Pride…

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My favorite thing about being an outdoors instructor isn’t spending my working days out in nature. It isn’t in being a strong climber or an accomplished paddler or an expert backpacker. It isn’t getting up before the sun nor the exhaustion of a long, physically demanding day guiding clients. It definitely isn’t for the money.

My favorite thing about being an outdoors instructor is seeing the light in my students’ eyes when they try something they never thought they’d be doing. It’s that moment in a class when someone overcomes a fear of heights and reaches the top of a climb, or gets in the ocean on a tiny piece of plastic when they are deathly terrified of the ocean, or when a 60 year old woman rides a bike for the first time in her life.

Today, the employees from the Tustin REI got a free mountaineering class from Outdoor School. For most of them, it was their first exposure to snow travel. They learned to put on crampons, carry an ice axe, kick steps, self-belay, and to self-arrest during a fall. They spent the day in the snow working on the basic skills of a mountaineer.

Normally, my facebook post would be about how amazing of a day it was to be teaching outside. About how fantastic it was to have such a great group of students. How I was at the top of the snow slope giving encouragement and yelling tips as they slid down the slope.

But today, I wasn’t there. It wasn’t me doing the teaching or taking the group out or even just being out with them. Today, I was in the office sending emails and answering phone calls. Today, I had to sit out something I really, really wanted to be a part of.

This season, I wanted to make mountaineering happen for REI. Not just for our paying customers, but for the employees too. Mountaineering is why I got into the outdoors in the first place. I always knew that’s what I wanted to do. I wanted to climb big, snow covered peaks. The Sierras. The Rockies. The Andes. The Alps. The Himalaya. There is something magical about being in snow, up in the thin mountain air, with an ice axe in your hand, and determined courage in your heart.

I wanted to share that. I wanted the other REI employees to know what that was like. I wanted to plant that seed, to give them that starting point for their mountain adventures. Even if they never try it again, I wanted them to get an idea.

This is mountaineering. It’s fucking amazing. You can do it.

Mountaineering is what REI was founded to do. We started as a co-op to bring Austrian ice axes into America in the 1930’s. It’s the reason we have ice axes on our doors. It’s the very heart of what being a part of this company means. No matter how big REI gets, I remember that we started in mountaineering.

Yeah, it’s good business. The employees are suddenly much more knowledgeable about gear and experience. Yeah, it’ll sell more ropes and harnesses and ice axes and crampons and tents and boots. Customers will get outfitted.

But I don’t really care much about that.

I care about pushing the limits of your comfort zone. I care about overcoming fear and developing courage. I care about the quiet solitude of the up-high alpine making you a deeper and more introspective person. I want everyone to become a better person through their experiences outside. Today, I wasn’t able to be there for that.

But the thing is, I set this whole thing up. I pushed the store managers to pay for it, I got the instructors, I set up the date and times, and I made it all happen. I just wasn’t able to be there in person. I had other responsibilities.

It’s part of my new role. I accept that I can touch more lives from afar. I can’t be there for every class or for every student. It’s just too big of a job for a one person. No, someone has to do all the background work. Someone has to do the coordinating and the motivating and persuading. I’m not just a single instructor anymore.

So I miss a day with the employees of the store I grew up in and in the class I am most passionate about. I trust my fellow instructors. They are really, really good. It’s part of the role I play. I am a little sad that it’s not me.

But today, I see the pictures the employees posted. The big smiles on their faces while posing with ice axes in their hands. The groups of them on snow slopes planting their axes to the mantra of, “in-balance, out-of-balance, in-balance, out-of-balance.” Their status updates and their hashtags.

They look tired. Dirty. Bruised.

But, what I see most is pride. Proud that they tried something really intimidating and scary. Proud that they got up at the ass crack of dawn and drove up to a 10,000′ mountain covered in snow. Proud to have strapped little knives to their feet and kick stepped around on snow and ice. Proud that they were able to fall head-first, backwards, down a snow-covered slope and stop themselves with an ice axe. All these REI employees, all these brand-new mountaineers, they post their status updates all over facebook. There are so many smiling faces in those pictures. So many proud status updates and proud instagram posts.

I see all this, and I can’t help it.

I feel proud of them too.

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Sharing the Love!

Wilderness Survival! Cover yourself in leaves!

Wilderness Survival! Cover yourself in leaves!

I like to say that there is only one thing better than DOING something you love, and that is SHARING that love.

I teach a wilderness survival class on some weekends. We focus on basic skills like shelter building and fire starting. But the biggest component I try to teach is the mental aspect of survival. Constantly evaluating your situation and avoiding problems before they become serious are the key to safety in the backcountry.

I recently got this email from one of my participants. It’s really rewarding to see that what I do has real and very positive impacts on people’s lives.

Eddy,

Thank you for a great class! And please do share my email with the other attendees.

This past Saturday, I went on my first solo night hike. I hiked Mt. Lukens from the south side starting at 1pm. Then I descended the north side and turned around, at dusk, and hiked back up.

Your teaching and STOP methodology served me well. When I realized how tired I was getting, and before I got into any trouble, I made a decision about what I would do when I got the summit the second time.

Because I was tired and I knew the south side trail was gravely and narrow in places, I decided to take the fire road down. I didn’t feel sure footed enough to descend as I’d come up.

Again, thanks to you and the survival class, I had all my emergency gear and I knew that if I got too tired I could hunker down and survive the night on the mountain.

Fortunately, I made it down safely and had a friend get me and drive me back to my car.

All told, it was a 9.5 hour, 26-mile hike.

While there were challenging moments, I never felt scared or even worried, because I knew what to do to take care of myself. I owe that to you and your fine teaching.

Thank you!

All the best,
Andrea

Zombie Weekend!

Zombies! Zombies everywhere!

Spent the weekend teaching a bunch of Girl/Boy Scouts wilderness survival skills at a Zombie-themed survival fair.

Let me repeat that: ZOMBIE. SURVIVAL. FAIR.

Yes, it’s as awesome as it sounds.

The last couple years, the Scouts have run a series of disaster preparedness seminars in the guise of fun, zombie-filled events. How would you fare in the Zombie Apocalypse? Are you prepared? I think if you’re ready for the Zomb-pocalypse, then you are probably pretty prepared for an ordinary earthquake or wildfire.

It’s actually pretty informative. The Red Cross shows up with a bunch of CPR dummies and does First Aid/CPR classes. Independent vendors set up other booths. I saw a solar panel vendor, a duct tape lady, a primitive skills expert (rub two sticks together until you make fire), and a bunch of guys selling foam swords.

The foam weapons vendor was the most entertaining display to walk by. They had set up a small “demonstration” area for kids to “try out” their weapons. By “demonstration,” we mean dozens of 5-10 year old kids running around and bashing each other as hard as possible while screaming war cries.

As much as the responsible adult in me thought that area was a terrible idea, the child in me wanted to jump in and start whaling away on the nearest kid.

I think I’d win pretty handily.

Or not, some of those kids were pretty vicious.

As for me, I had a basic survival skills booth set up. Vicki, the organizer of the event, wanted me to teach water purification and storage, so I brought a bunch of filters and purifiers for the kids to play with.

With kids, I definitely believe in hands-on and sensory methods of teaching. We pumped dirty water through filters, smelled/tasted iodine treated water, and looked at UV purifiers. They got to flash signal mirrors, try some fire starters, and build some quick lean-to shelters. It’s all pretty basic outdoors skills, and I really hope some of it stuck with them.

As for me, six hours of trying to keep up with excited kids was totally draining. Coming back from the event, I downed a quick dinner and crashed into bed. It’s amazing how much energy they had, and how much energy it takes to be engaging and informative in a fun way. I don’t know how elementary and middle-school teachers do it. I certainly don’t think I could do this day-in and day-out.

But, I do see how rewarding teaching is. Especially when it is something that you are personally excited about. I like to say that there’s only one thing better than doing what you love, and that’s sharing what you love.

Not a bad weekend.