"With fortitude and tenacity!"
That’s what my 83-year-old Scottish mother wrote to me when I asked her how I could ever muster up enough patience to take a group of “students at risk” into the woods again.
This time, five of the 11 students didn’t pack rain gear. It was on their gear list—the one I went over not once, not twice, but three times. Constant rain was in the forecast for two out of three days during our late-season hiking trip.
It could have been worse, I guess. Last trip, three out of 10 forgot sleeping bags. I so much wanted to quit my part-time job that day.
I posted my frustrations on social media and received an overwhelming—and humbling—response from close to 200 outdoorsy types who told me not to quit, and that it’s far too important to get these kids into the woods, rain jackets or not.
I ended up only having to do one minor rescue. A student had a panic attack and insisted she be liberated from the dangers of the wilderness three-quarters along the route on day two. Since she could walk on her own, and there were no signs of physical trauma (even though she wore a tank top and temperatures were about to plummet, making hypothermia a real possibility), I had to inform her that no rescue team was coming in to get her. With headlights showing the way and an SOL Poncho to keep her warm and dry on the walk out, we reached the road (and an emergency vehicle) just before the woods went dark for the night.
Tent fabric is thin and the students’ cursing and playing the blame game echoed across the campsite the next morning. I heard their negative comments about how it was “my fault” they were wet, cold and miserable. After all, I forced them on the hike. (They signed up for a Backpacking Trip Planning Course thinking they’d just have to camp out and party around the campfire for three days—not hike 20 kilometres a day.)
I let them have their time of frustration. I knew things would change when the bus arrived and the sun started to shine.
By the time they were leaving, the students had gained “bragging rights” and were gloating to the bus driver about how they "survived the elements"—and would even consider doing it again.
I ended up not quitting my job by the end of it. I saw dramatic change in all of them. I always do. Every year it seems to be the same. A bunch of troubled youth gather energy, strength and focus to carry on—and so does their instructor.