In January of 1981, at the suggestion of my college friend Albert Borris, (author of the road trip novel “Crash Into Me”) with whose encouragement to stretch my comfort zones, then and to this day; I spent 10 days freezing my tush with a dozen or so equally intrepid/insane souls; depending on your perspective, engaged in a leadership and wilderness survival course called Outward Bound. I was in my senior year of college, which meant (from this now 51 year old perspective) that I was young and without much idea of what I was in for. Dare I say “young and foolish” ? It was likely where I began my “feel the fear and do it anyway.” mindset. I had the vision of moving to Vermont after graduation from the much more temperate Philadelphia regional climate in which I had spent the first 20 years of my life. As a result, I chose the course offered via Dartmouth that would allow me the opportunity to traipse along the part of the Appalachian Trail that wends it way through New England. I figured if I could survive outside in the winter in those climes (and climbs), I could survive inside.
So after 6 months or so of training in preparation, off I went, assuring my parents that I would arrive alive afterward. Surrounded by some of the most exquisite natural wonders, high in the mountains, beyond brrrr temps, in the company of people ranging from an uber-confident 18 or 19 year old young man, to a seasoned 50-something adventurer, from a homemaker and if memory serves, a veterinarian, I lived in a blended sense of abject terror, sheer delight and the ever present question… “What the heck did I get myself into?”
Although there were many challenges and rewards in that period of living with a group of ‘strangers turned family of choice’, un-showered, carrying heavy backpacks, sleeping in tents in the 40 below temps, warming our freezing feet on each others’ bellies, fantasizing about what we would do when we got back to ‘civilization’ (one person wanted to have a Twinkie party, which we indulged in with decadent delight), there is one thing that stands out for me more than anything. It was uttered by one of the instructors. This young man, not much older than I was at the time, shared infinite wisdom. He said words to the effect of : “If something isn’t the way you want it to be, make a positive change. If your socks are wet, change them. If you are cold, put on another layer of clothes. If you are hot, take off a layer. If you are hungry, eat. If you are tired, rest. Don’t complain about it”. Simple as that.
After 10 days, a broken pinkie, frostbite on my fingertips, and bronchitis, I emerged triumphant, took the equivalent of two showers and enjoyed a few Twinkies. I never moved to New England and I have a photo that my friend Bryan Effron took when I got home that reminds me of that moment in time. I am sitting perched on a stool in 3/4 profile, hair streaming down my back, gazing, as if into my future, with an Outward Bound poster in the background. That 20-something knew stuff that this 51 year old profusely thanks her for. The courage that it took for her to dive deeply into her own wildness/wilderness, face her fears, take on the ‘tundra’ and carry across time and space that message, is priceless.