#17 of “23 Stories of Change” for our City Skyline Challenge!
When I was 15, my older sister went on an Outward Bound course. She spent three weeks hiking in the Colorado wilderness – carrying heavy backpacks, hiking many miles each day, avoiding imminent deadly lightning strikes. It sounded awful…and I was jealous. But we lived in Colorado, we went hiking in the mountains all the time – my high school even took us on backpacking trips every year. I wanted to try something new. The next year, when it was my turn to choose an Outward Bound course, I decided I wanted to sail and sea kayak in the San Juan Islands in Washington. I had experience with sailing (I had sailed with my family on vacation) and kayaking (I had taken some river kayaking classes), so I figured this would be a piece of cake.
I was wrong.
My “breakthrough” moment happened in a double kayak. I’ve always been a solitary person and very self-reliant, but worked well in a team setting. The sailing portion of the trip (the “team” portion, as I call it) was challenging, but structured – when there are 11 people on a 22-ft boat, everybody has a role to play. Kayaking in a single kayak meant that I could be in control of myself, and not worry about anyone else. And then there is the double kayak. A double kayak forces you to work with one partner.
On that day we were paddling through Deception Pass, a narrow passage that flows like a river with the tides. In order to make it through and to avoid the swirling eddies, you have to paddle hard and build enough speed to maintain your ability to steer. I knew what I needed to do, and I made the assumption that my partner did as well. I didn’t listen to his concerns because I thought I could do it all myself anyway. As we turned into the current, we started weaving around because we each had our own plan and our own approach. We weren’t working together, so we were dragged into an eddy and we capsized. This was traumatic for the obvious reasons: the shock of plunging into the freezing water and the panic of trying to find a way to safety – scrambling to reach each other and hold on to the overturned kayak in the strong currents. It was also traumatic for me because I knew it was my fault. I was acting for myself and ignoring the fact that I needed to coordinate with my partner. We both paid the price for my arrogance and my ignorance.
My experience with Outward Bound taught me two humbling lessons that I still hold with me today. First is to manage my expectations. I never assume that anything will be easy, even if I think I have all of the skills and resources needed to accomplish the task. The second lesson was about trust and partnership. I learned that, while built on the same principles, “partnership” is different from “teamwork”, and that success is achieved through communication and trust.
You can make an expedition possible for a students to have experiences like Megan’s by participating in or donating to the City Skyline Challenge!