I work for Northwest Outward Bound School (NWOBS) this summer, moving farther into an outdoor education career. Outward Bound employs Learning through the Experience, Challenge and Adventure, and Supportive Environments to teach positive student character, leadership skills, and develop students into engaged citizens. The NWOBS base on which I work lives out this mission through rock climbing, whitewater rafting, and mountaineering in central Oregon. On a recent training trip my Trainers challenged and wonderfully supported me; by pushing myself into all experiences available, I learned a lot.
I want to focus on challenge. The classroom of this training, rafting the Deschutes River, presented constant challenges. I had hardly any experience rafting, and the Deschutes River carries a volume 3-30x larger than the rivers on which I’ve previously worked. Both of these challenges were the foundation of my experience.
Secondly, I had many moments of profound fear, from which I highlight a few.
- I was challenged to paddle in a raft headed for waves big enough to swallow the whole raft. I yelled my fear at the rapid the whole time, but kept paddling as the raft’s captain requested. We were successful. I trusted my raft’s occupants enough to know that our teamwork could tackle the rapid, even though I was scared silly of the rapid itself.
- I was challenged to row a gear raft through two Class III rapids. I almost begged out of this experience. While I lost control of an oar each time, the raft went through each rapid safely. My Trainers were madly supportive before, through, and after each experience.
- I jumped from a 17-foot cliff into the river. From the cliff, the jump didn’t seem scary, and once I was in the water I felt comfortable. But as soon as I pushed off, my whole body reacted in fear at what I just did. Yet I jumped a second time (same reaction), encouraged both by supporting others and their support of me.
I leave the river having completed an expedition trip 3x as long as I’d previously experienced. I leave the training having found intense reward in challenging myself through extremely scary experiences. Sure, I still need to practice technical skills gained on this training. Sure, I’m still scared silly of swimming, flipping rafts, or captaining boats in Class III rapids. I’m sure I’ll be terrified the next rock jump I attempt. And though these experiences are terrifying, they’re not inherently unsafe. I hope to continue pushing myself and growing from these experiences. Would you?