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Learning From The Appalachian Mountain's Backpacking Experience

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“I’ve got years of experience on you,” my mom always says to me with a smirk. Experience is how you mature and become an adult. I gained years-worth of life lessons in only two weeks last summer backpacking in the Appalachian Mountains. North Carolina Outward Bound School taught me courage and faith, and was the catalyst for my transition to adulthood.

This backpacking adventure was primarily about survival. In order to protect ourselves from the elements of the wilderness, our group of ten was taught practical skills such as hanging a bear bag, using a compass, and setting up tarps. On the surface, these skills seem irrelevant to the real world. Beneath, learning these tasks became the agent of my development. For me, Outward Bound served as a “Life 101” class.

My life in the wilderness comprised the vital combination of self-reliance and group effort. The last three days of our trip were announced as our Final, where we would be completely on our own, without the help of our leaders. It was in these three grueling days that we evolved both individually and collectively.

It was imperative that we worked together to tackle our main obstacle: getting lost. Our original method entailed everyone giving suggestions of where to go. But between the ten of us there were too many opinions, resulting in chaos. A new approach was crucial, and after the first day, I organically surfaced as one of the two leaders. Martin and I took charge, with him being able to decipher the maps, and me ensuring everyone was pulling their own weight; I assigned jobs and divided gear, and assumed command of the kitchen and bear bag.

We evolved as a group, becoming much more functional, and finding a balance between leadership and collaboration. My individual growth was manifested by my courage to stand up as a leader. I abandoned my fear of standing up, taking charge, and offering up my opinions. This newfound courage played a monumental role in my transition to adulthood, coupled with what I learned about the power in faith.

The kind of faith I speak of has no religious affiliation; it is a confidence in the universe. Through my fourteen nights in nature, specifically the three final, hellacious nights, my faith in the world flourished. With the amount of brutal moments, this kind of faith was a necessity to survive. It would’ve been too easy to feel all my effort was futile and give up. Giving up was never an option for me on Outward Bound, and in this way, the program demanded my strength and maturity in a way I had never experienced before.

The most challenging night, by far, was the second night of our Final. We were in the middle of a punishing thunderstorm that demolished our tarps in the middle of the night. As I tried to fall asleep in the middle of a puddle, ignoring the possibility of electrocution, I thought to myself, “This is it. This is rock bottom.” I sobbed in both terror and hopelessness. But morning still arrived, and eventually, the sun did shine. It was after that night that my faith in the universe was forever solidified.

The four pillars of Outward Bound (physical fitness, craftsmanship, self-reliance, and compassion) were all part of a bigger picture: survival. Backpacking in the mountains put all ten of us into survival mode, which made growth and maturity nonelective. I feel I left the wilderness an altogether different person, to the point that I cannot remember myself before those two weeks. I now embody the virtues of resiliency, tenacity, and courage. My physical, emotional, and spiritual stamina had been tested, and as a result, had skyrocketed. This evolution significantly accelerated my maturity, and triggered my transition to adulthood.

Now I can say to the world, “I’ve got years of experience on you.”

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