For as long as I can remember I spent summers lounging on beach chairs, but this year I decided to break with tradition and leave my pampered self behind. A ten day Outward Bound rock-climbing expedition offered me that opportunity.
On the bus to the YaoundÃ© mountain range, I asked the boy next to me sporting a NAVY shirt his motives for coming. He answered that he was preparing for boot camp. Another kid with a head full of neatly twisted dread locks countered, “I want to get FAR away from suburbia.” And a slinky blonde girl down the bus aisle called up, “I need to break a nail just once!” The air was charged with expectation. We were sacrificing daily showers and filtered water for challenge and independence.
The bus stopped beside a still lake, and there our counselors, Ned and Jason, passed out 40 pounds of rope, food supply, and fuel for us to stuff into our already bulging bags. A chorus of groans ensued. Fully loaded, our bags weighed a whopping 55 pounds! The challenge had begun! The first couple of days were tough, but Ned and Jason were great teachers. We learned to scale rocks and live without toilet paper. One day, Ned broke out topographic maps and pocket compasses. The maps, complex arrays of circular shapes and lines, represented the very mountains under our feet. The compasses were simple—only a few declamation lines and the modest letters N, W, E, and S. It was my favorite tool.
One week into our adventure, the counselors put us in charge, revealing that we were now on our own. The problem was—everyone wanted to lead. The first day was chaotic. I woke up to NAVY shirt and Dreadlocks bickering over whether to eat cereal or oatmeal for breakfast. Still half asleep, I walked over to help split gear with slinky, who bemoaned that we were giving her too much weight. Tension was high, and it got worse on the hike as people quarreled over directions and food supplies. By the end of the day I was bitter and dehydrated. Mercifully, our counselors sat us down and gave us pointers on how to better organize ourselves. We promised to work with, not against each other.
A new morning came. We assigned ourselves specific jobs: I designated myself as navigation expert; Navy was our leader; and Dreadlocks and Slinky kept track of supplies. Our goal was to trek ten miles to the foot of Dogtooth Mountain, a monster incline looming over the surrounding valleys. It challenged climbers everywhere with its massive peaks, but lay hidden from us behind tall redwoods and thick forest. We worked hard together and within a day, the jagged molar nipping at the sky was in eyeshot.
Even though we weren’t finished, our confidence was growing. Over the next days we made our way to the foot of the Tooth and set up to begin the long climb upward. One by one I watched my fellow Outward Bound members grapple the rock with their newly-developed muscles. Finally, it was my turn. Strapping on an uncomfortable harness, I set off to conquer that final obstacle, relishing every moment.
From the summit I gazed out over the vast stretches of land. I felt the soft clink of my compass hitting my chest as it wavered in the wind; the needle stopping on north. In the distance I could see a tiny cropping of water, and remembered my nervousness of the first day. Ned passed me my trophy, a cherry jolly rancher, and the moment was fulfilled.
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