On day one, students, tense and apprehensive, load their belongings into the van at the airport, unsuspecting of the magnitude of the experience they are about to have. When we unload at the trailhead, they grip their trekking poles and take in the new environment around them. Some groups barely talk to each other, while others make small talk and look to their Instructors for discussion starters. They cluster in their assigned crews and are prompted to unpack their belongings so that the Instructors can check if they have the right gear for the trip.
I am not an Instructor, but I play a huge role in the execution of this expedition—I am the Logistics Coordinator. I oversee the food inventory and planning for the crew, manage and track our gear, and help with the transport of people and their belongings. I know that if my job is done well, no one will notice that I am secretly orchestrating the whole thing behind the scenes. I like to think Logistics Coordinators can perform magic.
After the students begin their journey, I prepare for my drive back to basecamp. The truck is packed with their duffle bags full of electronics and other unneeded things for their expedition. Days pass and I assemble materials for my next course function: resupply. I weigh out portioned bags of oatmeal and soup mixes, count granola bars and oranges, and restock a medical kit; all in preparation for another run into the woods to support my crews.
I reunite with the students on day six, and notice their personalities are nearly unrecognizable. Zach, who was quiet and nervous on the first day, is now boisterous and joking with his cooking group. Kelsey, who was unsure about what she was getting herself into, is grinning from ear-to-ear and about two shades darker from the sun (or from dirt). I bring them new rations of food, stove fuel, medical supplies, another fleece for a student who is a cold sleeper, and some type of delicious treat like watermelon. I hang out with the students, asking them, “What’s the funniest thing that’s happened so far?” and, “What’s been the biggest challenge?” They fill me in on their triumphs and mishaps, and everything in-between. I leave them with full bellies and heavier backpacks, and they embark on their next section of their course.
The end of the course is my favorite. It’s 5 am and I’m completing my final checks. Did I load the cooler of fresh food? Check. Did I remember to bring extra socks for the student who lost theirs in a river? Check. How about the brownies to celebrate the end of course? Did I remember to bring the students’ mail sent lovingly by family and friends? Uh-huh. Okay, let’s go.
The sun is rising now as I roll away from basecamp, trailer in tow, headed for a trailhead 130 miles down highways and forest roads. I’m excited to meet up with the crews of students who have just completed their course.
There they are, barreling out of the woods at the sight of my truck. They give me hugs with a great sense of achievement in their eyes. They are undeniably smellier than they were two weeks ago, and their smiles are much greater. I get to hear new stories as they help me set up to de-issue the gear. Some students head to the stove cleaning area, some to the dishwashing bins, while others gather dirty laundry and collect everyone’s stray trash.
It’s during this time when I truly feel like a conductor of an orchestra, or maybe a ringmaster of a circus. Logistics requires a constant juggling of needs, constant focus, lists upon lists (and even lists of lists)—all of this to make the students’ experiences unforgettable.
When it’s time to celebrate our accomplishments, I lay out a spread of burrito ingredients that crowd two plastic tables, ready to feed a ravenous bunch. Fresh veggies, beans, rice, turkey, tofu, salsa, cheese—all in heaping bowls that will no doubt be devoured.
I know that logistics is often a thankless job. When students return home after their course, I’d bet they rarely say, “Mom, the logistics team were really on their A-game; they even remembered to bring me socks!” or “Gee, I can tell my Logistics Coordinator really thought through her systems.” No, probably not. Every course I get to support, I discover again and again why Outward Bound is so powerful. By the last day, I can plainly see that something big has changed in each student. Maybe it’s the pride in finishing their hardest challenge yet, the willingness to step in and help with tasks, the newfound compassion they have for their crewmembers, the confidence to lead, or even just the relief that the hard part is over.
And before we know it, it’s over. Enthusiastic hugs, handshakes and tearful goodbyes mark the end of this Outward Bound course. Students desperately jot down each others’ contact information at the airport before the Instructors and I roll away in the truck. We’re exhausted and happy, towing a trailer of smelly and well-loved gear that soon I will wash, repair and send out on the next life-changing adventure.
About the Author
Eva Johnson has worked at the Colorado Outward Bound School as a Field Intern and Logistics Coordinator. She’s a Colorado native and if she’s not in Leadville working for Outward Bound, she’s probably adventuring in South America, surfing on the rugged Oregon coast or teaching kids to climb rocks.
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