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An Outward Bound Adventure

Stan, tonight's historian, reads some passages from a river-safety manual concerning hypothermia: signaling the chilling of the body, symptoms include numbness, unconsciousness, and, if untreated, respiratory failure.

The gibbous moon is so bright it almost washes out the stars.

FOUR -- Stan and I slide lard across the griddle and slap on some bagels. Christian announces breakfast menu in French and it sounds like a five-star meal.

After an exercise in which we identify the most effective work teams we've been involved with, we hike to a clearing in a pine grove for our morning initiative. It's called Cup of Dreams. Sandy hands out slips of paper, instructs each of us to jot down a dream or goal, collects slips, puts them in plastic bowl, places bowl in middle of circle traced in dirt. We're divided into two groups: the implementers and the guides. The implementers are blindfolded and each given a length of rope attached to an elastic cord. Object is for guides to get implementers to stretch elastic cord around bowl and move it to middle of another circle.

Implementers' penalty for crossing circle: forfeiting a dream. I'm a guide. When Sandy says, "Go!" other guides and I immediately begin screaming orders at confused implementers. The elastic cord stretches and shrinks, doesn't get near plastic bowl. I think, If I couldn't see, I would want maximum guidance. I start to lead one of the implementers around by the hand, instruct other guides to do same. Progress very slow, but elastic cord is close to clasping bowl. "Time out!" says Sandy. "Crystal went over the circle. A dream must be forfeited." She walks over to bowl, extracts slip of paper, reads aloud: "Finish my novel." Somehow knew it was going to be mine.

Initiative continues, with me sort of in charge. Shouting instructions, I have another inspiration: I'm taking control, demonstrating leadership skills. When bowl is finally moved, Sandy points out elapsed time of 27 minutes, invites group evaluation of the effort. "I think we could have been more involved in the process," says Bill H., one of the implementers. "Yeah," says Larry, another. "There should have been more communication, more listening to us." General consensus that implementers had been neglected.

The other dreams are revealed:

  • Stan (education consultant, Weyerhaeuser) -- Go to Australia
  • Larry (customer service supervisor, FP&L) -- Be financially independent
  • Tim (customer service trainer, FP&L) -- Find someone and settle down
  • Conn (computer supervisor, FP&L) -- Be good to partner and grow
  • Cate (contract manager, Intel) -- Take a photography safari
  • Bill H. (management consultant) -- Act according to values versus appearances
  • Christian (management consultant) -- Be a good father
  • Crystal (movement psychologist) -- Have a tv show to spread consciousness
  • Deb (organizational behavior instructor) -- Visit the Mediterranean
  • Bill M. (photographer) -- Live in different places around the world


Sandy unfolds a slip of paper and hands it to me, announces that I may have my dream back.

Lunch at cabin of Zane Grey, erstwhile New York dentist whose western novels about lone wolf gunslingers made him one of the most popular authors of 20th century.

Back on the Rogue, sharing raft with Zeke, Larry, and Christian. The canyon declines into dark gorges; tiny waterfalls and tufts of orange penstemon splash down walls of black shale. Last spring, says Zeke, he came across a Styrofoam cooler and a life jacket floating in the water here. Downriver a bit he discovered one waterlogged man perched on a boulder and two others clinging to an overturned raft. There was a fourth in the party, originally, but he was never found. A long, very quiet paddle to Blossom Bar, the last white water, a class V.

Like the other falls, Blossom is scarier in expectation than execution. We lose one baseball cap, take in 50 gallons of water, otherwise escape unharmed. The river widens and flattens: for the first time since our collision with Sandy's raft, I'm elected captain. Nice and easy, says Zeke. It's dark when we glide up to our camp.

Richard has made macaroni out of things that come in envelopes. We circle around the kerosene lamp to hear Zeke's OB pitch: today's businesses are all about adapting to change, and that's what OB has always practiced -- the very first OB course (1941) was designed to prepare British sailors for the rigors of the North Sea. Crystal leads several rounds of "The River." A moment of silence is broken by gunfire, probably deer hunters, Zeke says. We're at a place called Solitude.

FIVE -- Our final day on the Rogue is quick and staccato, beginning with an a.m. solo. We hike to isolated spots in pines above campsite to record our thoughts for 15 minutes. My thoughts interrupted by growl of Jerry's Wild Rogue River Rat -- mile-long jet boat hauling many overweight passengers with camcorders trained our way. Have usual difficulty ruminating meaningfully on command, end up sketching pinecones.

Following solo, the pin exchange. We each draw names to learn whom we'll present with the small steel ornaments inscribed with the un-Zen OB motto: "To serve, to strive, and not to yield." I've drawn Conn, whom I nearly drowned and who told me back at Zane Grey's cabin that he must be a wuss because he missed his wife and daughter in Daytona Beach. I comment on his "gentleness" and pierce the bill of his cap with the pin. Am a little apprehensive about who has drawn me. It turns out to be Cate, who says: "I had the great honor to draw Peter, who I think in some ways has grown more than any of us." Am unfortunately reminded of "most improved camper" award I received 20 years ago.

Like the last meal at camp -- when the parents arrive and everyone gets strawberry shortcake and goes home with a warm feeling about the place -- our final lunch on the river looks like a banquet. There are two kinds of sandwich bread, Pepperidge Farm cookies, Snapples. We feel entitled, having made last leg to boat launch; seen Deb off to airport to teach multiculturalism class this p.m.; cleaned, sorted, and dried raft gear like indentured laborers.

Van ride back to Galice Lodge and our first showers in four days: I make the mistake of letting Bill M. go first, but even lukewarm water feels luxurious. Larry gets word that there's been some job trimming at Florida Power & Light; a call assures him and Tim and Conn they made the cut. We toast them at dinner. We're allowed to order beer; after second beer I decide Galice Lodge is beautiful place, Sandy's smile is warm as Mother Teresa's. We circle around the fireplace for a final chant: "The river is flowing/Flowing and growing. . . ." Then diplomas are distributed. Mine reads: For participation in Pacific Crest Outward Bound School XPRA-516 . . . this recognition of achievement is awarded to Pete Handelman.

"The Outward Bound experience is a continuing adventure, not a onetime event" -- OB literature

A few months after the event, checked in with fellow travelers to assess the impact of their continuing adventure.

  • Stan -- Trip reinforced worth of his own developmental programs and was spiritually invaluable.
  • Larry -- More inclined to challenge self; signed up for flying lessons.
  • Tim -- Embraces each day; has run marathons in Australia and Maui and is training for one in Russia.
  • Conn -- Was put in charge of E-mail at FP&L, where he keeps Bill M.'s photos of trip on desk.
  • Cate -- Procrastinates less and was promoted to worldwide software commodity manager at Intel.
  • Bill H. -- Has used visualization principles as demonstrated by Richard with pebbles and toy boat.
  • Crystal -- Group experience reinforced desire to create communal environment in Pacific Northwest.
  • Christian -- Experienced renewal and gained a greater appreciation of the outdoors.
  • Deb -- Made it to class on time; with Zeke conducted Cup of Dreams for leadership course at Stanford.
  • Bill M. -- Got into habit of reciting selections from "Book of Readings" to girlfriend before meals.
  • Peter -- Mountain descent possibly mitigated subsequent challenges; still haven't finished book.

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