The Next Step

The Next Step

posted in: Journal | 1

As some of you may know, my wilderness education began at a very young age. Whether we were spending time on the Fey farm in Dodgeville, WI, kayaking in the Apostle Islands of Lake Superior, taking off of school to tag along for Wilderness Society and Trust for Public Land meetings in far flung locations, or road tripping across America, my parents always seemed keen on having my sister and I learn from the land as much as we learned from them. Sometimes we relished in the opportunities provided. Sometimes we resented them for supplanting us from our live in Madison, WI.

Although my trip down the Grand Canyon with my father and our family’s massive road trip around the American West had started to convince me of the importance of such adventures, my true moment of realization came in the summer of 2007. That summer, I would spend a month backpacking in the Wind River Mountain Range in Wyoming with the National Outdoor Leadership School (NOLS). I really had no idea what I was getting myself into when my parents encouraged me to sign up for a course. The trip involved all kinds of firsts for me. It was the first time I had flown solo. It was the longest I had been away from my family. It was my first extended backpacking trip. The list goes on and on.

For me, the trip proved utterly transformational. I came back a different person in many, many ways. Without NOLS, I doubt I ever would have ended up at Bates College, a school a truly believe was perfect for me in every way. I never would have started leading sea kayaking trips in the Apostle Islands. So many of the experiences that have shaped me as a person have roots, in one way or another, that lead back to NOLS. Although I still find it hard to detail how exactly the course affected me, I do know that one of my instructors, Josh McNary, had a profound effect on me. He became the role model that I would strive to emulate for the next decade of my life.

While I was in Lander, I ran into and then spent a significant amount of time with Josh, my NOLS leader. I couldn't be more grateful for the role that he has played in my life.
While I was in Lander, I ran into and then spent a significant amount of time with Josh, my NOLS leader. I couldn’t be more grateful for the role that he has played in my life.

For the last ten months, I have been striving to understand American wilderness and conservation ethic by visiting the places that we have chosen to protect, especially the National Parks. NOLS prepared me for this trip, but it was also a driving factor in its inception. After deciding to move on from my teaching position in North Carolina, I had to decide what to do with my life. My Dad and I would spend six weeks traveling and hiking through England during the months of June and July. That left me with a window of opportunity from August to May, creating space for this trip. My acceptance into a NOLS course governed the end date in May.


Now, I am about to embark on the next phase of that adventure. In January, I learned that I had been accepted to the NOLS Instructor Course. The instructor course is a thirty-three day backcountry course that provides experienced outdoor educators with the background required to lead NOLS courses. Focusing specifically on backpacking and rock climbing, the course is based in the Wind Rivers, the mountains that I have such fond memories of from my own NOLS course. In so many ways, I am realizing a dream that has been a decade in the making.

Spending a month in the backcountry, however, does mean that Chasing Cairns will be on hold for the duration of my course. If you feel like you are going through wilderness withdrawal during that month, feel free to imagine me postholing with a massive pack through thick snowpack among some of the most beautiful mountains in America. The saga of the blog will continue once I am out of the woods though! I will have plenty of stories to share from my course as well as dozens of posts waiting to be written about certain parks, travel strategies, gear recommendations, and much, much more that I didn’t have time to talk about while I was living the adventure!

In the meantime, go out and have some of your own adventures!

One Response

  1. Mary Kelly
    | Reply

    Wonderful news. Sounds like your next adventure is perfect for you at
    this time in your life. Good luck


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