Here at The National Center for Outdoor & Adventure Education (NCOAE) you can find us toiling year-round to bring our students and clients the very best in guided outdoor adventures with meaning. So, as far as our staff is concerned, we’re always in the “getting ready mode” for outings in the wilderness.
But as we approach our busiest time of the year, we’d like to pose some questions for our seasonal participants:
- What are you doing to get ready?
- What does it mean to be ready?
- Can we ever really be ready?
Let’s distill outdoor preparedness into three categories, Physical, Emotional and Gear.
Physical: Lounging on the couch with a belly covered with unnaturally orange Cheetos dust while watching 180 Degrees South: Conquerors of the Useless for the 100th time might suggest it’s time to get busy getting fit before you head out on a course.
Whether that entails short hikes with heavy bags, bike rides across town, hitting the gym or some distance running, it’s entirely up to you to decide what works. Just know this. Time’s ticking and the first summer excursions are less than the turn of a monthly calendar page away.
Emotional: So you’ve been hiking, biking and swimming and you’re feeling like you’re getting your mojo back. Swell. Now it’s time to prepare mentally for what lies in store on the trail.
Take a moment. Close your eyes and picture your favorite course area. It’s easy to recall the bucolic views, pristine settings, and warm campfires at night. But they say pain has no memory. Now think about an unrelenting sun beating down on you, or a trip that featured nothing but rain, day and night. Your gear and body are getting funky, you’re exhausted. And when you look around, you notice your fellow course mates appear to have been through a major battle. Choo, Choo! Emotional fatigue has hit your group like a train! How you prepare mentally for such potential calamities is what makes outdoor adventure, well, adventurous. Are you ready for everything nature can toss your way?
Just know that when condition are at their worst, it’s an opportunity for you to perform at your best. Like journalist Hunter S. Thompson remarked, “When the going gets tough, the weird turn pro. Or as Charles Bukowski wrote: What matters most is how well you walk through the fire.
Gear: Oh man, there’s still the gear! Get off the couch and pull your warm-weather gear out of the closet or garage. Spread it out on the floor or ground and take a close inspection of what’ you’ve got.
Those moth-eaten trousers should be replaced, and doubtless there are buckles, straps and buttons that should have been repaired last year or maybe three years ago. Time for a session of sewing, duct taping or other creative means of repairing your stuff. And don’t be shy about visiting your neighborhood outdoor shop to replace items beyond repair.
As for me, I ride my bike every day, get out on the river as much as possible, climb boulder and bushwhack my way into reasonable shape. For emotional preparation, I go out of my way to head out on the trail when conditions are the worst. For instance, I recently rode my bike 10 miles to work in a torrential downpour, wearing wet suit socks in my sneakers, my sailing gear and a smile.
Personally, I need to know I can get through the storm and still work a whole day teaching. Being wet, cold and tired can put you in a bad, bad mood. I practice being happy.
As for gear preparation, I have a mantra: I think it can make it another season! Holes can be patched — or entirely ignored. Smelly item? I’ll probably only make new gear smelly, so I might as well stick with my old stink another season. Gorilla glue and some duct tape can resole that shoe — for one more season. But I definitely should get new socks.
And I’m going to finish up “180 Degrees South,” wipe off the crumbs, put on my raincoat and get out — and stay out!
In the meantime, here’s what several other NCOAE instructors told me they do to prepare for multi-day wilderness outings:
Wes Hawkins, an NCOAE lead instructor and self-proclaimed surf junkie, said he’s eating healthier and working on his cardio by running and exercising. Mentally, Wes said he’s reviewing old notes and course objectives, along with other materials.
As for gear, his primary objective is to buy more socks, maybe new boots and new gear for what he can’t repair.
Liz Shirley, an NCOAE course director and trail runner, is going to game up with workouts, including a mix of slow distance runs, interval training and lap swims. That’s in addition to getting out hiking, biking and kayaking.
For emotional reinforcement, Liz said she thinks about what lesson, games, or activities might work with the group she’s getting ready to lead. She also conducts any needed research for new activities, and she makes sure to have all the supplies packed for lessons and games, along with her personal gear.
Liz also makes sure no repairs are needed on her gear, and she might re-waterproof rain gear or put new patches on the holes in her clothing. And since she usually brings the exact same gear every trip, the only things she needs to purchase would be a new field guide for the area or new book to read for a lesson.
Meanwhile, Jess Cramer, one of our lead instructors and self-described derby queen, admits she does little to prepare for summer outings. That’s because she’s busy all year, climbing indoors and play roller derby. She also reads magazines such as Backkpacker and Climbing to mentally prepare for trips, and she tears out pages of places she’d like to visit.
When it comes to gear, Jess looks for pre-season sales for her purchases. Those include replacing stuff that’s been mended too many times, or things she hated to wear but did so anyway because it was all she had. And, of course, she likes to look at all the shiny new things she can’t afford.
With these tips in hand, we suggest you get a not-too-late beginning on your Summer ’17 outdoor preparations.
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About the Author: Stephen Mullaney is the staff development director at The National Center for Outdoor & Adventure Education (NCOAE) in Wilmington, N.C., where he is responsible for the training and education of NCOAE’s field instructors. He is a member of the North Carolina Association of Educators (NCAE) and has taught within the Durham, N.C., public school system. Stephen received his undergraduate degree in English from Framingham State University, and his Master’s Degree in Education from North Carolina Central University.