going out of every pore in my body and the mosquitoes who had joined me underneath the canoe were biting wherever they landed. It felt like all my vertebrae were crunching together from the weight of the canoe. I wanted so badly to stop and put the canoe down but I didn’t know how to get it back up, so I struggled onward.
I hear footsteps behind me and Lynn came jogging by me with a canoe on her shoulders. I almost dropped mine when I saw this. “Keep it up,” she yelled, “only a little ways to go.” She wasn’t even panting. I staggered on for what I was sure was 10 miles and came upon a stream twenty feet wide.
“What am I supposed to do now?” I asked a girl who was standing there with a pack.
“Lynn walked right through.”
“I’ll just try hopping from rock to rock.” I said, wondering how I was going to manage that while carrying a canoe.
“Good luck. I hope you don’t fall in.” said the girl. She was very encouraging.
“Well, maybe there’s a better way.”
“I think you’d better walk through,” she advised.
“What? And get my feet wet?” I surveyed the situation and decided that would be the fastest and safest way. I stepped into the water with my right foot. The water was cold, but actually sort of refreshing after the long day, which was getting longer with each step. I almost fell in, but made it to the other side and was safe. The campsite stood in front of me, and after yelling, got some help in removing the burden from my shoulders. I felt a hundred pounds lighter. I was.
When everyone finally arrived we were immediately assigned duties for fixing up the camp. We weren’t even given time to rest after our first traumatic experience. Another girl, Cathy, and I were told to set up the tents. They didn’t even tell us how to do it. Lynn just handed us two rolled up tents and told us to hurry because it looked like rain.
While we were fumbling around, trying to figure out which pole went where, which part of the tent was up and which was down, it started to rain. We put on the rain gear Margie and Lynn gave us. It then started to rain like I’d never seen it rain before. It came down literally in sheets and the raindrops hit with such force, it hurt. It thundered louder than I’d ever heard before and the lightening lit up the sky.
“Welcome to Outward Bound,” it said, “you’re in for quite a month.”
Even though I had been dead tired I still had trouble getting to sleep that first night. I wasn’t too used to sleeping on the ground, especially on an angle with a root sticking in my back. But I did sleep and I got up the next morning very stiff and sore. My neck hurt like hell and I found I had all the symptoms of ‘portage neck’, caused by the tendency of the canoe to rest on that bone at the base of the neck when portaging. Everyone else who had carried a canoe were suffering from the same ailments.
This was going to be a day of “learning” according to Lynn and Margie. We started out by learning how to ‘crash’. Meaning, when there is no trail to portage your canoes or hike, you make your own trail. It is called ‘crashing’ because that is what you do, crash through whatever is in front of you. I ended up with the canoe again, and oh my neck. We went crashing through trees and bushes that were very close together and anything else that happened to be straight ahead. The forest was very thick with lots of underbrush. Someone carrying a pack would lead someone with a canoe. You really had to have trust in the person who was leading, because being under a canoe made it pretty hard to see where you were going. I ended up stepping in holes and getting the canoe wedged between two trees on my way down. I wiped out once and almost did a few more times, slipping on logs and wet rocks. It took great skill, which we didn’t have, to make it through. I could hear thuds and screams ahead and behind me as another canoe hit the ground. The only good thing was that by concentrating so hard on the placement of your feet, you didn’t think about the shoulders and neck, and they didn’t hurt so much any more.
Slowly we broke our own trail to the lake. At the end of our trail we just wanted to chuck the canoes and lie down, but Lynn and Margie told us this wasn’t good for the canoes and they taught us the proper procedure for removing the canoe from our shoulders. The canoe carrier had to walk straight into the water, no matter how deep, so that when it was flipped over, the bottom of the canoe wouldn’t scrape the shore. The pack carrier had to walk in too to help remove the canoe and to get the pack into it. It was at about this time that I realized my feet were going to be wet quite a bit in the future. I don’t know how I even dreamed that with all the lakes in Minnesota I was going to somehow manage to keep my feet dry.
We paddled a little ways down the edge of the lake to a campsite with a fire grate. We stopped here to learn some of the basics of survival. Lynn really got into telling us how to treat cuts and burns and hypothermia, because she was a pre-med major.
It was here that we had our first introduction to what they called “food”. I was unlucky enough to be appointed chef for this meal and got a reputation immediately for being a bad cook. I tried making scrambled eggs out of a packet of dried eggs, which was a complete disaster. They looked, tasted and had the consistency of rubber. They even bounced. I was officially removed from the ranks of cooks and told to stick to putting up tents. Personally, I think they would have tasted like tires for anyone. We bounced the leftover eggs into a hole dug for garbage and sat around and talked to each other for the first time.
The girl I hit it off with right away was Jane. She was from Ann Arbor, Michigan. She didn’t care at all what others thought of her and she laughed at everything. This trait of hers eventually drove me crazy, but I liked it at the time.
Nancy was from Dubuque, Iowa. Her hair was short, curly and blond. My first impression of her was that she was, well….blond. She said and did really stupid things, because she didn’t know how to act around strangers, I found out later. But by the end of the month she was one of the nicest persons that I had ever met.
Cathy was short, fat and Jewish (which didn’t mean anything to me except she kept telling us). He father owned some grocery store chain in Illinois and sent her to a private school in New Jersey. She had traveled all over the world and she got anything she wanted. I think her parents had run out of summer camps and countries to send her to so they sent her to O.B. To her, O.B. was just another trip. Surprisingly enough, she didn’t act spoiled and she did her fair share of the work. She had her head on straight.
Andrea was overweight and wore glasses. Her family had sent her to O.B. as a graduation present. You could tell her mother’s opinions played a large role in her life. Her rhinestone glasses were ones which only an old fashioned mother could pick out and her mother expected the worst, from the clothes Andrea wore. She complained all the time and she was one person I never came to like.
Kris was from somewhere in southern Minnesota. She was very feminine and very religious. She always portaged in her bikini.
The last member of our group was Anne. She was very large boned, and clumsy. She expected everyone to help her because she was deaf in one ear. It sounded like her mother would never let her out of her sight. I’ll never figure out how she let Anne go to O.B. Anne used her hearing problem to her advantage, pretending not to hear something she didn’t want to or acting like she didn’t understand so she’d get out of work. We caught on pretty fast. After it was all over I had a lot of respect for Anne, to come away from such a protected life and go through everything she went through. When we made her do something, she would always do her best to please. She grew up a lot during our course.
Our two instructors were rather unique too. Lynn was from Rochester, Minnesota. She had just graduated from St. Olaf’s College where she had majored in pre-med and wanted to go on to be a doctor. She had a very competitive attitude because all her life she had been in competitive sports, mainly swimming. Right now she was into running and was planning on running the Boston Marathon. She expected no less than the best from everyone. Her whole life was Outward Bound and she put everything into it.
Margie was the assistant instructor for us as her summer job. She wasn’t as serious as Lynn. She was an English teach at Phillips Andover Academy in Massachusetts. She had taught map and compass reading in the state forest behind my house (I live in Massachusetts) so it was a small world. She was married to a really nice looking boy’s instructor. Margie cracked me up because she was always correcting our English.
And I had come to Outward Bound all the way from Massachusetts on a scholarship from General Mills, my Dad’s employer. I was 17 and in between my Junior and Senior year of high school. I was athletic and strong, though shy and tended to always do my best.
Lynn told us we had talked enough for the day and to get into our bathing suits for preliminary swim tests. We had to swim out about 50 yds and back to prove we could stay above water. Then we learned how to rescue swamped canoes. We had great fun tipping over the canoes and rescuing them.
When we changed back we were each given a map of the Boundary Waters Canoe Area (BWCA) and the Quetico National Park. It was called the Boundary Waters because we were right on the boundary between the U.S. and Canada. We were also given three compasses to share among us. We were shown how to set bearings with the map. We all assumed that now we wouldn’t get lost. HA!!
At about 1:00 we packed up, got in our canoes and practiced how to paddle a canoe with all the different paddle strokes. We were also shown how to dip the whole paddle straight down into the clear water and let it come back up, lift it to the sky, put your mouth against the handle and drink the water that drained down. That was how we stayed hydrated during the whole trip. We canoed until dark when we set up camp on a tiny little island. There was barely enough room for our three tents and a fire. We ate and went to bed. It was quite a productive day.
3. Swamp and Bog Experience
The third day we all looked at our maps for the plotted course for the day. I mentioned that it didn’t look like we had far to go. There were only a couple of portages and what looked like a stream according to the narrow black line on the map. Margie and Lynn laughed at my remark. I didn’t know why.
A while later I knew why they laughed. We came to a place, where according to the map, a stream should have been. It wasn’t there. We could see the other lake abut a half a mile away. But what separated the two lakes was not a stream, it was a swamp. The weather had been so dry that the stream had dried up. It was now all mud.
Jane and I were in the first canoe so we tried to paddle through. It was impossible, the mud was too thick. We sat there for a while trying to put off the inevitable a little longer. We were going to have to get out into all that mud, and push or pull that canoe through. I couldn’t bear the thought of it and judging from the muttered obscenities and expressions of everyone else, they couldn’t either.
“Jane, I think it’s the only way.”
“Shit,” she replied and started laughing. I didn’t find the situation amusing.
“I will if you will.”
We stepped into the mud trying to find footing on logs and branches. We sunk in up to our knees.
“Take the rope on the front and try pulling. I’ll push.”
“OK, on the count of three. 1…2…3…push.”
The canoe went forward a few feet and I went down a few feet. I was up to my waist in mud.”
“Hey Jane, uh, ya wanna wait a sec please. I’m kinda stuck.”
Of course Jane started laughing. By using the canoe to lean on I pulled myself out of the mud that was sucking me up like quicksand. After several tries we perfected a way of moving the canoe. Jane would walk on the bent over weeds that lined the dried up stream, pulling, while I would hop from log to log pushing. Several times I missed and ended up in the mud past my waist. Jane slipped a few times too. We were getting really frustrated because we were working so hard and getting nowhere. We swore our heads off (because we had never been allowed to swear before and that was really fun) until Jane started laughing again. I joined in because it was the only way to keep from crying.
Kris, Andrea and their canoe were behind us followed by Cathy, Nancy and Anne. Cathy and Nancy were yelling at Anne to help. We looked and saw Anne trying to walk over the weeds around the edge, not helping Cathy and Nancy at all with the canoe. Because they had three people in their canoe, they had two packs while everyone else had one, so their canoe was about 6 inches lower in the mud.
“Anne would you please help us?” Nancy pleaded.
“”I’m afraid I’ll get my hearing aid wet.” Anne whined back.
The canoe wouldn’t move and Cathy and Nancy were getting really upset.
“GODDAMNIT,” followed by the sound of a splat and then crying came from Nancy. She was laying in the mud and was completely covered. She was fuming. Between chokes of crying and spitting mud, she yelled,”Anne, get the hell over here right now and help us move this canoe or I’ll personally stick your head in the mud.”
“But my hearing aid…..”
“I don’t give a damn about your hearing aid right now, I just want to get out of this Goddamned mud.” She yelled it so loud and with such meaning that Anne had no trouble understanding her. She struggled over.
Meanwhile, Andrea and Kris were really struggling with their canoe. Or rather Kris was struggling with their canoe. Andrea wasn’t being much of a help. She was stepping gingerly from log to log, leaning on the canoe for support while Kris was trying to push it. Her shoes were barely dirty while the rest of us had mud up to our waists.
“Will you just get in, you’re gonna have to get dirty one of these days and we’ll get out of here sooner if you do,” Kris kindly suggested.
“But these are my only pants.” Andrea complained.
“I don’t exactly have a large wardrobe either.”
Andrea hopped in. We forged on for about two hours and got only about two thirds of the way through. The lake was still in the distance. Everyone was getting really frustrated and on the verge of tears. Then everyone started laughing all at once at the sheer stupidity of what we were doing. Who would have believed a week ago that we’d be standing out in the middle of the nowhere in mud up to our waists. It was kind of funny if you could get your mind off the mud going down your socks along with the leeches and all the other little creatures that dwell in swamps. Our laughter broke the tension and from there on we told jokes and sang and laughed and until we made it to the lake.
We got to the lake about an hour later. We jumped in, in a vain attempt to get the mud off our bodies. It was a well-deserved bath. And I never said, “that looks easy” again.
The following day we hopped into our damp, mud encrusted clothes for a long day of traveling. We had a lot of canoeing and portaging to do this day, so we started out as soon as the sun rose. The portages weren’t that bad. What had seemed like miles the first few days were like nothing today. Our problem was trying to find the right way with our maps and compasses without getting lost. We hadn’t quite gotten the the knack yet for how use this valuable equipment and we ended up going the wrong way a lot of the time. We hadn’t learned to match the contours of the map with the contours of the land and the lakes. There were so many weird shaped lakes in Northern Minnesota that we were confused a lot of the time.
Margie and Lynn were not much of a help, at the same time as being a lot of help. They stayed behind us and would never say a word. They never once told us (with their words) when we made a wrong turn, but we could always tell by their actions. They would stop paddling if we went the wrong way. Margie would pull out her fishing rod and start fishing even thought she had no bait on the hook, while Lynn would lie across her seat to sunbathe. So whenever we weren’t sure where we were going we’d just look back to see what our leaders were doing.
About noon we pulled over to some inviting looking woods to learn about ‘Orienteering’. That is to find your way through the forest to a certain point using only a map and compass. We were going to some tiny lake way back in the woods so we set a compass bearing to this lake. A red bandana was tied to the end of a stick which was sent up ahead with Cathy carrying it up in the air. Kris was watching the compass. She also watched where the bandana was and directed Cathy in the direction the needle on the compass was pointing. When Cathy got almost out of sight, she’d be told to stop and we’d all go running up to where she was standing. They both got tired of their jobs and we switched off. I ended up with the stick for the rest of the time. In this job the stick carrier had to keep going straight no matter what was blocking the way; trees, bushes or water.
After about an hour and a half of this we found the lake. We were very proud of ourselves and we could tell that Margie and Lynn were too. We celebrated by eating granola and dates. We went back to where we had hidden our canoes and paddled off.
We paddled all the rest of the afternoon and were getting fairly tired. We got lost and ended up having to portage 280 rods to the lake we were headed to instead of 10 rods. (portages are measured in rods- 16.5 feet to a rod). We all got sort of mad at this. Jane didn’t even laugh. It was evening. It had been a long day, we were all dead tired and were looking forward to dinner and a nice warm, comfortable sleeping bag.
I was in the canoe with Cathy. She looked really tired. I was too but didn’t want to make her carry the canoe for this extra surprise distance, so I offered to do it. She gladly allowed me this honor.
The mosquitoes were unbelievable at this time of the day so I first had to get prepared for my journey. I put on my long sleeved work shirt and rubbed Cutters bug repellent all over my hands, neck and face. After pulling my hat down over my ears and forehead, I was ready, more or less. We got the canoe up on my shoulders and God did it feel terrible. It felt heavier than usual and I was sure my back was going to break. I felt a bad case of portage neck coming on. The canoe swayed back and forth as it got balanced on my shoulders. I did my best to get psyched for this portage that was almost a mile long.
I went forward with the thought in my head that I wasn’t going to rest once. I was going to make it the whole way without taking that canoe off my back once if it killed me. After a few hundred yards I thought I was going to die first. It felt like my backbone was bending from the weight. With me under the canoe were about 5000 mosquitoes and my Dr. Cutters did not seem to be working. My whole body was being bit, especially my arms and back and I was going crazy. It was pretty difficult to slap your back while balancing a 90 lb. canoe with one hand. My whole body was soaked in sweat. To say the least, I was rather uncomfortable.
I thought that maybe if I swore at them it would help. Maybe I thought they would be offended by my coarse language and leave. No such luck. Those little buggers just kept feasting, my back kept breaking and the sweat was running down into my eyes. I tried singing and thinking of better days as I trudged along. There was the sound of footsteps behind me.
“Hey Deb, what’s happening?” It was Jane.
“Oh nothing. Except that these mosquitoes are driving me crazy.”
“I’ll get them off.” She wiped 5 million mosquitoes off of my back and arms.”
“I’m forever indebted Jane.”
“Forget it. Do you want me to take that canoe for a while?”
“No, I’m gonna take it the whole way.”
“Wanna rest for a while?”
“No, just keep talking, it helps me forget my troubles.”
So Jane and I forged on. We talked a lot and it kept my mind off my sore body. After what seemed like a century and 50 miles,”I see the lake.”
Somehow we made it the last 200 yds. I almost fell into the lake as I staggered in to get rid of the canoe. Jane came in after me to help me to get it off my back. I was totally exhausted but extremely proud of myself. Four days ago I didn’t even know what portaging was and now I had just portaged almost a mile. We rested a while than went back along the trail to help everyone else who needed it. Everyone made it but before we could rest had to paddle over to an island across the lake where we could see Margie and Lynn setting up camp. They had passed us along the trail about an hour before.
We beached the canoes and hurried as fast as our tired bodies would move to set up camp because darkness was upon us. Cathy and I set up the tents, hung up all our wet clothes and rested. We had dinner of some dehydrated crap that actually didn’t last that bad. We were probably just too hungry and tired to notice if it wasn’t any good. We had another first aid session by campfire light. Everyone was ready to climb into their tents and pass out when we hear Lynn yell,”Come down to the beach and see this!” Someone else said,”Oh wow!” I forsook my warm, comfortable sleeping bag for my curiosity.
I fell down to the beach and looked up at the sky. White lights were shooting across the sky, like paint being splashed. A small spot of light would streak across the heavens, blotting out the starts and lighting up the earth. It was other worldly and so beautiful. It was the most fantastic thing I had ever seen. We all just stood on the beach in silence, and awe, staring at the Northern lights. Looking up at the sky, we realized how small and insignificant we really are in this spectacular universe. Could all this just happen or was there really a God behind it all? Even though we were dead tired, we lay on the beach, staring at the sky for a couple of hours.
We talked about these things for a while longer and finally crawled into our sleeping bags. Tomorrow was too close and even miracles like that couldn’t keep our eyes open any longer.
5 Map and Compass
We pulled our sore bodies out of the tents early the next morning. I was not looking forward to this day at all. We were going to put our supreme knowledge of the way of the map and compass into use this day. We broke camp, packed everything away and canoed across the lake to find the portage trail. We portaged about 180 rods, which is not the best thing to do right after breakfast, especially since we hadn’t even recovered from the night before yet. At the end of the trail there was no lake. It was a road. We piled our canoes and packs on the side of the road to be picked up.
We filled two little packs with a sleeping bag, first aid kit, rain gear, food and three canteens filled with water. These were our ‘ready packs’ in case of emergency. Lynn handed out topographic maps and three compasses. She showed us a lake we were to go to first, and then where the Outward Bound “Home place” was on the map. She made sure our compass bearing to the lake was correct, then she and Margie waved and said,”See ya at “Home Place” tonight.
We were alone. Lynn and Margie had never actually been with us when we were canoeing around, but they were always within yelling distance if we needed help. Now we were going through about 10 miles of thick, unpopulated forest with noone for help but ourselves. Trying to cover up our apprehension, we started off at a brisk, enthusiastic pace ready to test the skills we had learned the day before.
Jane went ahead plowing through the various obstacles of forest life with the stick and bandana while the rest of us followed behind. Cathy and I worked the compasses, while Anne and Kris carried the two packs, which were fairly heavy. Nancy and Andrea walked along behind.
We were making good time. We kept switching off our positions and packs, and finally I ended up as trail blazer with the stick. I stayed there for a long time and didn’t mind it because up there I was more alone than I had been in the last 5 days, and needed this time to think over the events of those days.
We kept plowing forward and forward and forward. The map being used was topographic, so from it we were supposed to be able to tell where there were hills and marshes to make sure we were pointed the right way. But we had a hard time figuring out distances we were walking and the heights of the hills according to the map, so it didn’t help us much. We just tried to stay on course using the compass and bandana laden stick. We plowed on for ages through trees, bushes, marshes, up and down hills. Sometime the foliage was so thick I could only go a few feet with the stick before I was out of sight. The bugs and gnats and black flies were so thick it was sometime hard to see through them.
Everyone was getting hot and tired and hungry and crabby. The pace slowed down because people were being left behind. We took rest stops more frequently. We ran up every hill in the hope that the lake could be seen from the top. No luck. Finally after about four hours straight of walking, the lake, Little Gabro was sighted. We ran all the rest of the way and immediately sat down to eat lunch. We had peanut butter, cheese, salty crackers and dates. We were ravenous.
We hadn’t exactly hit the part of the lake we had been aiming for, but it was good enough. We ate slowly and sat around trying to put off as long as possible the fact that we were going to have to go off into that forest again.
“Let’s just sit here and have them send out a search party for us.”
“I’m thirsty, I shouldn’t have eaten all those crackers.”
“Sorry, can’t have any more water, we have to save it in case we get lost and have to spend the night in the forest.”
“We have to make it to prove to Lynn and Margie we can do it. I don’t think they believe we can.”
“My feet hurt.”
“We’d better go. The sooner we go, the sooner we get there.”
Slowly we packed up and started onward again with a new compass bearing pointing to Spruce Road next to the entrance of the “Home Place”. I was up in front with the stick again because I moved the fastest. The next six hours were the most frustrating of my life. Just had to keep going no matter what was in the way. The straight line designated by the compass took me through mud, over huge boulders, across streams, through marshes, over hills, through clouds of bugs. My eye was all swelled up from a bite and I had trouble seeing where I was going. My whole body was itching from all the mosquito bites from the day before. The foliage was so thick it was impossible to see further than 3 feet most of the time. When I made it through whichever obstacle was blocking my path, I then directed everyone else the easiest way to follow me.
The forest seemed never ending and we were all getting really tired. It had been a busy couple of days. There was constant complaining from some of the girls about how much their feet hurt or how the packs were hurting their backs. Kris announced that she was ready to quit and pitch a tent. We convinced her that we had to be almost there since the sun was sinking lower in the sky. Then Anne started crying. “We’ll never get out of here. We’re lost…” We convinced them both to keep going even though the rest of us were feeling about as hopeless. The road couldn’t be too far.
Again, we ran up the hills hoping to see the roads. And again the road was never there. Once I saw what looked like the road. We ran yelling and screaming only to find sand.
Sometimes I’d be plowing through thick branches and be blinded by tears of frustration. My arms were scratched and bleeding from branches and my face all puffy from bites and I began to believe we’d never get out, but I kept a positive front for the rest of the group.
We came to a large hill with no trees. I ran up it as usual finding some extra strength that had been hidden away, hoping it wouldn’t be wasted. At the top I thought I saw a road. Not wanting to say anything because of the disappointment caused the last time, I said nothing until I ran down to see for sure.
“The road!! The road!! We made it!!!!!”
Everyone came running down the hill laughing and shouting. Anne started crying she was so happy and to celebrate Kris broke out the water and we drank it like champagne. Looking down the road, we found we were only 100 yds. from the entrance to “Home Place”. We were so proud. So after ten hours of trekking through the woods we linked arms and danced down the road, forgetting our irritation at each other, towards our first shower and decent food in five days.
That was the end of the first five days of my Outward Bound trip. These days were called ‘Immersion’ which is a very appropriate title because within those days we were immersed in so many situations that we had never before come across, and ones we never would have believed. Within five days we had been snatched from a world of television, stereos and electric knife sharpeners into a world where we could drink the water from the lakes, watch a sunrise, sunset and the Northern Lights without having to pay for it and where we had to dig a hole and use leaves for toilet paper.
I shared with you only the first five days because they showed all the surprises we encountered and what we were called on to do while the thoughts of sleeping in a warm bed were still fresh in our memories; how we had to rely on resources we never knew we had; mentally, physically and emotionally. We had to call on the resources for the rest of the course too, sometimes more so, but by then we had come to sort of expect the surprises that jumped out at us. The first five days it was all brand new and a slap in the face. They were hard days also because we had to realize that each of us were not the only ones in the world, out here we needed each other to survive.
I could have told you about ‘Search and Rescue’ at 4:00 AM in the morning, where we had to comb the thick woods looking for a simulated lost person and then having to carry the person out of the woods two miles on a stretcher made of sticks and blankets. I could tell about the incredible ropes course with a high wire gong 70 feet in the air where the only way down was via a zip wire.
I could have written about our experience with whitewater canoeing, or canoeing across lakes against the wind and five foot waves. Or about the famous ‘Horse Portage’, a closed off portage trail a mile and a half long that they allow only Outward Bound students on- up and down hills, through swamps and over trees neck high cut down by beavers, and finally getting through being more mentally and physically drained than I had every been in my life.
I could have told about how difficult beavers made our lives. They chomped down trees across portage trails that fell neck high making it impossible to get a canoe over or under. They damned up the streams we were suppose to canoe down, so we ended up crashing. I could have written about my ‘solo’ – being alone on an island for three days and nights. Or about my favorite part, climbing the cliffs on the North Shore of Lake Superior, repelling down the 170 ft cliffs with the Great Lake bashing the rocks beneath us and then climbing back up. And getting up one day before dawn at the North Shore, and sitting on the cliffs to watch the sun rise over Lake Superior.
I could have written about more Orienteering and most of all about all the people I came in contact with. That would take a book in itself.
Outward Bound was not a glorified canoe trip. It was much more, something unexplainable in a few pages. So much was learned about myself, and others. In the wilderness everyone is equal no matter where they come from, what they’re wearing or what they look like. Why should it be any different in ‘civilization’? An important thing learned also is that everything is in the mind. If you really believe you can do it, you can do anything. There were many times during long portages or a never ending day, when I didn’t think I’d make it. But after my mind convinced my body it was possible, I usually made it to the goal. We were in some of the most beautiful area of the country and we never stopped long enough to enjoy the scenery. We must have been on a hundred out of the thousands of lakes in Minnesota and had time to swim 3 times and take two baths in 24 days. The leaders continuously put us in stressful situations so we had to reach for everything we had. For the rest of my life I’ll be glad I went on this trip.