Last Sunday I parked the truck on the hairpin on the Kancamagus, hauled my pack out of the back, and started down the trail to meet Brooks Bicknell. He was coming out of the woods to tend to Ocean Classroom business; I was headed in to pick up the group for the second leg of the trip. Wisps of clouds began to knit together when I handed the truck keys to Brooks. I had a sense of what the next two days would bring. Rain.
There is something wonderful and freeing in the elemental stretch of time that is Wilderness Orientation, and something tremendously focusing about being out in the wilds when the weather turns. You have to lock in, focus, and have it dialed when the rain comes and the temperature drops. Rain for a couple of hours? No problem. Steady and driving rain for two nights and a day? You better have it wired. The route, the stoves, the food, the knots, the tarps - all of it. Life gets a lot simpler with this kind of focus, even as the complexity of staying comfortable multiplies.
When the rain started Sunday night it was a pleasant drumming on the nylon fly. It’s a comfortable sound when you are tucked in a dry sleeping bag: sibilant, whispering, lulling. But by the time the group roused on Monday morning, rivulets had begun to spider under ground tarps and the rain had a sneaky persistent quality. You just knew you weren’t going to be dry by the end of the day, not after a seven mile hike. Patagonia, North Face, EMS, LL Bean, REI ...all rain jackets fail under this kind of assault. Mine did. By late morning I noticed the seep, and by late afternoon my jacket gave up all pretense of being waterproof or water resistant. It felt like it was just a water welcoming mat: high tech, expensive fabric, and a flashy logo that did nothing to keep me dry.
What’s interesting in conditions like this is how the spirit can thrive and how resilience surfaces. Not one of the students in the group gave over to serious complaint. Did they like it? Not really. Did they weather it? Absolutely, and with style, which got me wondering: how does that happen? How is it that we don’t all buckle and start to sniffle and come out of the woods with wretched colds and a battered spirit?
Maybe one of the answers is that we are just wired for this at our core, wired to be outdoors and in the green. By chance, on the drive to the trailhead on Sunday I listened to an old episode of the NPR podcast Hidden Brain hosted by Shankar Vedantam. The researcher Ming Kuo discusses the positive effects of spending time outdoors in the episode Our Better Nature: How the Great Outdoors Can Improve Your Life. The segment that stuck with me in the rain was about how three days in the green of the backcountry “...boosts natural killer cells by 50%.” You improve your health, your resiliency, and the impact lasts for weeks. So I thought about this on Monday as the group made camp late in the afternoon, everything sodden, the MSR stoves purring and bringing water to a boil. They’ve actually gotten stronger out here, I thought. More resilient. This is SO great!
Wilderness Orientation. We naturally love the good weather, the views, and swims, but when the weather runs foul it can be a powerful reminder of our innate resilience. Ah, the benefits of being out in the woods on Proctor’s Wilderness Orientation when the weather is less than perfect...
Mike Henriques P'11, P'15
Proctor Academy Head of School