By Alumna Sophie Lyle, Blue Ridge Backpacking and Rock Climbing, 2015
Hanging off a rock face was the last place I imagined myself being the summer of 2015. I was chosen by my high school, Bethesda-Chevy Chase, to participate in Outward Bound for three weeks in the Blue Ridge Mountains of North Carolina.
The first major event for me, was a three-day rock climbing block. I went from having no idea what ‘belaying’ meant, to scaling up a rock face by multi-pitching. Multi-pitch climbing involves climbing up a rock face and anchoring into different belay stations a long the way because the rope isn’t long enough to reach the top of the ridge. On the day of the multi-pitch, I was partnered with a member of my crew that I didn’t particularly trust. I worried my partner would get distracted, or worse, distract me from what I was doing.
I couldn’t have been more wrong however. We quickly climbed up the rock face like a well-oiled machine. Once I had begun the climb, there wasn’t a single moment when I worried about him; in fact, he helped me relax when we had to anchor in. He had my back, and I had his.
Throughout my experience, I continually gained confidence and skill and because of it, I am now more capable of doing things on my own.I can set up a bear hang and steer a canoe down whitewater. Even though the canoe might go astray or turn 360 degrees, I reach the destination.
One of the last challenges we were presented with was the Personal Challenge Event or PCE. PCE’s can be different depending on the crew and location of the course; ours just happened to be a seven-mile run up a mountain.
The old me had never run more than two miles, and certainly not up a mountain! I proved how much I’d changed over the past three weeks though. Not only did I gain physical strength, but my mindset had changed completely. My personal goal for that run: NEVER STOP MOVING.
Pushing beyond my perceived limits, I was able to complete the PCE faster than I thought I was capable of. I was surprised when I arrived at the finish line that I wasn’t the last person to arrive, not even half of both crews were there yet.
The time I spent in the wilderness has forever changed me as a person. Tossed into new and difficult situations, I made mistakes, but I also learned from them. I didn’t let them hold me down; I didn’t have enough time to dwell on what I should have done.
My entire experience in the mountains really helped when I returned to school in the fall. As my senior year, and second year on the Ultimate Frisbee Team kicked off, I found that I was able to better connect with my teammates and I was more comfortable being myself around others.
There were some lessons that we learned while out in the field that still stay with me to this day. One was focusing on the present. Throughout our expedition, our instructors would never tell us what was happening the next day. While out in the woods, we had to complete everything that was presented to us in the moment. Since time was limited due to sunlight, we needed to work as quickly and as well as possible, otherwise our task would become more challenging than necessary. This helped me further refine my time management skills in my daily life.
When I returned to school in the fall, I had an intense schedule that kept me busy for most of my time outside of school. It could quickly become overwhelming. Doing the work assigned that had a closer deadline helped me focus, and sure enough my workload would begin to shrink. I often found that once I finished the more pressing assignments, I would move on to other worksheets and end up staying ahead of the work assigned.
If asked, I would most definitely do this again, I wouldn’t even mind doing it for a longer period of time. Despite the constant dreams and thoughts about food I was craving, I made it through. I didn’t even realize how bad I smelled until I got back home (sorry to the other people on the airplane).
My Outward Bound experience hasn’t necessarily changed me as a person, but by being put into new and sometimes uncomfortable situations, I was able to learn and grow into the person I am. I became more comfortable with who I am, and for that, I will always be thankful for the time I spent in the Blue Ridge Mountains.