Last summer, Allison Carter joined her Outward Bound California crew like many others before her: excited and a little nervous about meeting the other people she would be hiking with through the Sierras. Over a year later, and Allison, who was dubbed “Alpine Al” by her group, sent an email to one of her instructors, Patty. She said:
“Once I turned on my phone on the bus ride back to the airport on the last day of the trip, my front country life came rushing back to me without much delay of thought…Now that I’ve had time to reminisce on my experience in the backcountry of California, I can’t stop thinking about it.
I’ve noticed such a contrast between my hectic schedule at school and my life out in the High Sierras for those 22 days. I yearn for the simplicity that I found in the mountains and the people I met along the way. I miss that technology-free world. I miss practicing my compassion and patience on hikes and working as a team through tough terrain. Heck, I even miss the mosquitoes! Most of all, I miss the authenticity that I found in myself and in the members of the Sparkle Sq’aad in the High Sierras.”
Alpine Al called Outward Bound California to talk to her about what life has been like back at home and about her Outward Bound crew, the Sparkle Sq’aad. She credited the hard work of her instructors, Patty Haltom and Brent Klava, with the skills that brought their motley crew together. Below, Allison shares three ways her instructors helped build a team out of a group of strangers. You too can use these practices at home, in the office, or on your next outdoor trip.
Find common ground.
Our group came to California from all different backgrounds, ages, and lifestyles. We knew we had to work together. I didn’t think we would become so close so quickly, but we did! One way you can encourage conversation among strangers is to do a fun introduction game like Lowest Common Denominator. In this game, you organize the group in pairs and each pair has to find the smallest or strangest thing they have in common by asking each other questions. (ie. We both worked at a deli at one point in our lives, we both have a dog named Fred, etc.)
Let the laughter begin.
Everyone had their own sense of humor and shared it with the group when things got tough or tiring. One person on my crew was training to be a personal trainer and would take on a fake intense voice when we had to go up a steep part of the trail that made everyone laugh. I’m not the best singer, but I would sing songs to help distract people from the hardest parts of the day.
Set group goals.
Our crew worked hard to stay together during long hike days. At one point at the end of the course, we had been stormed on for two days straight and the next day was our final challenge. We had to work together to hike 16 miles on our own and we all set the goal to make it together. In the end, it took 13 hours, but we all reached the meeting spot together. We finished our course stronger as a team and while we were exhausted, we were in good spirits.
Alpine Al has since been focusing on being compassionate and her authentic self. She put that into action by volunteering this summer at a health clinic in Uganda. Her plans for the future include getting a degree in global public health and running as much as she can between classes.