Boundary Waters: Outward Bound 2015

This trip had so many experiences of the physical, spiritual, natural, and psychological form that I'm not even sure where to begin. I feel as if an entire book could be written about the short 6 days that 7 people shared in the wilderness…hearing it from each perspective would be absolutely enthralling to me. Yet, I will only be able to share one perspective. I suppose beginning before the trip even started would be the best way to help me share my personal experience. The trip began just 4 days after I graduated from the Fire Protection technology program and my mind had not yet had a chance to calm it's waters before I was thrust into assembling the packing list for the trip. The course was a "Veterans Expedition" with Outward Bound: "Boundary Waters Canoeing for Veterans." The packing list that they sent was 3 pages long and, of course, a bit overwhelming as my mind was still storming from the finals and national registry testing. I was diligent to make sure that I packed everything on the list as well as adhering to the "pack lightly" advice to bring nothing extra. I packed everything on the list and nothing more. Of course, I didn't finish packing until almost midnight and I had a 0345 wakeup as my flight was scheduled to leave at 0500. En route to the airport I realized that I had left an extremely important item out of the bag, a headlamp, which was in my 4runner that was now at the shop as I planned to have its door repaired while I was gone. Great planning on that part, but not so much for leaving my headlamp in a now inaccessible vehicle. When I get dropped off at the small airport in Lincoln, NE, I approach the ticket counter only to learn that my 0500 flight had been cancelled and the only other option was to wait until nearly 1800. (sorry for the military time, I'm not usually so moto but I started it with the 0345 wake up and have to continue it throughout…right?) The 1800 flight would put me in Duluth at approximately 10pm, and it is a nearly 2 hour van ride into the Voyager campus from the airport. That simply wasn't an option and long story short, I had to mix the friendliness with sternness to motivate the customer service reps to call and wake up their manager to get us vouchers to pay for a taxi over to Omaha to get me and another gentleman on the flights that we needed to be on. Turns out, it's a very good thing that I did because once we landed, the ball started rolling immediately. There were 2 veterans and 1 staff member at the Duluth airport waiting for my arrival, and we hopped in a 15 passenger van to go pick up 2 more vets that bussed in from the Minneapolis airport. We smashed some Burger King quickly to get in one last taste of fine American fast food dining and then headed towards the Voyager school. In the van, we quickly shared what branch we were in and how we heard about the Expedition. 2 of the Veterans had recently been on an adventure with OB, 1 had done so 25 years ago, and myself and another had never been. We shared a few stories about other organizations and our thoughts on the Veteran community, and that's an entirely different blog post.

Once we got close to the Outward Bound school we pulled the van over into what looked like a scenic overlook, or perhaps parking for a trailhead, where we were to meet our instructors. Suddenly, they appeared from the woods and introduced themselves, Jesse and Lisa, both in their 20's and both excited to get us out in the field for a great experience. We formed a circle and made quick introductions and my intuition was telling me that we were going to get things started right away. Sure enough, after introductions, they asked us to put on our shoes that would be our designated "wet shoes" and brought us to the water where they revealed the large canoe that they had paddled in on. A quick paddling 101 class was taught and into the boat and down the waterway we went.

Paddling 101 (photo courteous of Chad Spangler)

 

Though I was trying to use my core as instructed, paddling the canoe was putting some serious strain on the arms and shoulders and right away I knew I was in for a tough week. Once we got to the destination, which OB calls "Home Place," we got out of the canoe and before we had the chance to check out the facilities it was immediately into drills for what to do when the canoe tips. If you've never swam with hiking boots on, I can tell you that it's a less than efficient mode of moving in the water. From there, we went to the building called "Trips." I'm not sure if it was an acronym or if it was simply named after the building you go to get all of your supplies for your trips, because that's exactly what we did. The first plan of action was "duffle shuffle," which you can imagine was a fun experience just by the name. It's funny, however, the difference of dumping your gear for inventory in a setting where you don't have Drill Instructors or the like screaming at you as you attempt to come up with an excuse for not having your headlamp. "No worries, we've got extra gear to loan you, here ya go." "Here, you're going to want longer socks than those, you can borrow this pair." Granted, they may have been pink, but there is no time or place for style preference when you're being loaned gear that will perform better in the field. 

 Jesse goes over the list…Nick (in green) did not exactly follow the pack lightly advice.

Jesse goes over the list…Nick (in green) did not exactly follow the pack lightly advice.

After it was ensured that we now had all of the appropriate gear, we headed down to our first campsite where we learned about setting up camp. Now, mind you, this is a group of Veterans…so everyone is used to setting up camp, but this is where patience and understanding comes into play when you are in someone else's backyard learning their way to camp. If anyone has camped with avid explorers/outdoorsman, they have some pretty great and efficient ways which they have learned to do things, while others may be stuck to their own ways, I'm always eager to learn new things. There was an odd number of us, so there would be always be two tents/canoes of 2, and one of 3. There would also be a "brigade tent" that was more like a canvas tarp which we would store our gear under, and a bear system that would be the place to store our food. The bear system we used, which now that I think about it…I never got a picture of, was very simple: tie the food packs to the tree along with some canoe paddles and pots….and when the bear sneaks into grab a midnight snack, he'll make some noise and wake us up to then scare him away. I'll save you the suspense and tell you know that we never had the "pleasure" of scaring a bear away. I almost forgot to mention, the tent setup demonstration was done silently, as what I learned to be a wonderful teaching method of the Outward Bound staff. Waterproofing our gear came next which is an extremely important step for any expedition, let alone one where your gear will be traveling in canoes. Experiential learning is what they are all about, and I can tell you that is exactly how I operate the most efficiently. Tell me how to do something a million times and I may never get it, show me once and have me do it right afterward and I'll be tracking much faster. 

After camp was set up we were treated with chow that was brought down from Homeplace (as we hadn't hiked but a few hundred yards for night one/camp demo) and we learned a few traditions of OB. The first being the reading of a quote from a book comprised of a collection of various inspirational and thought evoking quotes from a variety of authors. The cooks of the day would choose the quote and read it aloud to the group before serving chow. Chow would be served as such: "Bowls in" means everyone puts their bowls near the campfire or food pack and the cooks would divvy out the portions and once all were full call "Bowls out." To me, this is an incredible way of teaching manners, respect, and the ever so disappearing action/mentality called courtesy. 

 Tents Up, Sun Down

Tents Up, Sun Down

If you've made it this far in the post, you've read what's more like a black and white description of events. This happened, then this happened, then this happened. A to B to C. I could go on to do my best to describe the rest of the trip in the same manner, but I'm not sure if simply recalling every detail of the events would serve as much of a purpose as it would recalling the emotions felt, friendships made, and the lessons learned. Not to mention the fact that I may run out of the writing energy to express the emotion after trying to include the countless details. I may, however, try something I haven't tried before and come back to edit this post every now and again to add a few more things as I've recharged the batteries and/or remembered an important learning moment that I left out. There's simply so much that happened on the trip I feel that it could take me several days of being stuck inside typing to get it all out, but I need to at least get the bullet points out while they're fresh. 

Up to this point…our journey had not yet truly begun…we had merely been preparing, and realistically very little at that. I had no idea what to expect, no clue as to what was ahead of us other than paddling, portaging, and camping. Little did I know what that pace would be, even less did I know what that pace would teach me. Wake up came at 0-dark-30 and we moved quickly to put the canoes in the water, load in our packs, and hit the lakes paddling. If you've never seen the terrain of the boundary waters, it's hard to describe. It seems almost best described  to be a large body of water peppered with small and large islands rather than trying to describe the countless lakes that exist. Minnesota is the land of 10,000 lakes and they definitely are not over exaggerating. We started pushing forward and the group began to have its first conflicts once navigation became an issue as 5 veterans in 2 canoes had a hard time coming to one conclusion of just where the heck we were.

 Jesse, showing us the route on the big map. These lakes were formed by the same glaciers that carved out the Great Lakes.

Jesse, showing us the route on the big map. These lakes were formed by the same glaciers that carved out the Great Lakes.

 Lisa (instructor) speaking with Nick (student) about the route

Lisa (instructor) speaking with Nick (student) about the route

Unfortunately, as a common case within certain military communities, errors were not easily forgiven and there were many quotes of "Why the #$*& are we going this way?" as perfection was being expected. Joe, an Infantry Marine and combat veteran cracked me up when he spoke the simple truth of: "You 'think' it's that way? We have a map and compass, give it to me so I can shoot an azimuth and tell us exactly where to go." This was a common theme throughout the week of navigating the route and it wasn't until the last day or two that we began to set the tone along the lines of: "Its easy to take a wrong turn, we'll correct it and there's no race here." Yet again, it's still very difficult to tell an extremely completive person that things aren't a race. That competitive nature seemed to push the portaging trails into races as well, and what I learned about that was the value of a competitive person on a trip. His competitive nature pushed the rest of us to go faster and work harder, which, in turn payed off as far as time goes. As far as morale went, we were a bit put off by the competitive nature and it was starting to work itself into an issue. One of my goals is to work on being passive aggressive, as I tend to let things build until the point that they explode and it catches everyone off guard as I pull a Jekyll and Hyde moment. To prevent the snapping, I brought it up and talked about ego and teamwork. Our first conversation didn't seem to hold the weight I was hoping, as the quips kept on coming towards those who were moving slower. It wasn't until after the course had ended, in the airport having a one on one lunch with this guy, that I truly learned what his motives were. "When they told me to be in an expedition mentality, I flipped a switch to be in 'expedition mentality.' I only hopped on him for being slow because I knew he could push harder. I wanted to call him out and have him reach down and push." This lightened up a dark spot in my heart that had formed over the trip because I was so fed up with what I took as arrogance and cockiness that I didn't see his good intentions. The lesson reminded me that everyone has their story, their motives, and even if they seem to be brash or cocky…their heart may be in the exact place it needs to be.  A larger lesson in this, for me, is to get that one on one sooner and squash that beef before it spoils. I brought it up once, but didn't revisit it until the last day, and the trip could've been much more enjoyable in the moment if I would have taken care of it earlier. Also, that brings me to one of my other very important metaphors learned on the trip.

Below….is the way to mark if the "slammer" is occupied. X = Occupied || = Open

 Trail to the Slammer X= Occupado

Trail to the Slammer X= Occupado

What exactly is the slammer, you ask? The picture below will explain it all.

 If I had to estimate, the "slammers" were about 100 yards from camp. See those heart shaped leaves?? Natures TP. ;)

If I had to estimate, the "slammers" were about 100 yards from camp. See those heart shaped leaves?? Natures TP. ;)

So, how does this become a lesson? What's the lesson in a toilet at the end of a mosquito infested trail? One lesson here is that using those leaves worked absolutely wonderfully and resourcefulness requires thinking outside of the box. The bigger lesson, however, comes from the mosquitos on that trail that hang out and wait for the prize of fresh flesh being uncovered while a human does his/her business. The amount of mosquitoes and their tenacity was impressive to say the least, and their buzzing in your ear as you tried to expediently relieve yourself was enough to drive a person insane. As I frantically swatted at them I realized how worked up I had let them get me, and that I wasn't doing much good swinging at them in the air. It was at that moment that I took a deep breath and said aloud: "They're not bothering me until they're on me. They're not bothering me until they're on me." I quickly calmed down and every so often watched a mosquito come out of the cloud and land on one of my thighs. You're on me, you're bothering me, you're squished. This ties into exactly what I mentioned above, and may be one of the biggest lessons for me to take from this trip. "They're not bothering me until they're on me." How many times do we let ourselves be bothered by pests who aren't even on us? Who are buzzing around and being annoying in their own space, not affecting ours at all, perhaps except for what we can see or hear. Can we control what we see or hear, not very likely. We can close our eyes, put in headphones, or move to another location, but sometimes we don't have those options and are simply stuck with them and one thing we can definitely not control is someone else's behavior. Of course we can ask them nicely, tell them sternly, but we cannot force them to change it. What we CAN control, however, is how much we let the behaviors of others affect our own. It's a decision. "They're not bothering me until they're on me." I cannot tell you how much more peaceful my mind was and how much I began to forget about the hatred/disgust of the mosquitos "bothering me" as I transitioned to being thankful for at least having something to sit on as I did my business in the middle of the woods as well as being grateful for the soft underside of those heart shaped leaves. I hope to take this mantra with me for many situations in the future. "They're not bothering me until they're on me." Ahh…that just feels good.

Another great lesson would come while we were portaging and I was carrying the canoe on my shoulders. I hadn't got but a few steps from the water and there was a muddy pit in front of me that I needed to cross. This isn't the type of mud that you're okay with walking in, even if you're already in your wet shoes. This is the stagnant, "burn everything that touches it" type of mud that will most likely suck your shoe off if you step in it. I knew I needed to get across that darn thing…but I also knew I couldn't jump clear across it. If I just ran, I may slip and fall. So, I looked at the rocks and planned a route. I plotted out a path of three steps that would get me across and visualized each step. My left foot would hit the first rock, then right foot on another, and left foot on the third and I would make it to my objective. I took a step on the first one, then to the second, and my momentum carried my passed the third without needing to step on it. It was at that moment, that I started planning my first step once I got home from the trip. I know I've got to get across a muddy pond, and I'm not sure what's on the other side, but I know where my first step needs to be. I've graduated from the Fire Program and finished my EMT but still need to get registered for the National Registry Exam. That is my first step. I'm still not sure if I'll be pursuing a career in that field, but the first step from here needs to be taking the exam. The second step, is to get my photos printed and ready to be on exhibit at the V.A. via the Hildegard Center for the Arts here in Lincoln, NE. So often, we get so overwhelmed with what's across the pond and how to leap across it, that we get paralyzed because it just seems to far…there's too much unknown…we can never make it. The answer is the same as how we get to the top of the mountain…one step at a time. Sometimes it's necessary to look down at your feet and figure out where those feet need to land for each step. It's also okay to let yourself skip a step if your momentum is carrying you past it to the next one. 

 No, I wasn't always smiling carrying that canoe…and yes…that is a fanny pack…and YES…it was the best thing I packed for the expedition.

No, I wasn't always smiling carrying that canoe…and yes…that is a fanny pack…and YES…it was the best thing I packed for the expedition.

Speaking of the fanny pack (seen so stylishly buckled around my waist in the picture above,) there is yet another lesson. I'm not sure how to phrase it, vanity perhaps? Let's face it, not many people want to be caught wearing a fanny pack these days, and for a few pictures, I made sure not to be wearing it so that I didn't "look like a dork." Well, I'm telling you that that dorky little item was hands down the best item that I had packed for the trip. Sunscreen, lip balm, inhaler (nothing equalizes dorkiness like an inhaler,) bug net, camera and my ever important spoon were always no more than a quick zipper pull away. I caught myself taking it off before a picture and thought…you know what, I'm rocking this thing out here and am damn proud of its versatility, I will wear it in photos with pride and share with the world the utility of such a pack. So, I'm doing my part in bringing back the fanny pack, I suggest you do the same! Also, I almost forgot that I had a hidden bonus in mine. The person who loaned it to me left a card in the zipper from Disney Land that read: "Your Key to the World." Therefore, I was pretty sure that I had our entire group covered for anything we encountered, because not everyday do you run into someone with a key to the world. Luckily, we were never in a situation where we had to use it, but by golly we were prepared if we needed to. Moral of the story, is that fanny packs are cool again. Well, I'm still not going to be wearing one to the mall anytime soon….but I'm not saying I won't be tempted.

The pace, I mentioned that earlier and haven't seemed to have said much more about it. The route took us through several lakes and more portages than I'd like to remember. Food was packed, fish were bonus meat, firewood was collected in the afternoon, feet checked and dried at the final destination, camp set up, one team on fire/dinner other team on camp set up, eating, clean up, bedtime, early wake up, fire started, breakfast, clean up, camp break down, and on the water to continue to the next objective…with a quick stop for lunch and if you woofed it down, some time to try and catch a fish. This pace lasted throughout the entire course…and it was exhausting. I commonly mentioned that I would rather stay in one place and appreciate than continue to move past everything at 100mph and miss what's in front of you. This was definitely not a trip to "recharge" the batteries. This was a trip to see how long the batteries could last. I was excited to be there, yet I longed to get to the end so that I could slow down and breathe. It wasn't until our "Solo Time" on day 5 that I realized the importance of that pace. We had worked so hard, and had so little time to ourselves, that the 90 minutes that we had on our own was absolutely some of the most well earned and most appreciated time to myself that I've felt in a long time. We were given some loose parameters of where we could go, "Just make sure you can hear us when we call you back." I had seen a little inlet before we pulled into camp and knew immediately that I wanted to head over near the running water. When I reached the rocks I was absolutely thrilled to see that I could bound across them and perch myself up on a boulder and take in everything that was around me. I had my time to take it all in, to look around and absorb all that I could see, hear, smell, and feel. It's times and places like that when and where I feel the most connected with the Universe. I got out my journal, which I bought specifically for this trip and had a good friend write my name with his calligraphy pen, and thought of what to write. I started writing in my journal as if I was writing on this blog…which is intended for others to read. I'm realizing that I need to learn to write to myself…without the intention of trying to sound like a "good writer" and just speak to myself so that I can process my truest thoughts and emotions. I share much of what I think and feel on here, but not all of it. Writing things down is a great process, but editing them for others to read can block the flow and cause paralysis. When I caught myself doing that, I simply turned the page and drew a little sketch of the waters that I could see. I quickly remembered why I like taking photos….I'm not a great sketch artist. The one good thing that I did get in my journal was the title: "Goodbye Society, Hello World." This is something that I truly believe in when I'm outdoors. I feel as if I am in the true reality of the planet, connected with the natural order of things, closer to being one with the universe. Then again, that doesn't mean I have to leave society, perhaps it just means that I'm looking to find a society of like minded people.

 Goodbye Society, Hello World

Goodbye Society, Hello World

Another lesson that I learned about the grueling pace was about pushing limits. So often I wanted to just slow it down and enjoy ourselves a bit. So often I wanted to stay in one place and explore every tree and find every creature that lived there and again….just slow it all down. However nice that may have felt if given the chance, we would not have reached our objective. We had a destination, a pick up point that we had to reach at a certain time. How much time have I spent trying to slow things down, when perhaps what I need to do is speed things up and get my feet moving from rock to rock and get my butt across that muddy pond. I was happy to learn that I was able to keep out there on the trails and I intentionally grabbed the heaviest packs that I could as I was proving to myself that I not only "still have it," but actually have more of "it" than I ever did before. Being a Mechanic in the Marine Reserve was nowhere near the experience I had envisioned for myself in my service to the country when I signed the paperwork in 1999. My brother, Mike, was an 0311 (infantryman) at the time I joined and encouraged me to join the Reserve. The only option here in Nebraska was a Maintenance unit where I was given the job of a Engineer Equipment Mechanic. I remember talking to my recruiter: "If we ever go to war, I'm not going to be turning wrenches will I? I'm not going to be stuck on base if we go to war." It was replied with almost a snicker as if it were a stupid question: "Son, every Marine is a basic rifleman, if your country calls you to war, you'll be called to war, not to fix a forklift." Needless to say, when I went to war, I was on base…fixing forklifts. It was while there in 2007 that my brother was killed near Baghdad and any plans to transfer to a combat related career either through military or private security quickly disappeared. I've always regretted not doing something combat related, and knock myself down many pegs anytime I'm around veterans who are, but that's something I need to own and squash myself. A large piece of me died along with my brother, and that wound has only been deepened after my sister was killed last Easter in a motor vehicle accident while on the way to see my grandmother who was in the hospital due to a stroke, who passed away in July of 2014. I had been separated from wife for nearly a year at that time as I'd stayed in California to pursue my acting career and did not want to come back to Nebraska to live what I thought was "too simple of a life." I was offered a job with an organization in I participated with in San Diego and it was then that I realized if I took it….it would be the point of no return. I asked if I could have time to go back to Nebraska to talk things over with my wife in person, they said yes. I went back to Nebraska and I wasn't present…I wanted to be back in California and on my bike along the sunny coast, with the acting career always still a possibility. I chose to go back to California, when I got back…it was too late, the position was no longer open. I was lost. I put my attention back to another organization that I was involved with and went all in. Unfortunately, when I applied for a fellowship there I forgot to turn in my military DD-214, which was a requirement in the process. "Try again next year" I was told. I didn't have time for next year…I needed help, direction, then and there. Everything came circling around and I realized that all I really needed in my life was family. Family is all I had ever wished for, and I decided that my marriage should've been my first priority. By that time, however, it was too late, and my wife asked for a divorce. I broke her heart by staying in CA, then mine was broken when I couldn't come back home. I've beaten myself over this and that is another blog entirely. Death and rejection has battered me down over the past few years, and my confidence level has been at an all time low. I ended up going back to school in Nebraska to finish a degree that I started 10 years ago and may not end up pursuing. The past 9 months were spent sleeping in a home under construction, the first 5 months on a cot, the entire time with a hot plate to cook on and a space heater to stay warm. Most all of my friends have left Lincoln and my main companion was my Chocolate Lab, Bella, who is leaving us far too early due to Cancer. I applied for a work study at the school to work in the Fire Protection building to try and get in the mindset of a Firefighter as full immersion is my style of learning. However, it was denied for various reasons…partly due to income that still showed my ex-wife's income, and partly due to having taken too long to finish the program I started years prior. As I said, rejection has been a common theme and the confidence has been battered. I've openly shared the out of body experience that I felt most of the time I was going to school as I felt as if my body was moving and mouth speaking to which I had no control. "This isn't what I wanted to do." "Why am I here?," I often thought to myself as I felt that I threw off my entire course of action, which was to try and  This is where the lesson learned comes into play. I've shared openly many of the hardships, and just as I did in this rant above, left out any accomplishments, any great things that I've done over the past few years to which I'd never have expected myself to be able to do had you asked me a few years ago. I need to change my own perception of my life and take my own advice of focusing on the positive. 

This trip to the Boundary Waters, its fast pace, the heavy workload, and how I was able to overcome every obstacle and keep a smile on my face, as well as put a few on the faces of others along the way was exactly what I needed to jump start my confidence and remind me that I can push past the limitations that I've put on myself. It reminded me of why my friends tell me: "I don't know why you're not confident, you've done so many things with your life."  So then I thought about some the accomplishments…and reminded myself to not let the few negatives outweigh the many positives. With that in mind for the above recollection of the past few years, it would be changed to include such things as: Achieving the rank of SSgt before discharging after 10 years in the reserve. Following a childhood dream and becoming a SAG Actor after only a few months in Los Angeles, making it to the Advanced class at the Groundling's Improv School with absolutely no experience. Starring in a few short films that I was very happy to be involved with, putting in the work to get the footage, experience, connections, and move forward. Meeting many people that I'd dreamed of meeting for many years, such as being able to meet and tell Jack Black that he was my reason for moving to Hollywood to pursue acting. Meeting Ben Affleck on the set of Argo when my friend Tony and I were specifically asked to come shoot a small scene in the embassy Armory. Earning nearly as much money in one day's work on Jeep commercial that I did in a year as an active duty Marine SSgt. Getting a small, one-time role on a showtime show and having Matt LeBlanc tell me that I'm funny. Meeting Kevin Bacon and telling him about his great work in "Taking Chance" and how much that paralleled my own story. Making countless good friends and connections in "the industry." Being a part of a play in the American Legion Hollywood Post that was produced by the playwright himself. I made YouTube partner with my impersonation tutorials. I was interviewed to be a part of a makeover show with veterans giving back to communities, and was pitched to the network as a host. I worked with a promotion agency where I quickly moved to field supervisor and made great money by simply demonstrating the Kinect for X-box, later being offered a job to manage the X-Box One tour in the LA market, which I declined due to trying to get another job with a Vet Org. Cycling 500 miles each in California, Texas, Italy and climbing Alp D'huez in France with other Veterans as well as mountain biking in the Red Rocks near Las Vegas. The first trip barely finishing, the last being strong enough to help others along the way, making friends with countless Veterans along the way. Getting to be a part of a trial program where Buzz Aldrin is helping give flight lessons to Veterans as therapy, getting an autographed book from him that will be a keepsake for a lifetime and passed down to the children I hope to someday have.  Flying to Haiti to help 3 friends teach first aid classes and filter water for local schools and churches. Joining a disaster relief organization that repurposed Veteran's skills to work in disaster zones. With them I would deploy as a team member to floods in Marseilles Illinois, as a Team Leader to massive tornado in Moore, Oklahoma, floods in Lions Colorado, Operations Manager for the Tornado in Baxter Springs, Kansas, and Incident Commander for the tornado here at home in Beaver Crossing, Nebraska. I was able to pay my respects and honor my sister and grandmothers passing by singing Amazing Grace at their funerals. I traveled with a bud to a Veterans program in Malibu called Save a Warrior, to which he couldn't fly alone due to his struggles with anxiety and within a few weeks I helped him facilitate his Beta Project in Kansas City which is now fully functioning.  I came back to school in Nebraska to finish the Fire Protection Program that I started in 2005, got all A's except for a B+ in EMT, and graduated with a 3.5 GPA 12 days ago.  I ran my first 1/2 Marathon with Team RWB, and ran strong as I helped carry the flag along with our group that started and finished together. I passed the certification to obtain the Hazardous Materials Operations level certification and I passed the National Registry Skills test without needing a single retest, which few were able to do. I had great reviews while working in the ER during my clinical as I hopped in 150% and stayed an hour later than scheduled just to see more patients because I didn't want to stop learning. I've been there for many good friends, and have heard the phrase "you saved my life" more than once. I've helped a friend get a handle on his drinking problem during his divorce, I've been there for many people to talk to and to lean on. I honored my brother on Memorial Day by dressing in my Blues and taking part in the ceremony in the Cemetery that bares his headstone. All the while, I've been able to take photographs of many beautiful things along the way and really find a medium of art that I'm happy with and don't judge. I've found a new way of sharing my experiences and visions with the world. Prints of mine are now living in many parts of the country and I'm so happy to see that people have a little piece of me on their walls. I've been asked to be a part of local Art Center and will be sharing my photos on the walls of the VA here in Lincoln. Which, if you recall from above, was one of my very next stepping stones. 

Wow…looking at all of that in a written form truly makes my chin rise and my back straighten up, not with a sense of arrogance or ego, but rather a sense of accomplishment and compassion to let myself off the hook. To stop beating myself up for what I don't have, what I've lost, where I'm not at, and be proud of what I still have, what I've done, and where I've been. This is not at all where I intended this writing to end up…but I'm not going to edit it. I'm going to let it be and let it flow as is. The key is to remember to keep these lessons learned and apply them to everyday life, to quit telling the old stories and operate with a "New Narrative." I'm looking forward to sharing this post, and then being done telling stories of the past and working to live in the present. Outward Bound's trip was full of metaphors for life lessons not only because of what I experienced, but because the energy and ethos there supports and encourages it. They preach compassion and inclusion, and their methods work. Our instructors were some of the greatest people I've ever met on the planet, and they were as real as people come. Not only were they real, they were extremely positive and downright skillful. No skills are more valuable than that of minimalistic survival, starting fires with wet wood, using rope for a million things and knowing all the right knots to use, catching fish, then filleting and cooking them over an open flame, canoeing and navigating efficiently. I have so many good things to say about the instructors that I may just type another blog for them so that this post can end at some point. Jesse and Lisa are their names, and I hope to keep them in my life for many years to come. Absolutely great people, with good hearts and strong work ethic.

To keep in the theme of sharing the positive, let me finish by sharing with you a few more of the great experiences of the trip. I'll try to keep it simple with pictures and short descriptions. Some things that I was not able to capture on camera but I'd still like to share by description are: The beautiful Loon and it's majestic sound. If you've never heard the wail of a Loon, it sets the mood to make you feel as if you are truly in the wilderness, amongst creatures that are wild. We were able to get very close to a few here and there but the pictures never turned out. Another great "Nature Moment" that I swore I had a picture of but cannot find (I took a few pictures with a friend's camera so it may be on his) was a Dragonfly emerging from its nymph stage. I had no idea the big scary looking bugs that they are before they make the transition. It was very similar to the Cicada, as it's shell stayed clung to the rock. There were also a few mama ducks with their ducklings behind or on their backs. Most of us saw our first wild moose, but unfortunately it was laying dead in the water…it was a sad sight and I purposely didn't take a picture, I'll also spare you from describing the smell. We couldn't be sure as to what killed it, but apparently parasites have been killing moose in the Boundary Waters for sometime. My favorite moment may have just been hearing a wolf howl late in the night, it was absolutely magical. I couldn't help but to think to what his cry meant…what he looked like…just everything about him. A very patriotic moment was when a beautiful bald eagle flew directly over our canoes and we all stopped paddling to take in the beauty and appreciate the significance. The last day of excursion, after our gear was checked in, after the ropes course, and after time with the Sled Dogs (of course I have a picture to share of the dogs,) we were able to enjoy a sauna heated by a wood stove. We poured some water with a few drops of eucalyptus oil over the rocks and breathing that in through the mouth and out through the nose which opened the airway and seemed to clean out any gunk we had accrued over the week. We transitioned every 10 minutes, from the heat of the sauna, to the refreshing cold of the river, using the sand to exfoliate our skin. The trip was finished with an amazing display of the northern lights. Seeing this capped off the surreal experience of being in the northern wilderness. Seeing the lights in such a fashion has always been a dream of mine since I first saw them on a nature show when I was a young boy. Yet again, another dream lived. Thank you so much to Outward Bound for making all of this possible.

 More than daisies in this field, are the wild strawberries that we stopped and enjoyed thoroughly. 

More than daisies in this field, are the wild strawberries that we stopped and enjoyed thoroughly. 

EJ and I cooking up one of my favorite meals on the trip, Peanut Butter Stir Fry

Jesse giving the fish filet 101 course. This was a Northern, and the previous day we ate a Walleye that I caught, which was actually the first fish I've caught and eaten. It was an incredibly gratifying experience.

A better look at the rocks where I spent my "Solo Time." I'd Love to go back there and spend an entire day.

Below is the entire crew, and I could truly write so much more about each individual, and may come back to do so when it's not 12:30 in the morning. I've been typing this blog for hours….and I am truly looking forward to getting away from the computer and getting some sleep.

 Left to right: Jesse, Lisa, Rob (me), EJ, Nick, Brian and Joe. 

The names of previous dogs in the Dog Yard. I absolutely Love the look of this cabin....

How fitting to be the last picture my camera took before it died, I Love a good howl.

Well, that is all for now. Thank you for making it to the end, and I hope that the experience was worth reading. I'm off to bed and am looking forward to letting my eyes take a rest.

From learning life lessons to pushing my limits and hearing a wolf to seeing the northern lights, the trip was an experience of a lifetime and I highly recommend Outward Bound for anyone who may need the same. Ultimately, you do not need someone else to take you on an experience like this, you can do it yourself...it doesn't have to be across the country, it could be at a local state or national park near you. It truly takes much less than you think, and that is the final lesson in it all. It takes so much less than we think to have everything that we need. 

If you do, however, have a Veteran friend or family member that could benefit from such an experience, please share this with them, here's the link for them to look directly to the course :   http://www.outwardbound.org/veteran-adventures/outward-bound-for-veterans/

Signing off,

Rob K.