PLP Passport Project: Outward Bound

Day one, I spent a lot of time thinking about the things I was going to be without for the next month and a half of my life. I would go without sleeping in a bed for 52 days straight. This was big for me. I’m really rather fond of pillows and sheets and mattresses that remember the specific way I curl up into a ball when I sleep, and the blankets that keep me warm in my temperature controlled room. Being on course meant 52 days of intentionally walking away from technology and daily communication with the support systems I had so diligently built for myself over the past three years. It meant long stretches where the woods and mountains were the only bathroom I would know, and a still mountain lake might be the closest I’d come to a mirror. 52 days of pure, untamed and unforgiving wilderness. Day one. I was both paralyzed with fear, and buzzing with excitement. 

The view from my sleeping bag, Gore Range, Colorado

Day 51. I have been running for almost 2 hours, I am nine miles in, and I am convinced I am about to run the world’s slowest ever half marathon. But boy, am I grinning like a fool. You see, 51 days prior, I would have been far too intimidated by just the words “thirteen miles” to even consider a task like this. But here I was, continuing to put one foot in front of the other, refusing to walk with every passing yard. I spent a lot of time on that hellishly long run thinking no longer about the things that I found myself without on course, but instead about the things I was lucky enough to find myself with. Every day I was with the earth as my bed, the stars as my rooftop, and the crickets and wind singing the first lullaby I listened to in years. I was with a patrol of people who were willing to check pride at the door – to use broad leaves as toilet paper, and wear the same smelly shirt for 17 days straight. Everywhere I looked, I found myself with the mountains as they towered over me, danced beneath me, and allowed me to climb their steep hills simply for the pleasure of knowing what life at the summit looked like. And most importantly, every single day of my 52 day Outward Bound course, I found myself living with the opportunity to take down the boundaries I had spent years constructing for myself. 

Climbing near Buena Vista, Colorado

These things I was lucky enough to find myself with for 52 days ended up making a tremendous impact on me on both a personal and professional level. Not only was I with these physically challenging environments everyday, but I was also with the opportunity to exercise the leadership style I had spent the last three years building for myself in a completely foreign environment. But the thing is, I had never attempted leadership with such high stakes. There are almost no instances in my life, prior to this course, where a poor leadership decision could result in one of my co-workers or teammates being attacked by a bear or falling off a cliff. 

Harding Ice Field, Seward, Alaska

My biggest takeaway though wasn’t even about how to make myself a stronger leader as an individual. I had spent plenty of time on that in college. Instead, my summer became a lesson on how to be a stronger leader through relying on my teammates – through learning to ask for help. Having the humility to ask my teammate to check the map, because I had gotten us lost, could be the difference between an 8 hour day of hiking and a 14 hour day. It was on my Outward Bound course that I began to recognize that as easily as independence could be a strength in the field, it could also lead to both your downfall as a leader, potentially creating unsafe situations for the people around you. As I transition into my first “big kid job” working as a teacher in an international school this year, I’m thankful for these lessons learned. Though my failures probably won’t lead to any bear attacks in the classroom, my successes and failures in this role will shape the education of the generation to come. Thanks to this summer, I’m learning that what I don’t know about teaching in a classroom I can look to my colleagues for guidance on. Outward Bound played a critical role in reminding me that there is goodness in humility, growth in asking for help, and no greater joy than the view from the summit shared with the people who got you to the top. 

Camping out next to Exit Glacier, Harding Ice Field, Seward, Alaska

Post written by: Tonia Bartlett

This project was made possible through the awarding of a Passport Grant made possible by the generous contributions of PLP Alumni and Friends. Thank you to all who empower PLPers to do amazing things!



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