As someone who's completed a North Carolina Outward Bound School expedition, you can count yourself among a special group of people who have pushed themselves far beyond what they ever thought possible. We hope the experiences you had while on your journey were valuable to you and will last a life time. Below are the stories shared from your fellow Outward Bounders. Make sure you add your own!
Michael on Outward Bound the summer after high school, 1980's
Group Shot, 1971
Sea Kayaking Course in the Outer Banks, 2004, Rebecca
First Course for Women at NCOBS, 1971
NC-51 Crew, Pat Peterson, 1973
Brad on Solo at Sitting Bear, 1971
Staff Member, 1967-1974
Fifty one years ago (!), I received a phone call from a man named Lance Lee. I was 16 years old and living in Chapel Hill, NC at the time. He asked, “How would you like to have a scholarship to go to Colorado Outward Bound this summer?”
I immediately said, “Uh, no, thank-you. That doesn’t sound like me (I had heard the stories about Outward Bound)." At the time, I weighed about 90lbs, had never been above 3,000 feet, nor past the Mississippi River. I couldn't imagine hauling a pack that weighed almost as much as I did up 10,000’ peaks in thunderstorms or snow.
To this Lance said, “Well, it’s too late. We already got you a scholarship, and this is the deal: once you go, you can pay it forward by working with us to build the new base and headquarters for the North Carolina Outward Bound School."
What could I say? I hesitated, but finally agreed. My mother worked for the North Carolina Fund, an early experimental anti-poverty program in Durham, NC, and as it turns out they had offered some spare office space to Lance Lee and some others to use as their official office while they worked to create the newest Outward Bound School. My mother, being a single parent, wanted me to have some positive adult male influences in my life and so she used to invite interesting people over for dinner on occasion. Lance Lee and his cohorts had come for dinner several times and I had listened silently as they discussed their plans to build the new school. My guess is that my mother was worried about me (for good reason), and had secretly made these arrangements with them to take me in hand and do something positive with me.
Reluctantly, I headed west that summer by bus, alone, three days across the continent, truly unprepared for what lay ahead at the Colorado Outward Bound School. I had neither decent high mountain clothing, nor even boots, but, like many other scholarship recipients, I was given a pair of boots once I arrived. We were told to then soak them overnight in a bucket of water and then wear them until they dried in order to break them in. I cringed on the bus ride from Denver up into the mountains as the young logistics person detailed to round us up, told us harrowing stories of adventure. Once we arrived, I met my instructor, Jed Williamson, with whom I am still in communication with today. In we dove, and I’ve never looked back.
Outward Bound changed my life. It taught me how to live. It gave me a philosophy and an approach to real learning. It headed me off into a lifelong career in experiential education and the power it can have to foster deep and powerful learning moments for students and teachers alike.
Lance Lee became a mentor for me as a young man desperately in need of an adult male role model. His almost unattainable standards for living an engaged life slowly seeped into me. And his belief that all young people could stand tall and be successful was immediately apparent when I visited the base camp for the new School. Even though we were in the middle of nowhere and there was no electricity, a gravity-feed water system, an outhouse of sorts and some canvas-walled tents on a rickety platforms, he had convinced a rag-tag collection of the Department of Youth Services best, me, and many others that the work we were doing was worth it.
That summer, we cleaned off rocks for climbing practice, we made trails through the woods, we built a small damn and a pipeline along a mountain stream so we could have a place for the “morning dip.” In the fall I returned home to go back to school, but they continued on. They lived there all winter; Lance found an old man from nearby Morganton who knew how to build post and beam buildings and rock fireplaces without electricity or large machinery, and they built the first lodge, looking out over misty Appalachian mountain ridges undulating into the distance.
I joined to help when I could and the following summer (the first summer of NCOBS in 1967), I became a full-time staff member working as a “sherpa,” the all too-important name they gave to a young man who drove a supply run to Morganton a couple of times a week and cleaned out chemical toilets. I remember Lance making me cut my hair that summer (he cut it on the walkway around the outside of the building), saying that none of the mill town people who lived in Morganton would think much of the new organization up on the mountain if a shaggy-haired kid was its main representative in town. I adored being there.
I would not say that those first courses resembled exactly what I had come to understand was the mission or actual course experience of an outward bound school, but it was a start! I went back to work with NCOBS (and other Outward Bound schools) for a number of seasons before 1974, when I moved to Vermont to run a small farm and outdoor experiential education program outside of Putney. My life as an educator grew out of these early teaching experiences, the teachers who were my mentors and colleagues, the students who challenged me so wonderfully, and the land. Everything I do now with adult learners, derived in some way from those early experiences and inspirations. Now, here we are 50 years later, amazing! It will be an incredible symmetry to come full circle and connect once again with the tradition, the organization, and the people who so profoundly have influenced my whole career.
Three Week Course, 1972
I was just 16 and had led a very sheltered life when I came to North Carolina for an experience that changed me in so many ways. Now I am 60 and I still tell people about the lessons I learned during that short time so many years ago. It's even on my resume! Were there times when I was wet and miserable, in pain, hungry and unhappy? Sure. But, I managed those and still do, thanks to my experience in NCOBS. I learned about teamwork, empathy, how to put others first, how to wing it if you don't have what you need, how to understand others who are very different from you and how to speak up. I learned how important duct tape is. I learned more about caring for people who struggle and about how crucial it is to listen. I am so grateful for the memories and the lessons learned. Thank you!
This is the crew I co-led with Mary Williams. I'm in the front row, far right. Mary is in the back row, far left. We made a great team. This was my final course experience, September of 1976, and I finally had an adult crew. Except one outlier student who was 18, I was the youngest in the group at 21. This picture was taken at the finish line of a 15 mile marathon we had all ran on our final day. A memory I have from this adult group is that they took just as long as their teenage counterparts to launch out on their hanging rappel from Hawksbill. The difference was that instead of trying to talk their way out of the challenge (typical of many of my teen students), these guys spent their nervous energy talking themselves into the leap! "I need to do this! I need to do this!" I carry indelible memories and a lot of pride through my life from those formative summers of leadership, camaraderie, exertion, and personal growth.
Multi-element Course, 1987
During my freshman year in college I decided to do this 10 - 14 day Outward Bound course instead of a traditional spring break. I still recall hiking 18 miles a day, spending three nights in a cave, running every morning, learning to rock climb and also completing a service project by helping some people who lived near the caves. Our instructors in the attached picture were the man in the blue long raincoat and the blond lady in the turquoise coat leaning back as I held her (I'm the one in the black and red shirt). I learned a lot during those 10 days. It was great!
Rev. Gary E. Heaton
Standard Course 1981
I signed up for a Standard Course at NCOBS in preparation for leading a ropes and initiatives program for my United Methodist Church Camp in the summer of 1981. Outdoor ministry had drawn me into a desire to learn more about adventure programming and to develop both the technical and interpersonal skills to lead others. My experience at Table Rock pushed me to grow in my compassion toward others. I was one of the youngest members in my adult crew and the physical demands of the course were easy for me, but proved difficult for some of the other members. One rainy night in the middle of a rhododendron push, I was confronted with my willingness to leave some of the members of my crew behind because they could not keep up. I experienced an epiphany about unity and connectedness that has stayed with me through 35 years of leading congregations in pastoral ministry. Through the years I have encouraged and mentored many people into lives of service and ministry always reminding them of the lesson I learned that dark, rainy night on the side of a mountain when I was not alone. Thanks NCOBS !
Women's Intensive, 1988
Our crew shared the risks and adventures expected, but we were to endure more: the subsequent murder of one of our crewmates. We gathered at my home for her funeral and celebration of her life. Two years later I was diagnosed with an incurable and chronic disease, Progressive MS. I had raised my children almost single-handedly, as my then husband had MS. That marriage ended and off I went with two teenaged children. They are happy in their own lives, I have remarried and now run a garden designed for the physically challenged, free of charge. Getting around on a golf cart for my outside chores, earning a certification as a Master Gardener, organizing a group of volunteers has taught me that sheer determination can and will earn one the privilege of experiencing life's challenges with a good heart, a willingness to accept what comes our way - all without yielding - thanks to NCOBS.
Remember Tomias Bolen, an instructor from 1976? Before we rappelled off of Hawks Bill and the clouds rolled in and we could not see below our knees so all 14 of could not move. The sun came up coloring the clouds so it was beautiful and surreal as if we were standing on the clouds. It made for a great day. I wish we had a photo of this event cause it was magic. I do not recall anyone having a camera or even moving. Actually most of us were speechless except for the occasional don't move or wow.... Halcyon times for sure... A great adventure!
Blue Ridge Backpacking, Climbing and Whitewater Canoeing Alumna, 1998
I found something that I wrote about my experience in high school!
"Outward Bound war the BEST thing I have ever done! It changed the way I saw myself, the way I looked at life, it helped me grow. I became a better person and it gave me the strength I needed! It made me see how special life really was. It gave me ideas for my future! It showed me that I could do just about anything as long as I give it my all!"
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We want to hear about your Outward Bound experience, because every story of adventure and discovery is worth sharing!
North Carolina Outward Bound School is a registered 501(c)(3). Contributions are therefore tax-deductible to the full extent provided by the law. Financial information about North Carolina Outward Bound School is available from the NC State Solicitation Licensing Branch at (919) 733-4150.