Applying the Principles of ‘Leave No Trace’ to Daily Life in an Urban Setting

By NCOAE Headquarters June 27, 2022


What is Leave No Trace?

The idea behind Leave No Trace is to embrace specific wilderness stewardship values in order to protect our backcountry areas for generations to come. Back in the early 1940s, Robert Baden-Powell, founder of the world Scouting movement, said, “Try and leave the world a little better than you found it.” Over time, this morphed into, “Always leave your campground cleaner than you found it.”

Fifty years later, in the early 1990s, that Leave No Trace concept was immortalized through an educational curriculum developed by the United States Forest Services in partnership with NOLS (the National Outdoor Leadership School). The outcome was an agreed framework for instilling awareness on the part of wilderness travelers to interact with nature in a manner that reduces human impact.

What is The Importance of Leave No Trace?

The idea behind Leave No Trace is to embrace specific wilderness stewardship values in order to protect our backcountry areas for generations to come. Today, that program — run by the Leave No Trace Center for Outdoor Ethics in Boulder, Colorado — impacts more than 15 million people in the United States and dozens of other countries with conservation initiatives, education, training, and research.

Baden-Powell’s simple sentiment more-or-less condenses the seven principles behind today’s Leave No Trace (LNT) program. The well-known LNT’s principles are: (more…)

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Discover Solace in the Outdoors After Months Isolating Indoors

By Stephen Mullaney October 26, 2021


You sit. The clock is ticking. You hear only the clock. And all the stress and anxiety vanish.


Laughing with friends around a backyard campfire on a Friday night. Distant traffic and an occasional train whistle provide the soundtrack. The weight of the week disappears.


Sitting quietly on a rock on Day 20 of a 30-day solo backpacking trip. Hearing birds overhead and seeing every pine needle with clarity.

Solace and solitude.

Solace and solitude, however, do not mean the same thing.

Photo Credit: © Kalen Emsley — sourced from Unsplash

Solace is the finding of comfort in times of distress. Solitude is being alone.

For the past year and a half, most of us have tackled a mountain of experiences and emotions related to the global health pandemic. We know solitude. Head in hands, confused, feeling pain, sorrow or anxiety, we have all been bombarded by the thought that something has got to change.

Want to know my take on this universally felt emotion? Find yourself some solace. Sure, maybe solitude seekers have an easier go of it. That’s because avoidance and denial are always the easy way out. What I know is that it has been a long time and a hard time for many of us. And many of us are now seeking solace.

In reaching for stone, wood, water, and feather, I found my own edges softening, scars fading.

Heather Durham

Getting outdoors — either alone or with close friends — has always been a way for me to find solace. Here at The National Center for Outdoor & Adventure Education (NCOAE), we design a variety of outdoor programs that can provide that which you seek. We work with all types of schools, groups, and organizations to provide many radically different outcomes.

And one thing that is common to all of our courses is what we call the “Summit.” Ask any NCOAE instructor or participant what they think was the most powerful experience that shaped the group, provided introspection, and helped keep them moving in a positive direction when they returned home. Most will immediately say, “Summit.”

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Tales from The Trail: The ‘Cookie Lady’ of the Appalachian Trail

By NCOAE Headquarters June 21, 2021


There are always lessons to be learned on the trail, and they aren’t always related to building a campfire, setting up a tent, or leaving your campsite cleaner than when you arrived.

Some of these are life lessons that fall in the category of treating others as you would like to be treated and adhering to the principles of human kindness. Take, for instance, an experience I had while hiking along a stretch of the 2,200-mile Appalachian National Scenic Trail, or simply, the AT.

For days, I kept running across hikers along a Massachusetts section of the AT, and often during our short conversations, they would tell me stories about a “Cookie Lady” on up the trail. It got to the point where it seemed every other hiker told me, “You just gotta stop at the “Cookie Lady’s” house. Best cookies ever!

Then these thoughtful fellow travelers would painstakingly give me directions to a blueberry farm just off the trail in western Massachusetts. It seems Marilyn Wiley, along with her husband Roy, owned the farm in rural Washington, Mass., that had several outbuildings, including one with what appeared to be storing a small airplane.

And since buying the place back in 1983, Marilyn Wiley would walk out front and hand out her scrumptious cookies to blueberry pickers and hikers passing her farm on the Appalachian Trail.

A few days into that part of my trek, I found myself approaching a country road in western Massachusetts in search of (more…)

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From Couch Potato to Hiker in Just 4 to 6 Weeks

By Stephen Mullaney April 16, 2021


Apparently, I spent three quarters of last year and a quarter of this year mostly sitting on the couch. I held a beverage in one hand, chips, cheese and crackers in the other (and yes, I can hold that much).

Adding new meaning to the term “binge-watching,” I viewed dozens of subtitled, multi-season detective series from every nation in NATO — all of which I wouldn’t have sat through in the years leading up 2020. Sound familiar to you?

OK. Maybe your pandemic parade didn’t include as many snacks, and maybe you were watching adventure films while wearing your climbing harness on the couch, a rack of gear on the floor. That sound more likely?

But it’s possible that in either scenario, you never pulled back your window curtain to notice the outdoors is still there, just waiting for you to emerge. It’s time to get out from under the duvet, lose the pajama bottoms, and be outdoors more than you’ve been indoors and on your couch over the last 12 months or so.

You probably aren’t in as good of shape as you think

It’s also time to come to terms with reality. You’ve been marinating on a couch for more than a year now. If you were climbing 5.10 early last year, chances are you aren’t doing that now. The living room furniture has become a leech of progress and fitness.

The solution? Allow us to help you see how easy it is to get out of the house and onto the trail for a multi-day backpacking trip.

Most couch-to-5k programs are nine weeks long. However, the guide we put together below is only six weeks. And if you’re willing, you can probably knock that down to four weeks. Why? Because training can get boring. And if you get bored while training, you may never make it to the trail. We here at NCOAE want you on the trail.

So, what we’ve put together below is a guide. It’s not a program. It’s not a plan. Because if we can’t make it fun, you might just remain on the couch, reading subtitles and thinking you speak Swedish.

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Inspiration Through a Journey of Exploration: Part Two – Federico Cabrera

By NCOAE Headquarters November 14, 2020


Federico Cabrera is a dreamer. For years, he had dreams of becoming a National Geographic photographer. Taking photos in Africa was top of mind for 15 years as he toiled in foreign trade. But that nagging thought of grabbing up a camera and exploring the world finally prompted Federico to give up his successful career and follow  the photo bug dream.

These days, Federico Cabrera is a Buenos Aires-based freelance photographer, traveling throughout South America on a bicycle and living in the countryside and, as we’d like to point out, making a difference in the world.

Federico Cabrera family portrait
(Image © 2020 Federico Cabrera)

Walking away from his former career, Federico put new-found energy into a life behind the lens. And to do this, he said he began commuting country to country by bike, initially to reduce stress and eventually to return to a simple/healthier way of living. He now travels at a pace that enables him to actually see the countryside from the seat of a chain-driven bicycle rather than behind the wheel of a fast-moving, impersonal car.

Today, we feature the works of Federico in Part 2 of our Inspiration Through Exploration series. A photo is nothing more than light passing through a hole in a box. Whether exposed to paper treated with chemicals or digital receptors, the end product is the same — a photograph. And when you see a photograph that moves you, that is inevitably the result of the subject and the camera operator engaging in the movement of light together — a beautiful dance.

This week’s featured artist not only performs this dance with his subjects, but he produces beautiful portraits of them that he frames and then hands over to the subjects of his photography. His portraits are the residents of poor communities in South America, many living in homes with little or no access to electricity or clean water.

It was while visiting with these families that Federico discovered that in many of the homes, the residents didn’t even have a portrait of their family. That prompted him to carry a printer along with paper and ink to deliver personal portraits of his subjects.

On a more realistic level, Federico saw many families living with little or no electricity in their homes and worse yet, contamination in their water supplies. He decided he could make a small difference by handing out solar lamps and water filters to households he visited while on his expeditions. That, along with portraits of those families that were often the only photographs these South Americans had in their homes.

Federico figures he’s donated nearly 350 solar lamps and water filters, along with more than 500 printed portraits in the six years since he began these bikepacking adventures, which include expeditions through Argentina, Chile, Venezuela, Brazil, Peru, and Bolivia.

So when Federico packs up for a photo expedition, he brings along his essential photography equipment, as well as solar lights and water filters that he personally delivers to those who need them.

A photographer? Yes, but Federico is much more, not only capturing the light to make a family portrait, but a light that is filled with empathy, compassion and a heart.

We asked Federico what inspires him and how he arrives at his inspiration:

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Inspiration Through a Journey of Exploration: Part One – Alex Hotchin

By Stephen Mullaney November 7, 2020


This week we begin the first in a three-part series called “Inspiration Through Exploration” where we will see how gifted and novice travelers alike can document their adventures through artwork, photography, writings and other means.

Today’s inspiration comes from Australian Alex Hotchin and her beautiful — and very unique maps. Next week, we will explore the photography of Federico Cabrera in his “Their Only Portrait Project.” And in Part Three, we will see how primitive and print journals are emerging, with representation from both the Adventure Journal and Bikepacking Journal.  

(Image ©2020 Alex Hotchin)

What we here at the National Center of Outdoor & Adventure Education (NCOAE) hope to accomplish in this series is to inspire outdoor enthusiasts to document their adventures in new and fascinating ways. Too often we just pick up our smartphone or camera to grab a quick shot of a passing bird, a mountain formation, or the cool gear of the hiker in front of us.

We are hoping to encourage you to move outside the boxes (devices, phones, computers) that are typical of  modern-day sharing. For example, I carry a camera on my bicycle, usually strapped to my climbing harness or in my boats. Ninety-nine percent of the time I don’t touch it. So, why carry it at all? Because maybe one percent of the time, I see something that I want to help illustrate the story and memory of that specific moment in time, during that specific journey. I like to take pictures of the unexpected.

Most of the time, I also carry a roll of colored pencils and a notebook. Drawing takes more time, so it forces me to stop and think about how to best combine lines and colors to represent something meaningful to me and to connect my story with those who might see it later on.

Many times upon returning from a long outing or expedition for NCOAE, I show my family and friends my journal, drawings, and photos to accompany my stories. This gives people the opportunity to come up with questions, engage with the landscape and not just ask, “How was your trip? “What did you do?” Sharing on a personal level allows for a secondary depth of exploration, face to face (or six feet apart for now).

Meet Alex Hotchin

Alex is an illustrator who creates books and maps to tell her stories. Her illustrations are inspiring and the maps she creates are personal to herself and to her specific journeys.

When looking at Alex’s work, you get the sense you have actually joined the journey. Alex takes two-dimensional representations of maps and makes them jump off the page. Scale is not specific to cartography, with the scale offering viewers a look through the artist/adventurer’s eyes. What she saw out there — the beauty, the obstacles and cultural significance — is laid out before us in lines, shapes and colors.  

Can you actually find your way using her maps? I suppose that depends on where you want to go. We asked Alex to provide us with a little detail about the work she does, and here’s what she had to say:

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The Benefit of Early Exposure to the Outdoors

By Julia Knight February 18, 2022


I grew up in the Midwest, and while some may claim the flatlands don’t have much to offer — I often found one way or another to get into trouble. I climbed trees in my front lawn, jumping off one branch, and climbing higher. While learning how to ride a bike, I often showed up to kindergarten the next day with bandages covering my knees.

On family ski trips, I was the one tumbling head over skis down the mountain rather than staying atop my skis like other people. I wanted to know how fast I could go, but nine times out of 10, I lost control and fell victim to power of the mountain. My mother was not a fan of my experiments as we watched her fearless seven-year-old tumble on down below.

There’s no question I have always had an adventurous heart, a thirst for more, and a passion for the world around me. I was fortunate to be able to spend more days outside than inside during my childhood.

That passion grew as I grew. While all my friends were putting on their prom dresses, I was stepping into a harness. One of my most cherished memories was checking my gear for about the 10th time, giving my spotter down below the “all clear” signal, and slowly making my way down. I was in Costa Rica, about to rappel down a waterfall at sunset, thinking “there’s nowhere else I’d rather be.”

While most of my senior class friends wrapped up their final year in high school with ceremonial “lasts,” I was surfing seven-foot waves, sea kayaking in bioluminescence waters, hiking through a cloud forest, and whitewater rafting Costa Rica’s Savegre River.

I could probably write a book about the personal lessons I learned during all of my travels, but the one that changed everything was the realization that (more…)

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Have any further questions about our courses, what you’ll learn, or what else to expect? Contact us, we’re here to help!