4 pm, December 13th. Joshua Tree National Park, California. The sun is fading and the horizon will soon reveal another beautiful Mojave sunset. After a sun-soaked day of pancakes and debriefing the last month and a half, the Bus is getting anxious. When are we going? Who will take charge? Do I need a layer? Classic adults and their high information needs. Indecisiveness…Finally, Nat steps up emphatically: “Who’s ready for the Chasm!” We smile, and within a few minutes we leave our campsite, heading toward Real Hidden Valley.
The Chasm of Doom is a scramble, a squeeze, a crawl through a maze of granite boulders near the entrance to Real Hidden Valley. Nat recons the entrance – he’s the Chasm vet of the crew, having once pioneered a previous thru-squeeze with the author and a midnight run with random climbers during a previous college visit to the park. Soon, all eight of us are in – Brent leads the way, his best impression of Lakshmi Singh echoing throughout the dark boulder tunnels. Any discussion of headlamp usage is quelled. With obnoxious grunting we pull through the classic “4th class chimney moves” up to an amphitheater and out to an overlook. By now the sun is setting, and hikers below are heading toward their tour bus sized RV’s. We snap a couple of group selfies before down-climbing and down-squeezing/crawling to the entrance. All attempts are made to make this section of the chasm as difficult and awkward as possible. Erin rides the last section of the chasm atop Nat’s shoulders, raising her hands triumphantly like a boxer who’s just won the featherweight title of San Bernardino County.
And just like that, as we shared a meal around the campfire later that evening, Outward Bound California’s inaugural Service Bus was over. We entered the Chasm of Doom the same way we entered the Service Bus – clean shaven, each of us comfortable with uncertainty and our fearless leader Chelsea diving stoically headfirst into the challenges that lay ahead (helmets on of course). And the Service Bus ended the same way our Chasm squeeze did – smiles on our faces, scrapes on our fingers, Jeremy constantly telling cheeky jokes to his toy pal Dr. Don’t Care, a sense of accomplishment and satisfaction knowing we had done this together, as co-workers, as Bus riders, as friends. The past month and a half was a service to our communities, to the national parks, to Outward Bound – and it was a service to each other.