Wednesday, September 23, 2015

Greetings From the North Woods and Waterways of Minnesota!

The Gap Experience 2015 is off to an exhilarating start! Our group of 16 Gapsters were greeted with gusto by their Voyageur Outward Bound Instructors at Home Place (the school's base camp) in Ely, MN nearly 3 weeks ago. After filling their bellies with a hearty jambalaya and cornbread, they hit the ground running... and the water paddling.                                  

Which way did they go? Learning to navigate the refreshingly crisp waters of the BWCAW

Within 24 hours, these young men and women were practicing skills they would perfect over the next two weeks of traversing the Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness: physical endurance, food rationing, navigating by topographical map and compass, big-picture planning, proper paddling and portaging techniques, water safety, basic first aid, living with only what they carry, and most importantly -- forging relationships with one another.

After a long morning of paddling the group takes a floating snack break

Our 16 Gap students traveled for 14 days by aluminum canoe and foot. Days were long, bodies fatigued, but the spirit of this spectacular group is abundant. As one of the Outward Bound Instructors tells us, "This is Type 2 fun: the fun that may not be super fun when it's happening, but the kind that leaves you with a never ending smile when you are done." Picture this: Getting up at 4:00 am, temperature hovering just above 40 degrees, pulling on soaking wet socks and boots, slipping canoes into the water and navigating by starlight to the next portage, where in teams of two, the group drags the 70 lb. aluminum canoes out of the water, mount the canoes on their shoulders, carrying equally heavy food and gear packs for those not carrying a canoe, and trudge the length of the portage trail that can sometimes be as long as 2 miles... only to slip the canoes back into the water, paddling off to the next destination, with nothing but a topographical map, a compass, and the strength, wit, resilience, support, encouragement of your expedition team mates to guide you.

At times we brutally navigate our way through thick jack pine, spruce bog, sometimes wading thigh-deep through thick black silt, hoisting our canoes, hand-over-hand across granite boulders the size of a small RV, becoming evermore aware of the importance of solid group communication and the need to maintain physical and emotional safety so the group continues to work together as a solid, cohesive unit. 

Long days, heavy canoes, rocky portage trails all lead to Type 2 Fun!

Fully immersed in the natural beauty of the BWCAW

Encouragement from expedition team mates helps tremendously

The wilderness has become a new kind of playground for these students. High winds during a long travel day created the perfect opportunity to get creative: have you ever seen 4 canoes lashed together and sailing along by a makeshift sail, reading aloud to one another sections of the assigned text, stopping occasionally to readjust the sail or to pass the book to the next reader? Incredible!               
Rock climbing is an adventure for all. Students have shown such confidence, courage, teamwork, and encouragement for one another while suspended on various rock faces. These students are truly embracing challenge and adventure. The laughter of this cohort is infectious, and copious amounts of singing fill the air during portaging, paddling, hiking, and climbing. 

Morgan makes it to the top of the gnarly cliff face and feels her accomplishment

Team work and trust leads to success

Have the students learned about how to hone their personal strengths? You bet! Are they learning valuable life lessons, not only about sheer survival in an unforgiving environment -- recognizing that all choices have consequences (i.e. think about packing expedition weight rain gear at the bottom of your pack, which means clothing, sleeping bag and personal gear gets soaked during a torrential downpour or choosing as a group to skip breakfast, not recognizing the impact it will have later on in the day when they are pushed to their physical limits). Instances like these are daily occurrences, and framed against theoretical discussions about styles of leadership, interdependence, conflict management, small group dynamics, and interpersonal communication. They are a happy, resilient group and they will continue to shape their values and hone their views about the world around them throughout the rest of the semester. These are lessons that no classroom would ever teach them. Oh my -- we almost forgot -- despite the fact that the Gap students have been without technology for over 3 weeks, they certainly have proven that they don't need their cell phones or YouTube to entertain themselves... this group has a natural ability for humor and storytelling, and they definitely have incredible potential for creating a sensational vocal group some day.  In other words, they do a great job of entertaining themselves. Watch for our next update sometime next week!