I’m delighted to introduce you to my friend and VOBS instructor extraordinaire, Rachel Hedlund. Rae-Rae, as she is affectionately known, has a super-infectious laugh, a surfer alter ego and is the only person I know who refers to Ruth Bader Ginsburg as “Notorious RBG.” I was lucky enough to spend 8 days in her company on course this fall (if you are a reader of this blog, you know Rae-Rae mommed me through the tough stuff). Rachel embodies Outward Bound values, and she has mad technical skills.
If you have a daughter, you want her to grow up to be like Rae-Rae.
She is a super-strong “womanimal” and a compassionate instructor who welcomes and serves her students with excellence, integrity and marvelous humility. Rae-Rae graciously took time away from her VOBS pack to answer a few of my questions about her work and life.
How long have you worked at VOBS?
I started here in the summer of 2014 as an assistant instructor, and stayed on year-round to work my first winter season, 2014-2015. It feels really good to be established here in the unbelievable community of Homeplace!
What do you do at VOBS?
I work as a lead instructor during the summer and winter seasons and occasionally the spring and fall. I instruct canoeing, backpacking and rock climbing courses and both Classic and Intercept, during the summer. Then I instruct our dog sledding and cross country skiing courses during the winter. I love both seasons and it’s been great to be a part of our spring Semester courses as well because they combine two very different seasons into one big crazy adventure of a course. I’m currently working as a dog trainer here at VOBS this fall, getting all of our sled dogs ready to run all winter long. If I’m not instructing, I’m likely working in the dog yard in some capacity, whether it’s training puppies or digging trenches as the snow melts in the spring.
How did you get here?
I first learned about VOBS when I was a senior in college, at Colorado College. There were a few connections between CC and VOBS, so a spring break trip was organized for a group of outdoor education students at CC. I was lucky enough to be a part of it, and it sure was a big adventure! We drove all the way up to Ely from Colorado to find even warmer weather than what we’d left in CO. We attempted a dog-sledding expedition for a day, but it was too hot for the dogs, so we came back and headed out on a skiing expedition. It was a wild ride! The ice was going out as we were on trail, and as luck would have it, we ended up going for a bit of a swim on Wind Bay. The experience was crazy, but it was incredible to see the skills this organization has in managing difficult safety scenarios. After leading a final solo-guided 50 day whitewater canoeing trip in the far Canadian Arctic for YMCA Camp Menogyn in 2013, I decided it was time to try something different and VOBS seemed like a great fit. And it still is!
Why am I still here?
Well, simply put, it’s a part of who I am. From the first time I picked up a paddle, I knew I was about to enter into a sick addiction with wilderness travel. I can’t imagine my life without wilderness expeditions—they are the very essence of my identity. And that’s why I’ve made it my career to help others figure out those incredible things about themselves, in the woods. Someone here at Outward Bound once told me that the point of an Outward Bound expedition is to teach you that you can do more than you think you can, and you need your group to help you realize that. The unexplainable beauty of how naturally this can occur in a wilderness setting is something I love deeply, and it’s why I do this work for a living. I can’t leave the north woods because it’s got an immense hold on my heart. I can’t leave Homeplace because I feel so connected to this unbelievable community. And I can’t leave Outward Bound because I feel so deeply that this work is making this whole entire world a better place. So I’ll keep doin’ it, until who knows? A part of my heart is always in the north woods and a part of me feels like I might be here for a really long time.
What do you do when you’re not at VOBS?
When I’m not at VOBS, I’m either pursuing some sort of big dumb adventure, or I’m spending time with my friends and family. I make sure to take time each year for a personal wilderness adventure, so this last summer I participated in the Yukon River Quest—a 455-mile race on the Yukon River. Five friends and I competed in the voyageur boat class and we killed it! We got first place in the women’s division, and 19th overall. It was a great adventure and I’m already plotting how to get back up to that part of Canada… That being said, I’m always trying to find time to spend with those who are important in my life. I travel lots in between courses to maintain those relationships. It’s hard when you’re in the woods 80% of the year, but thankfully my friends and family understand the importance of this work in my life and are happy to see me when I get away every couple of months.
Favorite season at Homeplace?
I can’t choose! I love winter and summer equally. You get great variety working both seasons. It’s awesome to work with mainly youth in the summer time, and then mainly adults in the wintertime. I honestly can’t say which I love more, but I do really enjoy the quiet of the winter. It’s refreshing to travel through the BWCA and see few people. I also really hate being cold, so it’s kind of absurd that I work here in the winter, but I do it because I love the challenge and figuring out how to make it work, even when my body is screaming, “Noooo!!” I love that part of winter!
Favorite course to lead?
Again, I can’t choose! I really love working Intercept because it’s such an incredible program. I love working with the families at the end and being able to see the seriously transferable elements from course to life at home. I also love working our Classic courses because that’s how I fell in love with the wilderness—by simply wanting to get out and explore the BWCA. I also think our connection with Summer Search is incredible and have so appreciated all of the students I’ve gotten to work with from that program. But, all of our winter programming is great, too! I have an appreciation for all of the College Outdoor Education courses because that’s how I found out about VOBS. I love our Veterans courses because it’s such a unique population, and I feel like I learn so much about myself and also about those who have served each time I work a course. And Adult courses are great too, because I get to meet really incredible individuals (like Marlais) who I wouldn’t otherwise necessarily get to paddle in a canoe with for a day I love it all, and I’ll work anything. I just love being on trail with anyone!
Favorite canoe stroke?
The J-Stroke! I love being in the stern. I was in the stern for the entirety of our Yukon race and it was awesome. Maybe it’s a control thing, but it seems to fill my power need.
Favorite lake? Rose?
You’re good, Marlais! Definitely Rose. It feels like home. Every time I see those bluffs on the Eastern side of the Boundary Waters I feel like a teenager all over again, falling in love with being on trail. I recently found this hilarious journal from when I was 14 and on my first canoe trip. I wrote something to the extent of, “Mom said you can’t fall in love when you’re a teenager, it’s only infatuation. But I know for a fact that I am truly and deeply in love with being on trail.” I’m a total dork! But that feeling still exists for me. And being on Rose reminds me of the very beginning of that feeling. It’s a damn good feeling.
Favorite exped food?
Chicken wild rice soup! Winter cooking is pretty awesome since we can bring lots of meat and frozen vegetables.
Insider tip for back country living?
I think the best tip I have for back country living has been finding ways to show my love to those in my life, even when I’m on trail all the time. I recently started bringing stamped envelopes on course, so I could send them out with my course directors from different checkpoints. This was a huge bonus for many in my life, including my mom! She loves being able to hear from me halfway through a trip. If I’m not able to send letters out, I spend time on trail writing to those people in my life or openly acknowledging them through evening appreciation circles. As much as I’m living in the moment out there, I’m also remembering all those incredible people in my world.
Best animal sighting on course?
I’ve seen a lynx a couple of times on the Granite River, over past Saganaga. That was awesome. Definitely never thought I’d cross that one off the bucket list, but it seems to live in that same location, right next to this set of rapids in this burn area. What a majestic creature that most of us don’t have the chance to see…
Who is your favorite dog and why?
Which Homeplace dog would you be?
These two questions are combined for me because they’re the same! My favorite dog in the yard is this adorable little Alaskan we got from Eric Simula, Mia. She’s about 8-years-old, not the brightest bulb in the yard, but a hard puller and incredibly affectionate. We have a special bond because we were both new to Outward Bound the same year, and she’s an Alaskan, which is the kind of dog I first fell in love with when I was running dogs for Menogyn. We both had to adjust to a new life and community. It was a bit bumpy at first, but now we’re both established and happily do our jobs each and every day. We’re working on some more leader training with her this fall, so we’re hoping to up her responsibility, which she’s definitely ready for. I feel like I’m in a similar position here at VOBS, so we’re basically leading parallel lives. I’m definitely planning on adopting her when the time comes, so that’s a pretty exciting thought.
A special thanks to my friend, Rachel (Rae-Rae) Hedlund, for taking time out of her busy dog running schedule to reflect on her work with me. Rae-Rae: Just like Mia, you are destined for greatness– and you bring a very special “spice” to VOBS!
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