With an old external frame backpack and a stack of Guinness book of world records, the program coordinator and I filled the backpack, with multiple copies, until it couldn’t hold anymore. It looked like a spiked orange. We walked, fully loaded, from 9th and Judah to Twin Peaks in San Francisco. I remember saying, slightly out of breath, “I think I can do this if I don’t talk.” And what did I end up doing? A 22-day mountaineering course in the High Sierra.
That summer, at 14 years old, I took my first plane trip, and it was the first time I spent significant time away from my identical twin sister. Out of all the students on course, I was one of the youngest, I was one of the shortest, I was definitely one of the poorest. Despite all of this, I was determined. The first time I went to the bathroom in the woods, I fell and a branch stabbed me in the arm, I was wobbly, and I was lost. But that first night under the stars, on top of the granite–glowing bright from the moon– filled with worries and fears, I learned that these things could be harnessed and become a power that surprised me and my family. We all had to be strong for me to take on this adventure, my father had died a year before and my mother told me she prayed every night for him to watch over me.
Upon returning, I was physically stronger, browned from the sun, and a bit wiser from the whole experience. I’ll never forget the moment in the San Francisco airport when I returned and saw my mom and twin. We embraced and were a mocha cinnamon swirl of tears, arms, relief, and love. It is one of my favorite memories, and the first time, but definitely not the last, that my family told me I smelled of dirt and fresh air.
Okay, now why do I tell you this story? I tell you because one single action made all the others possible. I said yes. I chose to challenge everything I knew and didn’t know. I was challenged by my own choices. I didn’t know it then but I was already living Outward Bound California’s values. Now, 18 years later, I am back at Outward Bound California working as part of the administrative team. I have a picture of myself from that course at my desk and it reminds me of how I felt in that moment, atop my very first peak. I committed the elevation to memory, 12,221, twelve thousand two hundred and twenty-one feet above sea level. I came from sea level, and I totally did that!
I get to do a lot of cool things at my job, but the coolest thing I have done thus far is to speak with Arvin, a recent scholarship student. And I was able to hear him talk about his experience and I realized I felt the same as he did when I was on course.
The interviewer asked him how his family and friends reacted to his decision to go on course.He said, “My family was skeptical. I don’t really have a lot of family, just me and my mom, and she was sad because she didn’t want me to go so far away for a month. She thought it would be too dangerous.” And I thought, “Yup, my mom was freaking out too.” The interviewer asked if he recalled what he felt when he first arrived. Arvin said, “When I first got there, it was kind of scary. You enter this environment, you see all the instructors. I was wondering which would be mine. You start meeting everyone and seeing different people. Then you meet people who are so different from you. Some kid’s parents worked at NASA, someone’s dad was a movie director.” I started to recall similar feelings from my course, how some of the kids had all their own gear and mine was all borrowed.
The similarities go on and on as we went through the interview. I started to notice how much I related to all of Arvin’s answers and how similar his experiences were to mine, even with so many years between us. Then it hit me. Life is about our experiences. Those experiences shape the core of who we are and who we eventually become. When we have experiences that stay within our comfort zones, then we are never expanding, the universe is constantly pushing its boundaries in ways we can and can not comprehend. Only in pushing our own boundaries do we have the new experience of furthering our comfort zones and expanding ourselves. Keep in mind the universe isn’t just massive, it is also simple. And this is exactly what Arvin and I were sharing, the common experience of having our universes blown. But not blown up, more like a supernova where a change occurs at the core level. One thing shifts and the rest of you is changed forever.
In Arvin’s words, “I learned to value what I have even if it is the simplest thing in life, such as a microwave or best of all, family. I learned that to survive in a place like this [the outdoors] it takes mental strength and also the will to keep on going no matter what happens.”
So here I am, writing this blog and sharing my story. My family still likes to comment that my hair smells of fresh air and dirt after a long backpacking trip, and I welcome the compliment.
Amelia Vigil joined Outward Bound California as Communications and Events Manager in February of this year. She embarked on a 22-day High Sierra mountaineering course in 1999, receiving a full scholarship to attend.
Arvin is studying to be a medical Assistant, something he is passionate about, and he’s certain this is just the next step in his journey. Before his Outward Bound experience, he wasn’t sure what his future would hold. But now, he is confident in his path, carrying with him the belief that you can work hard and achieve your dreams. And there is always someone willing to support you.
Two-thirds of Outward Bound California students wouldn’t have the chance to participate in a course like this without the critical support of donors like you. YOU can make it possible for students like Arvin and Amelia to access these opportunities by making a donation to our Summer Scholarship Fund today. And who knows, the student you fund could become our Executive Director some day!