By Alumnus Allan Bassler, 28-day Blue Ridge Mountains Backpacking Course, 1987
My Outward Bound experience happened in pre-GPS days, a 28-day course in the mid-1980s. They taught us wilderness navigation using paper maps and a compass. Our main experience was hiking. We carried everything – tents, food, TP, and divided up necessary duties. Everyone had a job. One of the most important jobs was reading the map and getting us where we were supposed to go. We had to stay on schedule, as we only had enough food and water for X number of days on the trail.
One hike, we got lost. I knew that if we were lost, we needed to stop moving. Normally I was reserved but I spoke up. I jogged to the front of the line and said, “We need to stop. We’re lost.” Everyone stopped. I remember the look given to me by Johnny, our male leader. His approving look gave me confidence. I explained that we might be going in the wrong direction. THUMP! Twenty-some backpacks hit the dirt. You could never get out from under those things fast enough.
It was getting dark and we were worried. We were on a slope, which is not a good place to camp. We had limited water. It was going to be impossible to move soon, because we didn’t have the ability to move at night. We had flashlights only for emergencies.
We broke up into little groups arguing about where we were and what we should do. I was looking at my map and using my compass and the setting sun and thinking very hard. I stood on a cliff edge and noticed on the other side of the valley a distinctive dip (a saddle) in the mountain ridge. I looked at my map. Where would that saddle be? I found what I thought could be the saddle. Then I worked my way back. If the saddle is here, and the sun is setting here, and the sun is behind me, then we must be here. It all worked. If I was standing on THAT CLIFF, looking at THAT SADDLE, then I would be right HERE. It was an epiphany. I KNEW WHERE WE WERE. I looked up and saw Johnny smiling at me. He had been watching me and knew what had just happened.
“I know where we are,” I said.
“Then go tell everyone,” he said.
So I did. I walked back to the middle of all the little arguing clusters of smelly, tired hikers. “HEY!” I yelled. “I know where we are.”
Using my map, I demonstrated what I had figured out. I was speaking with new-found confidence because I knew I was right. The group gathered around me. There was no arguing because it was clear that I was correct. Then they looked at me. I realized that they wanted me to tell them what to do next. I had never been a leader before.
I was very proud the next day when the group’s decision was to put me in the lead to get us out of the mess we were in. I took that job very seriously. We leapfrogged our way out. I was thrilled when we finally stepped out onto an old logging trail that I had been aiming for.
It was quite a triumph for me. As someone who had never been confident or a leader, I learned the importance of speaking up when things are going wrong – and the importance of having a solution ready.