"You begin an Outward Bound course the day you sign up."
-- Sandy Kobrock, Outward Bound instructor
Signed up for OB's Rogue River trip today. Reviewed brochures, medical forms, etc. Interested to learn that six to eight weeks of preconditioning are suggested for the "fairly inactive." We leave in six days. Noted also the course diet: cheese, nuts, grains, cereals. Went shopping for recommended items: synthetic-fleece shirt and pants, polypropylene gloves and socks, wool cap, wet-suit booties, insect repellent, flashlight and batteries. Also purchased pocket radio and several periodicals featuring Roseanne on cover (for insomnia), a bottle of 15-milligram phenobarbital (insomnia and migraines), two half-pound bags peanut M&M's (dietary supplement).
ONE -- Despite Sandy's advice, nothing much happens between signing up for course and leaving for it. On my way to LAX, however, at the foot of the canyon I live in, I almost run over Tom Snyder, the talk show host. He interrupts his fast walking to flash me a look as ominous as the one Alfred Hitchcock gave Janet Leigh in "Psycho". At Medford airport my flight is not met by Zeke Zeliff, the trip's organizer. I inquire at the information counter whether any messages have been left by OB officials. At this point a bearded man in sandals, trunks, and polypropylene shirt emerges from phone booth and introduces himself. Zeke looks a little like Jon Voight, a few years down the road. Instead of "Psycho," scenes from "Deliverance" suggest themselves.
In baggage claim we meet Stan, another participant. Stan has flown in from Tacoma, Washington, where he is an education consultant for Weyerhaeuser. During van trip to Galice Lodge, he and Zeke discuss wood products, wilderness courses (it's Stan's 10th), and kids. Stan and Zeke each have two children. Stan asks if I have a family. I'm part of what census takers identify as a nontraditional household. "No," I reply, "but I'm co-parenting a pug." Stan and Zeke, nonplussed, in unison: "A pug?"
We pull in to the lodge just as three more OBers return from several-mile jog, evidently the first thing they felt like doing upon arrival in Galice. They are Larry, Tim, and Conn, all in customer service at Florida Power & Light. We also meet Cate, who has driven her white Lexus up from Portland, where she is contract manager for Intel, and Bill H., a freelance management consultant based in southern California. Cate tells me this is her second retreat. For Bill H. it's number four.
At dinner the rest of the guides are introduced. There's Sandy and three others whose names don't stick. They all have hair the color of flax and the sort of suntans you see on ski instructors and the homeless. Tim, a marathon runner and cyclist, describes his 1,700-mile bike trip around Alaska last summer. Conn asks a waitress for a beer, is reprimanded by one of the guides.
Crystal and Christian, a couple from the Bay Area, arrive during dessert. Am cheered by their appearance. She has long Pre-Raphaelite curls and mirror-applique blouse, is first woman I've seen in lipstick since LAX. He is French, intense, can be imagined smoking Gauloises and writing poems on napkins. Like Bill H., Christian runs a management consulting company. Crystal identifies herself as a movement psychologist.
After dinner, orientation. Sandy stands in front of a stone fireplace and makes the observation about the course beginning when we signed up. She also says the following things:
"A lot of what happens on this trip has to do with y'all."
"Certain stuff we'll do will certainly be out of certain people's comfort zones."
"We are not guides, we are instructors. You are not observers, you are participants."
"We don't know what's going to happen because we don't know you. For instance, last weekend some people went over Rainie Falls backwards."
"Is this a group that's going to pitch in and work together or isn't it?"
On a presentation board, using felt tips in different colors, Sandy draws a diagram that looks sort of like this:
"Or," she says, "first the test, then the lesson."
We're each instructed to recall a mistake we recently made and the lesson it taught us. After a few minutes we form a circle to share our mistakes and lessons. Larry describes leaving his ATM card inside a cash machine. Cate mentions her failure to fix a shower drip. Someone else packed the wrong kind of tennis shoes for the trip. Before I have a chance to change my mistake, it's my turn. I mumble something about forgetting to buy health insurance last year.
Before we break up for the evening, the last two OBers arrive: Deb, a professor of organizational behavior at the University of Michigan, and Bill M., the photographer. Bill M. is my roommate for the night. He's from San Francisco, has a goatee and a wry smile; I peg him as a fellow skeptic. Just before we turn in he confides, "I've wanted to do one of these trips all my life."
TWO -- Breakfast at the lodge, a quick van ride through pines and firs, and we're on the river, sort of. Spend most of the morning on shore squeezing belongings into waterproof duffels. At last minute I decide to leave behind my down pillow and magazines. We pour ourselves into rubber wet suits with the faint but unmistakable aroma of vomit.