Outward & Inward Participants in Outward Bound Wilderness Expeditions Find Rugged Adventure Can Also Encourage Personal Insight

By McAlister, Nancy | The Florida Times Union, August 5, 1999 | Go to article overview

Outward & Inward Participants in Outward Bound Wilderness Expeditions Find Rugged Adventure Can Also Encourage Personal Insight


McAlister, Nancy, The Florida Times Union


"It's now the fifth day and I'm loving it more and more. The first three days were miserable. We walked 6 miles a day with 60-pound backpacks while raining. We were all about ready to die. We are now rock climbing and I'm having a blast." -- Evan McAlister, 15

That first letter home from our teenage son came from deep in the woods of western North Carolina earlier this summer. Setting out on a 23-day wilderness expedition with Outward Bound, his early, slightly dirt-stained scribblings touched on such details as the rain and two crew members the others considered lazy ("They struggle to keep up with everyone else").

New friends Katie and Russel told him about seeing their mothers' faces in a sunset. Both had lost their moms to cancer early in their teen years. It was, he wrote, "the best sunset I've ever seen in my life."

Outward Bound, billed as the oldest and largest adventure-based educational organization in the world, is about revelations like that. There are knots to learn and mountains to hike and white water to canoe through in sessions that range from four to 111 days. But the program that each year attracts thousands of teens, young adults and over-50 adventurers has also caught on for issues of personal growth.

Self-reliance, leadership and teamwork are some of the watchwords of the non-profit organization begun in Wales in 1941 to develop confidence and increase survival rates in young sailors. A nautical term for leaving home port for adventure on the open seas, Outward Bound reached the United States in 1961 with the first school opened in Colorado.

Today, there are five wilderness schools and two urban centers that offer programs in more than 20 states. Each course is fashioned on the belief that the wilderness environment is the perfect setting to challenge individuals to grow.

"Right now I'm on a cliff looking down about 1,000 feet and I'm about ready to rappel straight down it. Don't worry. I have spent about 12-15 hours training and climbing." Canoeing, hiking, climbing, mountain biking, sailing, sea kayaking, desert backpacking and canyon exploration are some of the courses offered by Outward Bound USA. Typically grouped by ages (14-15, 16+, 18+, 21+ and 50+), there are also specialty expeditions such as women's only, parent/child, educator and instructional classes. In addition, corporations and colleges contract for wilderness courses.

Although Jacksonville residents travel to Costa Rica, Maine and other locations to participate in Outward Bound, many are drawn to the North Carolina Outward Bound School. The headquarters in Asheville has a lengthy list of participants that at times reads like a who's who of Jacksonville, including such names as U.S. Circuit Judge Gerald Bard Tjoflat and award-winning filmmaker Mark Mori.

Although basic principles of Outward Bound remain consistent among the various branches, the independently run North Carolina school (NCOBS) places extra emphasis on exploring diversity within each group, said spokeswoman Ashley Felkel. The courses provide a forum for students to learn about each other and have tolerance and compassion about differences.

"We do a tremendous amount of fund-raising, so everyone who really wants to come doesn't face financial barriers to come," Felkel said. Courses begin at $495 for a four-day session, reaching $895 for some eight-day sessions and $7,475 for a 78-day international semester in North Carolina, Florida and Costa Rica.

Out of last year's public (non-professional) enrollment of 1,057, 175 participants received scholarships. Another 18 received interest-free loans. About $242,000 was distributed in financial aid by NCOBS.

"We climbed about a 900-foot elevation. It was a blast. There were three different routes. One girl cried at least five times on the way up, screaming that she could not do it. She finally made it to the top and we all congratulated her. …

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