Asheville Citizen Times, July 26, 2017
ASHEVILLE – Andrew Williams Jr., 66, recounts each day of an outdoors adventure he took 50 years ago as if still living it.
He describes scaling mountains in the winter, trekking a half-mile through thick woods for breakfast, and going on a solo expedition in the wilderness with only a candy bar and a live chicken.
At each memory he grows more animated with the laughter, awe and incredulity of his past 16-year-old self. After half a century, he said, the memories and the lessons he learned at the nonprofit North Carolina Outward Bound School have stayed ingrained in his being.
Williams was among the 1967 first class of NCOBS, headquartered at Table Rock Base Camp just outside the Linville Gorge Wilderness in Pisgah National Forest.
The world-renowned school celebrates its 50th anniversary this year with a series of events commemorating the outdoor, expeditionary learning institute that is often described by many of its 160,000 alumni as life-changing.
As an alum of the very first class, Williams uses that term often.
He was raised in the inner city of Richmond, Virginia, and had never camped or done anything “outdoors” such as hiking, rock climbing or camping. His high school offered some boys the chance to try an introductory program at a new type of school in the Western North Carolina mountains.
“It proved to be more challenging than fun, to say the least,” Williams said. “It was life-changing, doing something I’d never done before.”
He said he arrived at the NCOBS Table Rock Base Camp in early winter with a bunch of other teenage boys, a duffel bag filled with cotton clothes like jeans, knowing nothing about life outside of a home with hot running water and electricity. Or high-tech fabrics that dry quickly instead of the moisture-soaking, potentially deadly effects of cotton.
“We would live in tents during the weeks that followed and I would build a strong bond with the other guys, who were mostly white but some black, but race didn’t seem to matter,” Williams said. “We were just young guys out for an adventure. Little did we know that the adventures we would experience would far exceed our wildest imagination.”
The challenges of the outdoors began right away.
Fellow first class participant Joe Avery remembered the challenge just to eat breakfast.
“We would do the ‘run and dip’ every morning, which meant we would wake up at 5:30 a.m. and run up a hilly trail in the dark. Once up the hill we would dip in a cold pond and then had to climb a rope to get to the breakfast hall,” Avery said.
“If we didn’t get up on time or didn’t do the run and climb, we missed breakfast.”
“There were unbelievable challenges. These were real mountains we were climbing at 16. I can remember it like it was yesterday. Those expeditions we went on for 20 miles, with a full backpack. It was not for the faint of heart,” Williams said. “A lot of guys quit. I didn’t want to be seen as a quitter.”
They learned to navigate the wilderness with map and compass, cook over fires, ford rivers, rock climb enormous mountain faces, and during a “solo,” Williams said he was dropped off for a few nights in the woods with a candy bar and a live chicken.
“It wasn’t so bad at first until nightfall came, finding myself alone for the first time without my comrades. It was pitch black darkness and the night seemed to produce sounds like I’d never heard before, leaves crackling, the chicken clucking, and I think it was an owl in the tree right over my head,” Williams said.
He told himself he would make it out of the woods with the chicken intact, but after days without food, to make a long story short, Williams made it back to base camp, but the chicken did not.
NCOBS Born Out of War’s Horrors
The origins of the N.C. Outward Bound School were born during the bleak times of World War II. It started in 1933 in Scotland at the Gordonstoun School where Kurt Hahn, a German-born educator, taught character development, leadership and service on an equal playing field with traditional academics.
When war broke out in Europe in 1939, Sir Lawrence Holt, a parent of a Gordonstoun student who owned a large merchant shipping company, was troubled that so many young seamen were dying in the Battle of the Atlantic, he felt, because of lack of life experience and proper training.
Outward Bound now has more than 75 schools in more than 30 countries based on the same motto today: “to serve, to strive and not to yield.”
The first Outward Bound School in the United States was established in 1962 in Colorado by Josh Miner, a teacher at the Gordonstoun School, and thenext in Minnesota in 1965. Marjorie Buckley, of Goldsboro, developed the first board and founded the North Carolina Outward Bound School, which opened in 1967 at Table Rock in Burke County. She was 24 years old at the time.
The first classes were for young male teenagers. Courses were opened to girls in 1971.
John Huie, 79, a teacher from Albany, Georgia, who resides in Asheville, served as executive director of NCOBS from 1977-1994.
He “fell in” with Outward Bound at the Minnesota School where he met Buckley, a fellow Southerner and was inspired by her mission to bring Outward Bound to the South. He trained at Minnesota and became an instructor and program director, finding his “mission in life.”