By Matthew Merritt, Blue Ridge Backpacking and Rock Climbing, 2018
It was a clear sunny day at the end of October. You could sense the Halloween spirit in the air, the adventurous spirit in my bones and the sugary spirit of my Almond Joys, an omnipresent necessity for me during long rides.
I jumped on the bus with my fellow McCallie School comrades, backpack and duffle bag in hand and we were off. I joked, read, and dreamed in route. I’d never backpacked in the Blue Ridge Mountains of North Carolina before, although it had been on my bucket list for some time. Originally, when asked if I wanted to attend an Outward Bound course with my school, I denied the opportunity, but after persuasion from my U.S. history teacher, I was sold and signed up immediately.
As any experienced backpacker knows, nature always possesses a mind of its own. Just a few minutes before we were to hop on the trail for our first day, the temperature dropped and the rain began to fall. So did my dreams of perfect weather. Camp was cold that night. I hadn’t become very acquainted with any of my classmates, and no one could quite understand the new knot we had learned, so things were not moving too quickly. My hands hurt from the cold and my stomach growled from the forgotten mac-n-cheese that I’d all but swallowed in a matter of seconds during dinner.
The weather didn’t change much in the first couple days, but my attitude certainly did. I can’t quite remember how long it took, but I soon realized that being out in nature is always far better than the cramped, chaotic world we live in. I vividly recall the feeling of pure joy upon reaching the top of the granite rock we climbed and looking out upon the surrounding mountains. It was at that moment that I realized just how beautiful our earth is, and I soon after resolved to protect it with all my heart.
There is a peace in the forest, and Outward Bound helped me to find that. Of course, there were plenty of practical skills and facets of backpacking that I came to understand during my course as well, but I left the forest with so much more. I left with peace, something that is incredibly elusive to teens in the twenty-first century.
It is my personal belief that peace is the most empowering feeling one can encounter in life. At least for me, it allowed me to find myself and to contemplate the type of leader I strive to be. It instilled in me a sense of ambition and taught me the skills necessary to act upon that.
I don’t think I would ever be able to reach my full potential without my North Carolina Outward Bound School course. It’s difficult to explain, but I left my course as a different person. I’ve always been adventurous, but sometimes I failed to pursue adventures as wholeheartedly as I should. Thanks to Outward Bound, I’ve decided to change all that. This summer, I will be heading to Senegal for one month. I will have no phone and will be living in a traditional Senegalese hut. Admittedly, I am quite intimidated to be traveling to such in an unfamiliar place. My course with Outward Bound, though, instilled in me an ambition for adventure that prompted me to pursue such a trip despite the fear that comes with it.
I am incredibly grateful to my guides, Mike and Hillary, for allowing me to lead our group of 10 McCallie students; to Outward Bound as a whole for providing a space in which students can experience growth in the same way I did, and to all the people that encouraged me to attend. Attending Outward Bound may very well be the best decision I’ve made thus far. It placed me on a path, or rather allowed me to find a path, that enables me to explore and have impact.
In far fewer words, John Muir says it best. “In every walk with nature, one receives far more than he seeks.” In Outward Bound language, that’s “peace, love and chow.”