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Stephen Mullaney

The Three Bears: Part 3 — Decision Time for the Trailbike Rider

By Stephen Mullaney July 30, 2021

Wildlife

Editor’s Note: Below is final part in Stephen Mullaney’s three-part series of essays about encounters with bears in the backcountry. The first essay in the series recants the shock Stephen experienced with one particular bear encounter, while the second essay in this series attempts to find humor in a persistent bear taking up quarters in an NCOAE camp late at night. This time around, Stephen — who serves as Director of School Partnerships here at The National Center for Outdoor & Adventure Education (NCOAE) — writes about a timing issue.

Decision Time for the Trailbike Rider

When NCOAE offers larger courses or custom outdoor education courses, we try to have a floater in the field. The floater is an instructor who knows the course area, can navigate to multiple groups in a single day, and has the ability to be flexible and help out when groups are in need of extra support.

I enjoy being a floater because it allows me to see the NCOAE field staff in action. To watch an NCOAE instructor teach is inspiring to me. It also has the added benefit of allowing me to discover different approaches to teaching our curriculum. As a result, being a floater is akin to real-time professional development.

On one particular wilderness course for which I was the floater, we 11 crews/groups in the field. Because of the distance between the groups, the terrain that would need to be traversed, and the need to reach groups quickly, I figured using a trail bike was a no brainer. I could get to each group every four days and still be able to respond to any group that may need outside support in a quicker fashion. 

Stephen Mullaney Bikepack
Our intrepid Director of School Partnerships’ trail bike, used to support groups in the backcountry.

Each day I woke up, left the crew with which I had spent the night, and headed off to meet the next crew before they had even had their breakfast. Then I was off to the next group before lunch, and I usually showed up to meet my final crew for the day a little before dark. Or very much after dark depending on circumstances.

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The Three Bears: Tales of Terror and Trepidation — Part 1 “The Shock”

By Stephen Mullaney July 17, 2021

Wildlife

When folks find out that my work often takes me into the backcountry, one of the first questions they usually ask me is, “Have you ever had a run-in with a bear — a bear encounter?”

After I tell them that I have had run-ins with bears in the backcountry, they ask what’s that’s like. And that’s when I share that there are many emotions attached to an encounter with a bear in the wilderness, ranging from shock, to humor, to the sudden and unexpected “meet and greet” where you wonder, “Am I going to have to physically engage with this bear?”

First up in this three-part series on bear encounters in the backcountry is a true story about ashocking bear encounter.

A Shocking Bear Encounter

It was Day Two on a multi-day backcountry expedition when someone in the group needed to stop and use the facilities, meaning off the side of the trail. The hiker asked for the “Poop Kit,” which contains hand sanitizer, a trowel to dig a hole and everything else needed for a semi-comfortable sitting.

Brown Bear Image © by JT Ray

Problems arose when no one could find the kit. As an aside, when traveling as a group, each participant is responsible for carrying the same communal gear each day — that way, nothing gets lost. So, who had been carrying the kit for the entire trip?

A voice spoke up, “I’m supposed to have it, but it’s not in my bag.”

Someone else said, “I saw it by the fire ring this morning while we were getting ready to head out.”

Not too happy, I looked at my co-leader and told him, “One of us needs to hike back and get it while the other gets the group into camp.” I lost the coin toss, and prepared to head back to get the kit. Wanting to travel light, I hung my backpack up in a tree, grabbed a snack and a bottle of water and headed the four miles back to the previous night’s campsite. 

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Returning to School? We Want to Help you Safely Opt Out(side)

By Stephen Mullaney February 20, 2021

Uncategorized

In recent weeks, we’ve all been hearing more and more from parents, educators, and even the nation’s top disease experts on the impending opening of schools across the nation.

Dr. Anthony Fauci, who heads the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, has suggested that school districts developing their plans for campus reopening should find ways to offer as many outdoor activities as possible. Fauci said that could include everything from outdoor classes, to recess, and lunchtime.

Plans for just when and how schools will reopen are being formulated and fine-tuned, and the consensus seems to be that being outside is the safest place to be during the instructional day. As states start to mandate returns to school, safety and quality of education are at the forefront of design.

Obviously, you’ll get no argument about that from those of us here at The National Center for Outdoor & Adventure Education (NCOAE). And we have some suggestions. But first, here are the questions we are hearing most often from you.

Why move outdoors?

Doctor Fauci already told us that spending time outdoors is safer during times of infectious diseases, and we’re puzzled why some schools forget that being outside is often best for our physical, emotional, and mental well-being. Studies have shown that, in districts with high numbers of second language students, learning outdoors is (more…)

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

By Stephen Mullaney November 7, 2020

Inspiration

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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DIY Part 2: Emergency Water Filtration System

By Stephen Mullaney July 25, 2020

Backcountry Prep

We’ve all seen those old Western movies where the hero is crawling on the desert floor with an empty canteen and a parched throat. None of us want to experience that torture. It’s bad enough watching the bad acting. Same goes for heading to the backcountry for a weeklong wilderness experience. Nobody wants to be caught short of fresh drinking water.

Here’s where the do-it-yourself approach to human-powered outdoor recreation really comes in handy. The stove we built in Part One of this three-part DYI series, can be seen as an inexpensive alternative to a store-bought stove, and as a tool to help us understand how camping stoves work. Because the more we are familiar with the inner workings of equipment, the more likely we’ll be able to solve challenging issues with that stove.

It’s a given. Your gear will fail you.

That being said, the water filter we’re building today falls more into the understanding of how filtration systems work. Again, if we comprehend how our equipment works, we can better take care of that gear and repair it when it reaches a point of failure. And, if you have spent a considerable amount of  time traveling in wild places, you know that your gear is eventually going to fail.

First off, there are three tried and true methods of water purification — boil, filter (purify), and chemical treatment. (For more on this, read Stay Sharp in The Offseason By Following the Way of the Farmer, available here on the NCOAE Blog.)

The industry standard when traveling with groups on guided trips in the backcountry is the use of chemical treatment, typically Iodine. That’s because Iodine is inexpensive, easy to carry, and highly reliable. Many outdoors enthusiasts use a commercially available filter, life straw, or gravity feed system. Not surprising, many don’t know how they work or how to repair them in the backcountry. This lack of knowledge has cut short many a trip due to a water filtration failure.

Once, while traveling in Nepal with a group of students from NCOAE, I was almost forced into building a water filtration system like the one we describe below. One of the participants swore he was having a reaction to the chemical treatment. And, because the mental perception of one individual can affect the entire group, when water quality is in question, we need to overcome that obstacle. My thought was to create a filter system that would not only educate the students but keep everyone safe — whether that danger was perceived or not. Fortunately, it never came to that.

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Do it Yourself Part One: Denatured Alcohol Stove

By Stephen Mullaney July 18, 2020

Backcountry Prep

Visitors to our blog are going to react in one of two ways when they see an article with “Do it Yourself” in the headline. You’re either going to avert your eyes and try to find a less intimidating article. Or you’re going to greet this headline and subsequent instructions with enthusiasm and frenzied fervency.

Here’s hoping you’re among the second category of DYI folks who revel in the experience of creating things from scratch. You know, those Junior MacGyvers who’d rather spend a weekend creating a project than spend nine bucks for the same item at the store.

That’s why we’re dedicating the next three posts here on the NCOAE blog to help you find what we hope is the do-it-yourselfer deep in your soul. Here at The National Center for Outdoor Adventure and Education (NCOAE), we have always used the equation of Self + Community + Action = Impact. It’s the notion of making the changes necessary to feel better about yourself and see your role in a community of peers, practice, neighbors, or just society as a whole.

Through our outdoor education and wilderness medicine programs we have helped countless individuals and organizations — through interaction with nature and wild places — to move forward to a more conscious way of living life and perhaps influencing the world around them. Just look at the many companies that were born of DIY thinking. There’s Patagonia, Petzl, Outdoor Research, Swift Industries, Black Diamond, and pretty much everything related to the surf industry.

So, for this installment and the two that follow, we will be exploring the DIY experience of creating equipment destined for human-powered outdoor pursuits, either for fun or out of necessity. We find that DIY projects give you a taste of the experiential education process from the comfort of your own home or garage.

And Part One of this series is how to make a denatured alcohol stove.

Years ago, I made the beautiful mistake of buying “Beyond Backpacking” by Ray Jardine. The mistake? The book inspired me to begin purging my gear, make my own gear, and learn how to go light for less money. Gearing up for a huge trip inspired me to follow the “Ray Way.”

It was around that time that I built my first denatured alcohol stove. The process is straightforward and acquiring the materials can be a lot of fun. For instance, you’ll need to empty a couple of soda or beer cans before you even get started. Any beverage can will work, but some folks would prefer to drain a can of beer. Because building this stove is about the experience and the pursuit of learning. And, of course, the enjoyment.

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