Curious? Well, this is not a typical office job, and you won’t start the day to the sound of a blow dryer or beard trimmer. Instead of a 30 minute commute via car or public transit, simply tie up your hiking boots for a mere 30 second walk from your tent to morning meeting. The other good news is you can wear the same outfit every day with no judgments attached.
Expeditions can range from 7 to 50 days in length throughout Minnesota with a primary course location in the Boundary Waters Canoe Area (BWCA). However, trying to sum up a day in the life of an instructor is not easy because expeditionary travel yields numerous unknowns. The season, weather, wildlife, your co-instructor, and participants within the group will influence the variability of each trip. However, for a successful expedition, a solid structure is essential. Two instructors will work together to establish a shared vision and bring a solid “daily flow” to fruition. Here is a brief summary of a day on a summer course in the BWCA to paint a picture.
Morning in Camp: Rise with the Sun
Most instructors set their alarm between 4:30-6:30am. Waking up under the stars will reward your crew with paddling out at sunrise through calm morning waters, taking an afternoon dip at camp, eating dinner over a fire at sunset, and settling into sleeping bags before a “Boundary Waters bug hour” begins. The morning typically consists of a morning meeting, stretches, exercise, camp break down, breakfast, a relevant skill lesson, and a navigation briefing before travel.
Canoe Travel: Carry All that is Necessary
If you struggle with sitting in front of a computer all day, then you may find this part of the job most rewarding. Yet, it is important to maintain good physical condition, as travel throughout the Boundary Waters is no stroll through the park. You will paddle and portage with packs weighing up to 70lbs along numerous lakes and portages throughout the day. Some other factors that may challenge you could range from resolving group conflict during a thunderstorm to daydreaming about that chocolate milkshake you ate before course. Instructors teach a variety of hard and soft skills, while managing the physical health and morale of the group.
Evening in Camp: Create a Well-Oiled Machine
After a long day of travel, you will arrive at a new campsite each afternoon. Physical traveling will be replaced with creating a new home, refueling energy, and preparing for sleep. As an instructor, it is your responsibility to effectively hone your teaching skills to transfer knowledge to expedition members who may be struggling to acknowledge the woods is their new bathroom for the next three weeks. The evening consists of collecting firewood, managing personal hygiene, setting up camp, cooking dinner over a fire, and cleaning dishes. The night concludes with an evening meeting to reflect on the day, restore relationships, and plan for tomorrow.
In sum, this is an overview of the structure of a course, which is just one aspect to master with craft and excellence. You also wear the hat of an educator, counselor, wilderness first responder, and backcountry chef to name a few. Through these roles, you learn how to juggle different leadership styles and how to help others accomplish what they thought was out of reach.
But what also accompanies being an Outward Bound Instructor is a vulnerable heart with half to show sincere compassion towards others and the other half to laugh at your own foolishness. Your job is to guide a diverse group of individuals to accomplish personal and group goals while balancing structure, challenge, purpose, and connection. In the end, each expedition cannot be recreated and you, just like your participants, will recognize your own strengths and weaknesses and what lessons to take from the woods back into a world that is not so simplified.