Monday, October 22, 2012

COBS Day 10 - Solo Begins

Anyone wondering where the meat of Outward Bound is, here you go. SOLO! Three days alone in the wilderness. No food. Shelter, clothing and a journal. Ready, set, go.

I am going to heavily edit my journal entries here, as I wrote 26 pages during these three days, many of them rambling, and including an autobiography.

I had a pretty tough time during solo. All of the things I hadn't thought about came rushing in with the absence of movement. Suddenly, I found myself thinking about the family that had dropped me off and was driving back to Maine. I became convinced that they had been in an accident and all killed. The more I tried not to think about, the stronger the emotions became. At some point, I walked out to solo base and spoke with Cathy about it. She suggested that it was the lack of food - the goal is a three day fast, and she gave me some sea crackers and honey. 

These are the words, as written, of Chuck Lafean, age 16, on Course C-242 of Colorado Outward Bound School.

Up at 5:30. Find solo spot. .Sun shines for first time in 4 days (hmmm, that contradicts what I wrote about the stop at the bottom of Williams). I find a great spot. Wash a few clothes. I write to catch up in journal. Whittle a spoon and cut my finger. (So matter of fact, that statement; it was a huge gash of which I am still scarred.) Go back to solo base and get a few bandaids. Take nap. Rain. No food on solo and I'm starved. I watch a tiny spider kill a giant ant. It is amazing the things you see if you really look. Do a lot of thinking, I wish I had a good camera to take pictures of the things I see. I think about skiing and school. Write Ma. I think about getting back home and get quite home-sick. I think about mowing lawns (I had a "business" mowing lawns as a kid). All of a sudden, I think that Dad, Deb and Kate die in a car accident and become really depressed. Think of what life would be like if I didn't have them. Sleep.

Sunday, October 21, 2012

COBS Day 9 - Williams Peak

These are the words, as written, of Chuck Lafean, age 16, on Course C-242 of Colorado Outward Bound School.

Up at 4:30 for a peak climb of Williams Peak (13,400 ft., technical). Reach summit in about 3 hours. Weather is holding. Back down. We stop at bottom for a rest and everybody falls asleep. It snows. When we get back to camp, we find Colleen and Tom waiting with tea, lemonade, and popcorn. 20 minute hike to new camp (solo base). Another great meal and sleep. Rain.

The striking thing about this experience was that, while I had come from sea level to 10 or 12 thousand feet above sea level, I had had no noticeable effects of the altitude (with the exception of the burning lungs day one), until I passed through the 13,000 ft mark on this climb. I wasn't the only one so affected either.

The weather for this climb was cloudy and cold. I distinctly remember putting on frozen pants and boots, having been made wet by several days of constant rain and then the freezing temps of the night before. Getting dressed was pretty miserable.

I don't remember that much of the climb itself. It was a technical climb, meaning at some point we were roped up. We brought our packs, but they had been emptied with the exception of rain gear, the food we would need and the climbing gear. I do recall that we climbed over, under, around and between large slabs of granite. And it was hard to catch your breath- that seems so silly to me, for some reason, we had only increased our altitude by 5 or 6 hundred feet from where we had been every day for a week and a half. It makes me contemplate what it must be like in the larger mountain ranges- we were 1,500 ft below half way up Everest.

The strongest memory is of the return trip. We stopped by a small pond for a snack or lunch, I don't recall. Regardless, the sun peaked out from behind the clouds; the first sun in several days or almost constant rain. The result was that we all fell asleep and took a little nap in its warmth. As we were asleep, it went back behind the clouds and actually started to snow. We woke up in the snow!


Saturday, October 20, 2012

Volunteering at Its Finest

I have been away for a bit; sorry about that. Not that there are many of you who are reading me yet...

My wonderful, amazing wife is the volunteer coordinator for the Dempsey Challenge in Lewiston/Auburn, Maine. It was last weekend. Prior to the Challenge, I was helping her with some custom programming, and then volunteered during the weekend (the whole weekend) and was thus away. But this short post is not about me...

The Dempsey Center is a free (as in 100% free, like they have no way to take payment) cancer support center attached to Central Maine Medical Center in Lewiston. It provides all kinds of necessary support for cancer patients, their families and anyone else affected by cancer, regardless of treatment facility.

The Challenge is the primary fundraising event for the Center, and 100% of the proceeds go to client care. Management salaries are paid by the hospital and the event is paid for by sponsors. The Challenge consists of  5 and 10k run/walks, 10, 25, 50, 70 and 100 mile bike rides, a kid's fun run and a survivor walk. It is organized by the most amazing group of volunteers I have ever seen who sit on a local organizing committee. What really strikes me about these people is the complete lack of egos; every one of these people willingly give 100% of themselves. Behind them are some 700 volunteers, many filing multiple assignments. This past weekend there were over 1,100 assignments fulfilled by a group of volunteers who gave freely and with incredible flexibility. Over and over, I saw volunteers moved from one need to another and pick up the new task quickly and effectively, making the Challenge the best organized event of its kind in the universe. (Okay, I don't really have a point of comparison for that statement, but you know what I mean.)

Personally, until last year's Challenge, though I was "voluntold" many times, I did it begrudgingly. I am an outgoing introvert, and groups of people suck the life out of me. Last year's Challenge changed that. The spirit of the participants, the volunteers and LOC and even the event management company didn't suck the life out of me, they energized me. That is how amazing this event is.

I challenge each and every one of you to run/walk, ride, volunteer or donate to next year's Dempsey Challenge. It will be among the most rewarding experiences you will ever have. October 12 and 13, 2013, Lewiston/Auburn, Maine- put it on your calendar.

Now to get back into the woods...

Friday, October 5, 2012

Get Out Into the Woods

I have found that the best way to clear my mind and reduce stress is to get into the woods. The further away from civilization, the better. But even if I have to walk on an inner city trail, I get the benefit. During the last few years, I have begun to think that an added (or new primary) benefit has been getting away from all the technology in modern life. I do carry a cell phone when I hike, though it is often a hollow gesture due to lack of cell phone service. I do like to record my hike on a gps and do so with an app on my phone called Trimble Outdoors.

I have also noticed that the more adverse conditions the better. Rain and heat are the main forms of adversity, though one time I climbed Old Speck with a migraine (I don't recommend that, I was in tears by the time I got back to the parking lot). I have thought that the harder I have to pay attention to my surroundings and/or my body, the further I get away from all the modern "conveniences" that annoy me so much.

This was all personal experience and completely anecdotal, but now there is science to prove the benefits of time in the wild. One of my new favorite blogs has an article that discusses a study about this very topic: http://guthook.blogspot.com/2012/10/disconnected.html.

Read the article, it's not that long. Think about what it is saying. And then, turn the computer, TV, e-reader, phone, video game, etc off, pull the earbuds out of your ears and get out into the woods. Listen to the sounds (listen around the sounds of civilization if you can't get far enough away from it), feels the air and the earth beneath you and smell the smells of nature. Breathe. And then breathe deeper. After five or ten minutes you may notice that stress leaves your body with every exhale. Let your mind run wild. At first, it may seem like you are thinking about ever-present life. That's okay. Don't hold it back. Eventually though, you may find that your mind has slowed to what I call God's speed. I consider this a form of walking meditation. You may not even notice it at first, but I believe the benefits are provided regardless. Personally, I find this only when I am walking in the woods. Walking on the road, or even worse a treadmill (I know that sometimes this is the only option, but what a dumb invention) doesn't provide the same benefit.

There are many very active land conservation and trail groups out there today. You can probably find some woods near you in which to walk. I will admit, that some of the inner city trails are a bit scary, and you might want to stay off them, but there are others (I was on one earlier this week that went passed a tent city. I actually turned around when I came to a couple people smoking crack - I don't really know it was crack, but let's go with that.)

When you get done, notice if there is any benefit for you. Even if there isn't, do it again. And again. And enjoy.