Saturday, November 27, 2010

Giving Thanks in the Galiuros

A long journal entry I wrote on trail about a memorable day during our last section at NOLS...

Thanksgiving usually calls to mind images of turkey and pumpkin pie, the whole family crowded into our toasty house: a warm and festive holiday of tradition. This was the first year I haven’t been with my family for Thanksgiving, and I was sad to miss my favorite holiday with my favorite people. Nevertheless this year’s Thanksgiving stands apart as one I will remember.
We entered the Galiuro Mountains on Wednesday, and for the first time we finally saw the beauty of changing leaves. We hiked through trees ablaze with the colors of autumn, every moment more gorgeous. It made me nostalgic to smell the scent of a Minnesota fall in the air, to hear the crunch of crisp scarlet leaves underfoot, but it’s hard to not feel wonderfully happy when you are outside in a wild place and the season’s colors hang like ornaments from the maples and sycamores all around you. I was captivated. It was glorious.
      We awoke Thanksgiving morning to a beautifully autumnal day, cool and fresh with a clear blue sky. We hiked a few miles upstream through the dry riverbed of Rattlesnake Canyon. After about four miles we came to a point where the canyon narrowed and the walls grew steeper, and we were faced with a pool of water several yards across and of indeterminate depth. It was possible to go up and around to avoid this particular pool, but we didn’t know if farther up the canyon we would meet a deeper or steeper or somehow impassable obstacle. Our maps offered us some information, where someone had written “chest deep pools of H2O” and indicated the two-mile stretch of canyon from here to our destination. We now faced the decision of continuing up the canyon, where we would likely find more pools of water, potentially that we could not cross (though we were skeptical that they would actually be chest deep, as up to this point there had been no water in the canyon), or turning around to circumnavigate the stretch of canyon by climbing up onto a mesa, gaining 1000 feet in half a mile and hiking an additional four miles. After a very labored process we put it to a vote and finally decided to try our luck with the canyon. The other hiking group chose to ascend the mesa. I voted for the canyon option because I figured it would be somewhat like the cool canyons we saw in the Gila, and less commonplace than hiking a trail: an adventure. (The fact that the mesa trail involved a nine-mile day with nearly 2000 feet in elevation gain may have influenced my decision, but I was excited about the canyon. I’m glad I was a proponent of our chosen route, otherwise I might have been silently cursing the others all day...)
      We were able to scramble across the side of the canyon and avoid the first pool. Next was a smaller pool of knee-deep water—cold, but not so bad. We hiked slowly but without any major difficulty, encountering a few more pools: only knee deep, starting to get uncomfortable at waist-deep, and then coming to a pool that was bordering dangerously on the verge of chest-deep. Holding our packs above our heads, we braved the sterilizing water as one by one we made it to the dry safety of the other shore.
It is in moments like these when you see a glimpse of a person’s true character. Who would dive to your rescue if you fell, and who would stand on shore and laugh? You either cry or laugh upon full submergence. You drag yourself across or you stand up to the challenge with a smile. Either way you’ve made it across, sure, but there’s a difference between reaching the shore still gallantly holding your pack in the air and turning up forlorn and frowning. Or, as fate may have it, turning up with your hair dripping.
      True to form, my clumsiness won out over my best attempts at coordination, and my hopeless gracelessness was revealed to all. When I was within feet of the promised land, I tripped on a rock hidden underwater and plunged face-first into the pool, dropping my pack—my glorious stockpile of the multitude of dry layers essential for staving off hypothermia. Luckily, a particularly selfless member of the group raced to save my pack, and by some great miracle all of my belongings managed to stay wondrously dry.
      At this point in the day, there was some sunlight still in the canyon, so my little swim was simply a matter of comic relief and not a cause for concern. So we tromped on up the canyon, our spirits still high as ever.
      Yet we had miserably miscalculated how long it would take us to traverse the canyon. By five o’clock we still hadn’t reached our destination, though we weren’t quite starting to panic. But the sun (and group morale) were quickly sinking. As the sun was setting we thought we were within reach of our camp so we pushed on despite the growing darkness. We came to another waist-deep pool after a long and deceptively reassuring stretch of dry canyon. Only a few more paces past what I was somehow certain had to be the final pool, we arrived upon yet another pool, and though we couldn’t be sure how deep it was, it looked deeper than any we’d passed thus far. Beyond the pool was a pour-off, another pool and pour-off beyond that, and—wait—another pour-off above that. It was at this point we faced reality. We set up camp on a small gravel bar that might comfortably have fit a twin-sized mattress, or, say, a hot tub, but was not exactly prime camping for our two tents. We quickly went to work boiling water for dinner and put hot water bottles inside our clothes to warm ourselves. When we all had dry clothes on (have you ever appreciated how truly wonderful dry clothes are??) we enjoyed a rehydrated Thanksgiving feast of mashed potato flakes, gravy powder, stuffing, and dried cranberries. It was warm and caloric and an immensely wonderful, if somewhat untraditional, Thanksgiving meal. We all said what we were grateful for, told stories, and enjoyed the company of a few kindred wandering spirits who are still searching.
      The next morning we rose early and frigidly. Overnight, not only did our wet clothes and boots freeze solid (to the extent that I had to pour boiling water into my boots just to make them malleable enough to fit my feet inside) but the edges of the pool developed a pretty layer of wintry ice. It seemed as if the season had changed again overnight, and winter was finally debuting its cruel and frosty face.  We packed up, and at last, reluctantly, stripped down to our skivvies to pass our ultimate obstacle. Our instructor went first, and finally it was revealed to us that the pool would be neck deep—on him. We plunged across, packs held with outstretched arms over our heads. To avoid the pour-off, we crossed a second, shallower pool that was covered with a brittle layer of ice. Another group mate carried both his and my packs across, which I was hopelessly grateful for, as the water was shockingly, arrestingly, bitingly, breathtakingly, and literally freezing (in addition to being over my head). Once across we put on dry clothes, but it was impossible to calm the screaming pain in our freezing and sodden feet. Frostbite, hypothermia, and trench foot all seemed within the realm of possibility.
      But the worst was behind us and as soon as we started hiking, warmth and hope flooded back into my body. We hiked the last quarter mile up the canyon high up on the slippery, scree-covered slopes to avoid further pools of water. Finally we emerged from that miserable stretch of Rattlesnake Canyon. I have never been more grateful just to see sunlight as I was in that moment. I was giddy, ridiculously happy, relieved. I was riding a wave of endorphins and delirium that ensues only after you have overcome a monumental obstacle, and when you have reason to believe that at some point in the foreseeable future you will again be warm and dry and regain feeling in your extremities.
      We soon rejoined (and rejoiced) with the other group, who had made it to our planned campsite and were waiting for us. We shared stories, made hot drinks, dried our feet, and rewarmed our poor pallid bodies. It was sunny and warm, we were safe and grateful, and it was a beautiful moment.
      At NOLS we call events like these “type 2 fun.” At first, it may seem miserable. But when you look back on it you can’t help but smile. It makes for a good story. Who would want to listen to a rambling narrative of the perfect day when the blue sky was cloudless and the clearly marked trail was all downhill? That’s not what you remember, and not what you would write altogether too much about in a blog entry; it is the type 2 fun. And when it comes down to it, this, Thanksgiving, is why I love the wilderness. This is what I came for. Moments like these, when you are tested and you work harder than you thought was possible. You catch a glimpse of your true self and learn what you are capable of.
      Throughout our (mis)adventures in Rattlesnake Canyon, I thought a lot about Thanksgiving and the many, many things I am thankful for. I am thankful for dry clothes, sleeping bags, hot drinks and high spirits, for being with people who can smile at adversity. I am grateful for my family, most of all my parents, because of whom I was able to go to NOLS and embrace the opportunity to explore in one of the too few wild places that are left. I am grateful for people who remain good in the face of hardship, when you see who you really are; that there are still people in the world who care about others more than they care about themselves, who are willing to make sacrifices for the good of the group; for the opportunity to sleep out under the stars, to be in nature and in doing so truly live. And I am grateful beyond measure that experiences like these are the only real hardships in my life.  The only time I experience real discomfort or uncertainty is in the wilderness, and only in situations that I willingly subject myself too. I am so privileged. I know this, and I don’t deserve it. But nevertheless I am thankful for all of it.

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

Learning again for the first time (or, What the S stands for)

Paddling the Rio Grande was wonderful and nothing like I expected. We were on the river for 15 days, starting in Big Bend National Park in Texas and taking out 120 miles downstream. I was surprised at how small the river is- I had imagined a roaring, majestic Rio muy Grande, but in reality (at least with the current water level, and in the area that we traveled) it's a pretty shallow and tame river. There was a lot of small, easy, and very fun whitewater, and a few more technical rapids. The Rio itself is gorgeous, unlike any place I've ever been before, and every day I was in awe of the stunning canyons, azure skies and reasonable 90-degree weather.
      Canoeing with NOLS is not like the canoeing I've done in the past at Widji. (For one, “portaging,” which is commonplace at Widji, becomes “portahhhhging” at NOLS, and on our expedition did not occur even once. It just seems wrong to go on a canoe trip and NOT portage. All the fun and none of the hard work—it feels like cheating. This is just one example of how NOLS and Widji are like different species of the same genus.) This discrepancy shouldn't have surprised me, because NOLS has its own systems and methods and jargon for everything (as does Widji) and even though the two places are both the same general type of organization/activity, my experiences from them overlap in surprisingly few ways. It was more difficult to adjust to this section than any other; because I had little in the way of experience in backpacking or climbing, I had no expectations or anything to compare to. But canoeing is my thing, and it was a challenge to change from the ways I'd learned or done things before. This actually made the section more satisfying in a way. It was awesome to learn from our climbing instructors, having never climbed before, but it was really interesting to re-learn things I've known for years from veteran instructors who have more experience that I can probably ever hope to have. It could have been just an easy and maybe disappointing trip if I didn't make an effort to absorb as much knowledge from the instructors as possible. They were an outstanding group of teachers (and people) and more than any instructors we've had in the past, they really took it into their hands to teach us, to help us improve and get as much out of the section as we could. It was not only enjoyable just to have their company, but they were a huge source of knowledge. Most of the other students had no prior experience and it was pretty impressive how much the group learned and improved in the course of 15 days. I didn't necessarily learn many new things, but I learned new ways (I don't necessarily like good/bad comparisons, but I might even say better ways) of doing strokes and maneuvers and things I already knew. I basically realized right away that these instructors were way more competent and skilled at the craft than I am, and proceeded to ask as many questions and hear as many answers as possible. Canoeing is always fun, but this trip was especially rewarding—to develop and refine my knowledge and ability under their tutelage and become a better canoist. This is the ultimate way in which NOLS differs from other trip-leading organizations: it is fundamentally a school, and so your time in the field is an expedition, but it is also a class (and not just on hard skills, but on interpersonal skills and communication and development as an individual). For that reason, and not just because I am hopelessly in love with canoeing, this was my favorite section so far.

Wednesday, November 3, 2010

Five Stars and Three-Letter Acronyms

Returning to the branch after a month and a half in the field was an entirely different experience from arriving here in September. It was odd to return to a place where in total I'd spent less than twenty four hours, yet feel like I was coming “home.” Stranger still was that, since our arrival to NOLS, the branch has not changed but my perception of it has transformed completely. It's funny to look back on my first day here—I was so startled by what I considered to be a primitive kind of camp. I can no longer understand why I was so shocked that we sleep in tents, that there are only a few buildings, that most of the students' time is spent outside or in the open ramada. I feel silly now for the disappointment I felt on our initial tour of the branch, because just the fact that we don't have to cook every meal for ourselves over a camp stove seems such a huge luxury. Now I realize that it's not rudimentary in the least. Compared to the cars and mattresses and machines that we believe are “necessities,” maybe it seems basic, but this is truly a life of extravagant comfort.
      While at the branch we not only have shower facilities, a washing machine, running water and flushing toilets at our disposal, but there is electricity, which means we don't have to go to bed when the sun sets! In the shady ramada, we can feel the warm desert breeze while enjoying TV, computers and wireless internet for our nonstop entertainment and sensory overload. The swimming pool boasts a stunning view of the desert mountains, and a generous buffet is offered at nearly every meal. I didn't realize what I was signing up for—yes, the NOLS Southwest Ramada Inn is a veritable all-inclusive resort!
      We were in town for a Wilderness First Responder (WFR) course, a 10-day class on back country first aid. It's a somewhat intensive course, involving several hours everyday of classroom and practical learning. Our days consisted of arriving for breakfast at 7 am, starting class at 8, and getting done anywhere from 9 to 13+ hours (and nearly as many cups of coffee) later, taking a break for lunch (and dinner, if class extended into the evening). We took the course from Wilderness Medicine Institute (WMI), which is somehow partnered or affiliated with NOLS. They taught us about patient assessment and care, and we did many scenarios to practice using this knowledge as well as learn lots of TLAs (three-letter acronyms: it seems that NOLS and WMI like to come up with an acronym/abbreviation/mnemonic device whenever possible).The course culminated in a final exam, which included written and practical components. Even though the long classes were somewhat tedious, pretending to be a patient with all manner of obscure maladies was fun and it was rewarding to earn the WFR certification. (And I felt lucky that my current reality doesn't include lectures or essays, and that “studying for finals” means sitting on a couch in the ramada, sipping coffee and doing pull-ups in between reviewing snake bite care and the symptoms of hyponatremia.) When the course ended, we had an end-of-school pool party at the branch to celebrate. I couldn't help thinking that there must be frost in Minnesota by now, yet we still get to enjoy some poolside sunbathing. I will reiterate: Life is good.

Tuesday, November 2, 2010

Climbing Rocks!

We climbed at Cochise Stronghold in Arizona for 16 days, starting on the East side of Cochise and then hiking over to the West side about halfway through. We had four instructors who were easy going, energetic and in love with climbing. A typical day meant meeting at 9, having a few classes on the basics of climbing technique, risk management, and how to use different types of gear. In the late morning we would meander over to a crag (either hike or drive, depending on how far away it was), where we would climb through the afternoon and return to camp usually around 4 or 5 (although sometimes we would find ourselves hiking home long after the sun had gone down). Evenings were occupied with dinner, sometimes an evening meeting or class, and using those small pieces of free time left over to write letters or read or relax.
At the crag on the first day of climbing camp
      Climbing camp was different from backpacking in virtually every way: first of all, we were living at a base camp, so we didn't have to be stingy with how much stuff we brought and we didn't have to pack up and move camp every day. Our daily schedule was much more laid back and less structurally rigid, but we also had significantly less free time because we had so much going on.
      Similar to how in the hiking section our instructors taught us all the necessary skills and then set us loose to travel independently, our climbing instructors taught us the technical side of climbing so that we could do everything ourselves. At the beginning of the section, our instructors created anchors and set up the ropes for us, and all the students did was climb and belay with coaching from them. On our last day of climbing, we set up all the rope systems, climbed, and at the end of the day took everything down while the instructors sat and watched. (NOLS likes to teach a man to fish rather than give him the proverbial fish that will feed him for just a day.)  Before this trip I'd never rock climbed before, so every day I noticed myself picking up new skills & improving upon previous ones. Not many people get to start climbing under the tutelage of four experienced climbers--it's a pretty cool experience. I'm not a great climber by anyone's standards, but even so I can appreciate what a great opportunity this section was.

Leaving an East Cochise crag at sunset
View of West Cochise from the top of a multipitch climb

Setting up top ropes on our last day

Saturday, October 30, 2010

Hiking the Gila

Backpacking in the Gila was incredible. I am definitely a canoer at heart (canoeing obviously being superior to backpacking), but I enjoyed backpacking a lot more than I expected. There is something very peaceful about the simplicity of it: walking all day, being mindful of each step and breath, and everything you need you carry on your back. Hiking gives you a lot of time to just look at the world around you and think.
      This section was 22 days long; the first half in the Aldo Leopold Wilderness and the second in the Gila Wilderness (both are within the Gila National Forest). We had three ration periods of 6-9 days each, stopping at a campground in between each loop to resupply our food. A typical day meant waking up around 7, leaving camp at 9 and hiking until mid-afternoon. We hiked anywhere from 2 to 9 miles per day (our first ration period included lots of short 2-3 mile days because we had to change our route to evacuate a sick group member). Evenings were spent in classes, cooking, and relaxation, and offered a surprising amount of free time. Each loop we had one rest day (which meant even more classes, cooking, and relaxation!)
The view from Reed's Peak in the Aldo Leopold Wilderness
      During the hiking day we traveled in small groups of about 5 students, at first with an instructor and later independently. (NOLS does a great job of teaching you a certain skill and then handing over the responsibility so you actually learn how to do it yourself, without someone breathing down your neck and babysitting you.) Likewise we were divided into 3-4 person “cook groups” with whom we cooked and tented. These groups rotated every ration period (and were the format in which we traded helpful feedback). (A side note: It turns out that sharing a tent and a kitchen with a few teenage boys who have ravenous appetites and are somewhat less than eager to wash dishes (i.e. NOLS) is very different than sharing them with a few girls who love cooking (i.e. Widji). [To clarify, I don't think this is a distinction between genders, but more the difference between those who are lucky enough to get to go to Widji and those who are not.] This is another challenge I'm learning to deal with.)
      In our first days of travel, we were in mostly your typical forested terrain. In our second loop, we suddenly entered an area that felt decidedly more desert-like. One day in particular stands out to me, in which we followed the Gila River for a short while and, in leaving the river to ascend a canyon, we suddenly entered the desert. It was hot and sunny and dry and dusty and sandy; it was ridden with cacti, gorgeous rocky cliffs, and canyon walls—the exact scene you think of when you picture the Southwest. We scrambled and bushwhacked when our route became steep and rocky or narrow and filled with nearly impassable undergrowth. When the canyon dead-ended at a 10-foot pour-off, we had to turn around and find a new way up. We scrambled over loose rocks and up a steep hillside, hiking and climbing and, finally, reaching the top of a mesa. It was a long and arduous day, but it was my favorite of the trip. Reaching the top of the mesa, we were able to see to the horizon in all directions and look back where we'd come from—it was incredible. I'd never before understood why a backpacker chooses the route that goes up a steep mountainside instead of one of the many easier alternatives (or even why a backpacker would be a backpacker at all when they could be a canoer!). But now I saw that sometimes it is worth the hours it takes to get there, just for a single view from the top. We slept outside on top of the mesa that night. There was no light pollution, no sounds, nor any sign of human presence for miles—just Cassiopeia and Vega and Deneb, and stars that stretched to the ends of the earth. This is when I started to love NOLS.

Hiking on the mesa (left), and visiting the Gila Cliff Dwellings,
a site where the Mogollon people lived hundreds of years ago.


An example of the obstacles we encountered
in the canyons
One of the canyons we hiked in

The beautiful Gila Wilderness!
Our group at a reration

Thursday, October 28, 2010


When friends and family asked me why I was going to do NOLS or what exactly NOLS was, my response often consisted of vague answers with phrases like “wilderness medicine” and “leadership,” or that the experience would be helpful in hopefully working at my camp as a trip leader in the future. What I didn't say was that I wasn't exactly sure why I wanted to do NOLS except for the fact that I love spending time in the wilderness and even if I didn't learn anything in the process I was sure it would be a good time. The latter is probably a more accurate response, but it's not what parents and uncles and grandparents want to hear, so I stuck to the former. When I arrived over a month ago I didn't know quite what to expect, wasn't sure if I liked backpacking, and in that first crazed and busy day I began to get a little apprehensive about the whole thing. Committing myself to three months of sleeping on the ground, living with the same twenty people, and eating the same dehydrated rations? I love camping more than almost anything else, but even so I felt overwhelmed.
      A month and a half into my semester (how is it halfway done already?) I have learned more, about more, and loved the experience more than I could have anticipated. Then, I didn't really know why I wanted to do NOLS. But now I know why I will be grateful that I've been able to spend my semester here.
The majority of each day in the field is spent doing our activity, be it hiking or rock climbing or whatever the focus of the section is. But it IS a school, which means we have classes and homework, too. Classes focus on basic back country skills, environmental science, leadership, and topics related to the area we are traveling in. “Homework” consists of nature observations and reflections on various topics, but it is not very academic or challenging and seems to be mostly a way for our instructors to gauge how invested we are in the course so they can grade us (yes, we get grades! They grade us in various categories like risk management, expedition behavior, and leadership).
      While a few of the classes have been interesting & informative, I've learned more from interacting with the other students than in the “classroom.” Our group is a diverse and motley crew, hailing from all over the country. We come from very different backgrounds and subsequently have diverse—and often conflicting—beliefs and values. Perhaps the most valuable skill I've learned—that is, I have learned some, and am continuing to learn, though one can always improve upon this skill—is to interact cooperatively with people who I disagree with or from whom I hold fundamentally differing views on the world. The most valuable class we've had taught us how to effectively give & receive feedback. I think the term “Minnesota nice” properly describes my approach to communication & conflict resolution, so this lesson was incredibly helpful to me. We regularly give feedback to members of the group, and from the feedback I've received I've learned a lot about myself and how to work with others. I think the lessons I'm learning here will be helpful if I end up working at Camp Widjiwagan; I am learning wilderness medicine and leadership skills. But the more important and applicable lessons are not advertised in NOLS literature, and you can't get college credit for them. But everyone could benefit from learning how to work with people, how to help others by carrying their weight when your pack is already too heavy, how to do something every day that scares you, how to climb higher and hike farther than you thought you could, how to appreciate the rain that splashes mud all over your sleeping bag, how to cook dinner when your only water source is a spring that produces one liter every four minutes, how to live without Facebook, how to smile when you are lost, how to be happy when everyone you love is halfway across the country, how to keep calm and carry on. And how to appreciate each moment despite what challenges it may hold. NOLS has a simple term for this: tolerance for adversity and uncertainty. This is not a simple skill that is easily acquired, and it is one of the most valuable lessons that NOLS (I won't be so bold as to say “life”... but OK, yeah, maybe life) has to offer.
      Even the worst predicaments don't seem so bad if you can face them with a positive attitude. This may seem obvious, but not until recently have I realized the value of positivity: it seems that my outlook on life dictates how I live my life. Or rather, it dictates how I perceive my life. (But then, is there really a difference between the two?) So I'm trying to work on this “positivity” thing. In giving & receiving feedback, group mates have commented on my positive attitude and expressed appreciation for my calm and uncomplaining demeanor in stressful situations. These are not descriptions I would have used for myself—and neither, I'm sure, would many who know me(Mom and Dad? ;) ). I'm hoping this is a result of some learning or growth on my part; but regardless of the cause of this “positivity,” I do know the result:
      Life is great.

Monday, September 13, 2010

Welcome to NOLS Southwest!

Hello from Tucson! I left Minneapolis yesterday morning and arrived here after a smooth flight and connection in Dallas. I took a shuttle to my hotel and was surprised right away by a few things:
-There are cacti EVERYWHERE! I guess I hadn't expected Tucson to be a complete desert, which it is (at least to a Minnesotan who is used to her 10,000 lakes).
-There are also mountains everywhere-- Tucson is surrounded on four sides by the Santa Catalina, Rincon, Santa Rita, and Tucson mountain ranges (if I remember correctly). It is stunningly beautiful.
I wandered around the neighborhood a bit, but went to bed early to prepare for an early morning.

This morning I met other NOLS students in the hotel lobby around 6:30, and we were picked up by NOLS staff around 7. We drove to the NOLS Southwest base and met our leaders and found out that we were going on trail tomorrow morning (apparently other students had gotten an email notifying us of this, but somehow I never got that--this was different than the schedule they had given us originally). We were then given a tour of the facilities--after talking to my boyfriend Christopher, who left on his own NOLS course shortly before me, I had somewhat different expectations of what the base might look like. From what I gather, this is one of the smallest of NOLS' outfits. Perhaps the most striking was discovering that at the base we sleep in the "tents" we bring on trail, which consist of only one pole and a rain tarp that hovers about a foot above the sand (whereas the base in Lander, Wyoming has dorms for their students). There are yurts for the leaders & staff to stay in, and the central building of the compound is the "ramada" which is an open-air structue with a roof and tables and couches. The base is located on what was once an Arabian horse farm, so there are some horse stalls nextto the ramada that are now used for storage. There's one staff office/lodging building and a swimming pool! (We were too busy all day to go for a swim, but today was the day for it--one of our instructors said it was supposed to be close to 100F today.)

We learned our schedule for the semester and then dove into our first task of bagging all of our food for the first two sections (backpacking and rock climbing). I was interested to see what lunch would consist of, since the kitchen is tiny so I was certain it would also be different than Christopher's experience. Apparently they solve this problem by ordering in-- we had Quiznos subs for lunch and pizza for dinner.

After lunch one of our instructors went through all of my gear with me and then sent me to the Outfitting room to get the rest of what I needed for hiking and rock climbing. We packed our gear for the hiking section, and because we aren't returning to the base in between hiking and rock climbing, we also packed bags with clean clothes for after this section and with all of our gear for rock climbing. We were then divided into "cooking groups" (groups of 4 that we tent and cook with), learned how to pack our packs, and had a talk about the "Positive Learning Environment" that is expected at NOLS. It was a very full and exciting day. We accomplished so much in a ridiculously short amount of time; we prepared everything we need for the next month and a half since arriving at the base 12 hours ago (though it seems like we've already been here much longer than that).

My life for the next semester:
9/14: leave to go on a 22-day backpacking trip in the Gila Wilderness in New Mexico.
10/6: transition day (showers!!)
10/7: begin climbing section
10/23: return to NOLS base for WFR, which is...
10/24-11/2: Wilderness First Responder training
11/4: leave for canoeing section on the Rio Grande
11/20-11/21: drive back to NOLS base
11/24: begin Independent Student Group Travel (ISGT) section
12/9: return to NOLS base, prepare for departure home, my birthday!

My address at NOLS:
Caroline Lauth-FSW2
NOLS Southwest
2751 N. Soldier Trail
Tucson, AZ 85749

I would love to hear from everyone, so feel free to send me mail :) I'll do my best to keep in touch but I don't know if I'll have much in the way of outside communication until we return to the base in October.
Until then!


Wednesday, September 8, 2010

She's Leaving Home

The chorus of one of my favorite Beatles songs says, "She is leaving home." In truth it's a pretty melancholy song, but it has always struck a chord with me. As the day approaches that I, too, will be leaving home, I'm finding it a fitting song for this transition. In some ways it is grossly inaccurate; I couldn't be going on this adventure without the complete support of my parents, and I'm not by any means looking at it as an escape. (In fact, as the remaining days become fewer I am more fully appreciating the comfort and safety of home.) But taking things less literally, the essence of the song is very appropriate for my imminent departure.

I've spent the past two days packing (with surprisingly little difficulty!) for my flight to Tucson, Arizona this coming Sunday. My to-do list seems to be growing faster than I can cross things off, but nevertheless I am starting to feel more prepared for my semester at the National Outdoor Leadership School (NOLS). I'm finding more difficulty and stress, however, in planning my second semester in which I plan to WWOOF in Italy and Spain. Figuring out flights, visas, registrations and travel logistics... I've somehow managed to leave all of this for my last 3 days at home. I'm holding onto a (perhaps misguided) belief that in time things will just work themselves out.

Yesterday I visited my best friend at St Olaf College and found myself almost wishing that I were starting college this fall. I've always taken for granted the security of knowing exactly where I will be--and that that place includes a bed and food and shelter--every day for the next nine months. College, though not "easy," seems temptingly comfortable at the moment. It is an understatement to say that it is a little terrifying not knowing exactly what is in store for me this year. But I think it is important to do things that terrify you. (I thought that this was a great original philosophy of mine, but apparently I've been plagiarizing Eleanor Roosevelt all along.) I am certain that this year will be enriching and rewarding in ways I can't yet know.  And more than anything I am excited beyond belief for the experiences that await me.

The final chorus of the song says instead, "She is having fun." I suppose I thought this, too, was fitting... or at least a hope of what is to come.