Thursday, March 26, 2015

Alumni Profile: Aidan Hoffman

Aidan Hoffman was so taken by his first Outward Bound course in the Rockies that he returned to us two years later to take on the West Coast and try his hand at sea kayaking. Aidan’s unforgettable experiences and lasting new friendships have kept him feeling connected to Outward Bound ever since (in fact, Aidan’s mother Jo Hoffman joined us just this past January for our Reach Beyond Mt. Kilimanjaro Expedition), so much so that he felt compelled to join our Vancouver team as an alumni volunteer. 

Here is what Aidan has to say about his OBC adventures:

"When I took my first Outward Bound course, I was fifteen. The course was the Rocky Mountain Discovery.

The details of the course itself took awhile to settle in. I’d been on lots of camping trips, both with my family and with Scouts Canada, but 21 days was far longer than anything I’d done before. The gear list was far more extensive than any I’d seen, but I remember being surprised by the quantities. “Five pairs of socks… for 21 days?” I thought. Of course, I’d be thankful for those restrictions in clothing later. 

After a mess of acquiring new gear, packing it, and repacking it after I found I had too much, I finally got on my way to Calgary. The course started off slowly, and I was the first student there. Over the course of a few hours, other participants streamed in, easily identifiable by their massive bags and lost expressions. Then began the hustle and bustle of preparation, and then the hiking began; 17 days of it. Even as someone who came to the course with plenty of hiking experience, I was surprised by the amount of effort and determination hiking in the mountains takes. I know now there is no greater pleasure than looking back upon a map and seeing a red line marking your past course taken that transverses 100km. 

There are many memories I have of the trip, all of which can be told better by picture than by word. Suffice it to say that we hiked up and down places that could have been in The Sound of Music or the Lord of the Rings trilogy. A moment that comes most clearly to my memory; however, is not one’s typical example of standing upon a mountaintop, but rather that of a passing thunderstorm. Our group had just emerged from the forest into a wide, open valley, from which our destination, a lone mountain, stood in the distance. Following OBC’s strict storm drill, we were too far apart to make extended conversation, and trapped on our packs, we had nothing to do but admire the scenery and the wonder of the lightning strikes for about 90 minutes. The world silent but for the sound of thunder, with our groundsheets over our heads when the sporadic rain started, this was my favourite memory of that trip. 

Apart from the fantastic scenery, something that resonated with me about that first course was the emphasis on teamwork and instilling the core values of OBC into the participants. My particular group had some rough patches early on with collaboration and had some participants that weren’t particularly enthusiastic about being there; however, with the help of the instructors and a lot of time spent in group discussion, our group’s seemingly insurmountable conflicts were successfully resolved as the course neared completion. I was incredibly impressed by the patience of the instructors and other OBC staff for the duration of my trip, and this inspired me to join a conflict resolution training program at my school in the fall. 

When presented with the opportunity to attend another OBC course two years later, after my senior year of high school, I leaped at the opportunity. This course was called the West Coast Youth Leadership course, which is similar to the Northern Ontario Leadership course currently offered but in BC. This was to be another action-packed 21 day course split between sea kayaking and the famous West Coast Trail, and I couldn’t have been more excited. Yet again, the rush to find necessary gear and pack, repack, and repack again began anew, but sooner than I would have thought I was waiting in Vancouver Airport’s south terminal with a group of other participants. By chance of fate and airline choice, I ended up not on the larger plane with my comrades-to-be, but instead on a tiny 6-seater propeller plane along with the pilot and an older lady and her lapdog. Having never flown in a small plane before, the excitement began before I even made it to Vancouver Island. 

My tiny plane landed at a remote airstrip near Tofino after what I can say was certainly the most scenically beautiful flight of my life. A short while after, OBC staff and the rest of the participants arrived, and we began the now somewhat familiar teambuilding and skills training that would prepare us for our experiences ahead. The next day, we ventured out into the green-grey of the Pacific Ocean, tossed white by the wind. 

The kayaking portion of the trip was a spectacular experience. I quickly learned that marine expedition kayaking proved to be an entirely different animal from the day-trips I was used to in kayaking, but it was a welcome change from hiking. Despite long days of paddling in the sun, the increase in menu options and a few luxuries were welcome additions to our experience. Hours of paddling was well worth the time spent relaxing on the beach with a driftwood pillow and the setting sun as a blanket. 

The transition time between the two sections of the course was a welcome break from the salt and sand of the sea, and only helped me to appreciate more the comforts a simple home, like the past OBC house in Tofino could offer. The next day, after cleaning our kayaking gear, we toured the marine sciences centre in Bamfield and camped at the trailhead the following day. Then began a hike that is famous across the world, which begs no description, for none is adequate. 

In the hiking section of this course, I came to know my group members exceptionally well. As often happens when hiking a small trail, chatter, conversation, and even singing is common, and all become amiable. Our group became more self-confident and independent, and in the final days along the trail a strange parody played out where our instructors supervised us from more of a distance, only providing information when absolutely necessary. This comical behaviour actually lead to a great increase in group confidence and planning skill as our group learned to function independently. By the final day on the trail, just 19 days after meeting, eight strangers from different parts of the world were working together in harmonious concert. 

The connections and skills I built on this course I continue with today, and I am proud to say that I have formed a long-term relationship with one of my fellow course participants. OBC was a wonderful place to find like-minded individuals with whom lasting friendships can be made. 
Outward Bound has been a formative experience for me. These two courses have helped me become confident as well as massively improving my teamwork and conflict resolution skills. I truly believe that I use something I learned at OBC every day, and, of course, whenever I’m out on the trail or water."

Tuesday, March 24, 2015

Donor Profile: Leslie and Bill

As participants in January’s fundraising expedition to Kilimanjaro, Leslie and Bill were able to experience OBC in a new way, pushing themselves at a turning point in their professional and personal lives, and – through their fundraising efforts – helping to ensure that the Outward Bound experience will be around to benefit as many people as possible for years to come. (Like to do the same? Check out our Reach Beyond fundraising expeditions.)

Hear firsthand what Leslie and Bill have to say about their amazing Kili experience: 

"It was a fateful day last October when we ran into our old friend Sarah Wiley at an open house at the Norval Outdoor School, and she inquired about our plans for the winter. "Would you like to climb Kili with me?”, she said, and within a week we were signed up for the OBC Mount Kilimanjaro Reach Beyond Fundraising Expedition and commencing a flurry of preparations.

If only life could always be so spontaneous! The truth is, Bill and I are teachers on a "4 over 5" deferred leave from our employers (Bill is the Director of the Norval Outdoor School for Upper Canada College, and I am an elementary music teacher for the Halton District School Board) and the timing of Sarah's suggestion was perfect. Having been instructors for Outward Bound (way back when the eastern OB school was nicknamed "Cobwebs") we had observed that adults especially seemed to take OB courses in times of transition in their lives. With 50 birthday candles in recent memory, a looming 25th wedding anniversary, children in university and still recovering from the loss of three of our parents, we were primed to be participants in an Outward Bound experience.

We both enjoyed the physical challenges of both the trip and its preparation. Hiking at high altitude was a new and challenging experience for us, but we always felt safe with our incredibly competent and experienced OB leaders Sarah and Lenka, and Gerald and his team of Tanzanian mountain guides from Chagga Tours. It was extraordinary to hike through vastly different ecosystems from rain forest to alpine tundra in a few days. 

The Kilimanjaro expedition was the trip of a lifetime. It would have been amazing in any event, but it was especially great to be in a group with like-minded people with a common purpose. Everyone in the group came to the trip with a connection to OBC, and brought different strengths to the team, with a caring spirit in common. 

It was also meaningful for us to do an expedition with a fundraising element for an organization that is so close to our hearts. As a past Course Director for Youth-at-Risk programs, Bill knows through first-hand experience the value of OBC's core programs. Our own world view had been shaped by working for the Outward Bound schools in Australia and Canada when we were first married. We truly believe in the transformative value of wilderness experiences in a co-operative environment.
Going to Africa changes ones world view. We feel like we have barely had a peek at the culture there, and hope someday to return to Eastern Africa for more travel and maybe even some volunteering as teachers."