I kept my journal with a flower from a mountain summit, a penny from a campsite, and the rock I pounded against a log during my solo to scare mice away from my food. All of these items were safely wrapped in a dirty liner sock that I decided sometime around Day Six caused me blisters.
When I got home, I put them in a shoebox in my bedroom closet, except for the liner sock, which my mother threw away. The journal is filled with the flowery writing of a fifteen-year-old, but the pages still contain a whiff of that sock, which, thanks to the direct link between the olfactory bulb and the memory-triggering amygdala, takes me right back to my days as an Outward Bound student.
I signed up for an Outward Bound course at the suggestion of my parents, and no one gave any hint of what I was getting myself into. It seemed like a logical step in the progression of family camping trips, Girl Scout camp, and longer canoe trips I’d grown to look forward to every summer.
By Day Six, my backpack carried a significant amount of rainwater in addition to the food and gear already loading it down. When I cried on the side of the trail next to my pack, my crewmate was angry. Angry because I’d lied and told her I was ok, my pack was fine, I didn’t need any help. Her anger poorly hid compassion that was real and needed.
I gave up the frying pan, natural history book, and wet tarp.
Now on the other side of the experience as an instructor for Voyageur Outward Bound School, I cry at every Outward Bound graduation ceremony. I don’t cry because my students’ trips are over, or because I have invested two or three or four weeks of my life into them, or because I miss my own course that gets farther and farther away each time I open the shoebox and let fresh air in. I cry because finding someone to help you will be more difficult than handing over a frying pan. I cry because what happens after will be both easier and more difficult because of Outward Bound – easier to believe in what you are capable of, easier to ask for help, and harder to settle for less than your best self. I cry because my job is to change the world, just as mine was changed somewhere in between mice, blisters, and mountain summits, and despite my tears, I would not hand these experiences over to anyone.