Nine miles of sweat, grime, grit and finally, glory.
Outward Bound is hard – by design. But that doesn’t mean throwing students to the wolves and hoping for the best. A big part of course is learning to set goals and then working toward them. Grind through struggles, persist through the uncertainties, celebrate successes and occasionally wrestle through failures. Yes, failures are important. More important is what happens after failure. The act of getting up, brushing off the mud, swallowing some pride or re-inflating self-confidence and then taking the next step forward is critical. That is failing forward, and it is the place where resilience, grit and strength of character is made.
Setting and striving for small goals is part of the training at Outward Bound; training to be forward focused and growth oriented. Goals become measurable signs of progress through the daily grind of expedition. “Today I carried the canoe 10 rods. Tomorrow I will try to carry it 15 rods.” The pride and confidence that comes from reaching goals can be euphoric. Ultimately these small successes are the pathway to setting larger and more challenging goals.
On many college-aged courses, we build in one particularly bold and audacious goal. Welcome to The Grand Portage. It is both feared and revered. It is a source of trepidation and pride. “The Grand” is a historic nine-mile portage from the Pigeon River to the shores of Lake Superior. At the start of the 17th century, a small encampment at Grand Portage became a major center of the fur trade. This was the major canoe fur trade route as the Voyageurs left the Great Lakes and headed inland via smaller lakes and waterways. They returned each summer with canoes loaded with furs and beaver pelts to trade with the French. The place was so named because the route began with a huge 9-mile portage. A portage is a trail where canoes and equipment are carried over land between bodies of water. In the case of the Pigeon River, several dramatic waterfalls make the river unnavigable for the final leg to the big lake; hence the portage.
Today, this legendary route offers a culminating challenge to many Outward Bound students. How do we train for a big audacious goal? What will it take to succeed? To tackle The Grand, students must train both physically and mentally throughout their expedition. Every portage, big or small, is an opportunity to hone the teamwork and communication skills that will be needed for their final challenge. Clear communication and a practiced routine gets the boats efficiently unloaded, the canoe thrust on someone’s shoulders, and a pair headed down the trail as a well-oiled team; one with the boat, the other with a pack, switching off regularly between loads.
Strength of character, compassion, pursuit of excellence, physical fitness and resolve will all be tested.
For a well-honed and efficient expedition team, The Grand will require 18 miles of hiking with canoes and a multitude of packs, coupled with diligence, optimism and grit. For a group that is less fortunate, the grueling day may devolve into a 27-plus mile ordeal that finishes at dusk with exhaustion.
Plenty of students are struck with horror when they learn that they will be expected to complete a nine-mile portage with just three weeks of training under their belts. Their initial 80-rod portage (approximately ¼ mile) was likely riddled with pain in the shoulders, self-doubt and discomfort. The challenge may feel daunting and impossible. For other students, this is what they have come to Outward Bound for – to test themselves, their mettle and their resolve. They are hungry to prove themselves. It will take both kinds of students being proactive and exercising personal leadership to truly succeed as one united expedition team on The Grand. And when they do, they will know pride and success at a whole new level.
Are you ready to test yourself, your mettle and your resolve?
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