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Published: August 7th 2010
Inside the branch - JUNKSHOW!
The first question which you will ask and which I must try to answer is this, "What is the use of climbing Mount Everest?" and my answer must at once be, "It is no use." There is not the slightest prospect of any gain whatsoever. Oh, we may learn a little about the behavior of the human body at high altitudes, and possibly medical men may turn our observation to some account for the purposes of aviation. But otherwise nothing will come of it. We shall not bring back a single bit of gold or silver, not a gem, nor any coal or iron. We shall not find a single foot of earth that can be planted with crops to raise food. It's no use. So, if you cannot understand that there is something in man which responds to the challenge of this mountain and goes out to meet it, that the struggle is the struggle of life itself upward and forever upward, then you won't see why we go. What we get from this adventure is just sheer joy. And joy is, after all, the end of life. We do not live to eat and make money. We eat and make money to be able to enjoy life. That is what life means and what life is for.
- Sir George Leigh Mallory, 1922
Well Faithful Reader, as the title suggests, things are certainly picking up speed. My progress towards my goals, excitement on the farm, even the very minutes of the days. All seem to be progressing at an increased pace. I suppose that the place to start would be about 5 weeks ago, when I got a call from NOLS Staffing asking me to work a short course during the last two weeks of July. Of course as soon as I made sure that it was feasible with my schedule here at the farm I accepted. I knew (as I'm sure that many of you did as well) that with each passing day it was becoming increasingly important for me to get myself back into the wilderness for a period of time. So on Monday, July 12th, I got on a plane from Louisville and began the journey to the NOLS Teton Valley Branch in Driggs Idaho. Of course that journey took me first to Minneapolis, then to Jackson, then in the car of one of the other instructors (Marian) the rest of the way to the branch. However, I did make it there safe
and sound, and began to get ready for my first true excursion back into the field in nearly 2 years.
Now, before I go much further, I have to say it's a funny thing about the mountains. I knew, intellectually that is, that I liked the mountains and that I missed them. However, it wasn't until I was back there, breathing the air, gazing at their beauty once again, that I realized that some crucial aspect of what makes me me was gut-wrenchingly missing. My sinuses started clearing up, my acid reflux went away, and for the first time in weeks I started being able to get more than 4 hours of sleep a night. It was glorious. It's hard to believe that in the 3 years since I've traveled in the Rockies that I was able to forget that. I won't ever forget that again.
My course proved to be an interesting one. First of all, it was only 2 weeks in the wilderness. This meant a super condensed curriculum - I ended up teaching quite a bit. No rest for the 2 week instructor I guess. Another fun aspect of this course was that it was
an Adventure Course
, which is a NOLS course for 14 and 15 year olds. This is closer to the age range that I've been working with at Life Adventure Center, but quite different then the other NOLS courses I have worked. People this age are at an interesting place. Sometimes they're kids, and sometimes they're adults. Most of the time however, they're some funky combination of the two. They have crazy high energy and love to have fun, but at the same time they need lots of incoming information and don't do well on one topic for extended periods of time. We also had an all male I-Team. That has happened before, but it does make for some fun instructor dynamics. The interesting part was that we had an all male student group. 15 of them to be exact. Normally, I think that it helps a lot with group dynamics to have a co-ed group. However, with this age group I think that it was a good thing to have a single sex group. It made things easier for everybody, and allowed the students to focus on learning what they needed to instead of needlessly trying to impress others. That was
probably a welcome break from their frontcountry lives. There was one disadvantage though. Usually, there is a certain level of nasty odor hanging around students at the end of the course. When the students consist of 15 fourteen and fifteen year old boys though, it creates some of the nastiest course funk on the face of the earth. Phew! But if that's the worst aspect of the course (and it was), then I suppose it was a resounding success. The following is the course summary that wrote for this expedition:
From July 15th to July 28th 2010, three instructors and fifteen students travelled and camped throughout the majestic Beaverhead Mountains along the Continental Divide between Montana and Idaho. During this expedition, we carried our closets, kitchens, pantries, bedrooms, and houses upon our backs, using only topographic maps and compasses for navigation. Beginning at the Sawmill Trailhead, we climbed high over beautiful mountain passes and peaks, gaining approximately 10,280 feet in total elevation over the course of 41.5 miles. We trudged through muddy creeks and swatted at swarms of mosquitoes, but were constantly rewarded by magnificent vistas and an unrivaled sense of accomplishment. Students learned how to camp, cook, and even bake calzones in the backcountry. They learned what it means to be a leader at NOLS and began to find their own voice. As an all male expedition, we all shared a sense of brotherhood as we discussed life goals, why people summit mountains, and even what it means to be a man. The memories made here will last a lifetime. Although we are excited to return to the land of cell phones, air conditioning, and x-box, we cannot help but do it changed, for the better.
Upon finishing up all of the "post-course tasks" at the branch on Thursday July 29th, one of my co-instructors (Miles) and I decided to hit the big town of Driggs. This involved borrowing some bikes from the branch and riding the 3-4 miles over. No plans really, just wanting to check it out. So we rode over to a gas station and bought some ice cream sandwiches and tall boys (pretty typical post-course fare really). While we were there, we ran into some other instructors (river instructors) who pointed us in the direction of a tavern that they were heading to. We then rode over there and
hung out with them for a bit. Miles and I were both struck by the differences between hikers and river guys. Hikers (the two of us included) are kind of nerdy, following the rules, Patagonia wearing dudes. River guys are kind of like the uber cool, grungy, bad boys. I guess things don't really change. I got a kick out of that anyway. After that adventure, we rode back to the branch and got a ride to a really cool music festival in Victor
. I loved it. Great music, great people, great times. After that, we got a ride back to the Spud Drive-in Theatre to watch the Big Lebowski. Two hours (and a couple tall boys) later, we were getting ready to hike back the 2 1/2 miles to the branch in the dark, but fortunately we were able to squeeze into a tiny car already crammed with 6 other people and a dog. Now that's a way to make friends. So ends Day 1 of my post-course adventures in the mountains.
This was the first day in a long time that I woke up with absolutely nothing to do. I can't even describe how wonderful that feeling was.
Anyway, I borrowed a bike again and cruised back to Driggs. I had all of my laundry in my backpack and used that as my excuse to go. I really just wanted to check out the town a bit more. Seemed interesting. I had a full and glorious day of riding around and seeing museums and such, but I think that the thing that sticks most in my mind was milk. One of my students during the course kept talking about the benefits of raw (un-pasturized) milk. He was a dairy farmer, and I didn't know anything about milk, thus no reason to disbelieve him. Specifically, he brought up a product called kiefer, which he described as a slightly runny yogurt, usually with some sort of berry added to it. He said that because of the good bacteria in raw milk, nobody is lactose intolerant to it. I thought this was interesting because while I'm no longer actually allergic to milk, I've been lactose intolerant to it my whole life. Well, lo and behold I happen to run into my student's mom at the farmer's market in Driggs selling raw kiefer. Small world eh? I ended up getting a whole
quart (of more or less pure milk) and drank it. This is more milk then I've ever drank in my entire life in one sitting. Usually, when I consume dairy, I get heartburn (worse then normal) and pretty heinous gas. One whole quart of this, and not only did I not feel worse, my gut actually felt substantially better for the next 24 hours. So that's it, I guess I'm sold.
Not a whole lot really. Read my book, and eventually got somebody to give me a ride to Jackson. Once there, I got another pair of custom insoles for my boots (best stuff ever for a long term cripple such as myself). Unfortunately because of weather and tourists, I had to get a hotel for the night. Most expensive I've ever stayed in, although it kinda felt like Motel 6. Oh well. It was still fun.
Mostly this day I walked the 10 miles from Jackson to the airport. I did stop at the National Museum of Wildlife Art though. At the risk of sounding like stereotypical guy/redneck/un-refined person, I still have to say that this is the first art museum that I've
been in that I truly enjoyed. I could understand all of the things in there.
Fly back east.
So now I'm back in Kentucky, working hard, and actively trying to maintain the thoughts, feelings, and emotions that popped into my head over the past 3 weeks. Life Adventure Center is kicking strong as we head into our busiest season. There's all sorts of super exciting things happening here this fall that we've never done before, including but not limited to reindeer and Kentucky's Largest Cornmaze
. So as I put my nose back to the grindstone and approach the end of this ridiculously long post, I bid everybody adieu!
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