Signing up for an Outward Bound expedition is not easy. We know that no matter if you are a parent of a student or the one going on the expedition yourself, the process and days leading up to the experience can be filled with questions. From who will be with me to what should I pack or even where do we go? We hope to answer some of those questions in our four-part series: What to Expect on an Outward Bound Expedition.
Second on the list of what to expect is the natural environment. Keep reading for an Instructor’s guide into exploring your course area’s natural environment.
An Outward Bound expedition can be a meaningful experience of coming to closely know a place in a way you may not have experienced before. There are plenty of ways to begin learning about the lands that form the expedition’s natural environment you will be journeying through before you embark on your course. Below are some resources to get you started.
On your expedition, you may practice journaling as a means to reflect on your experience. As you begin to get to know your environment from afar, this can be a great opportunity to write about what you find!
Begin by asking yourself: what do you know about where you are going? Think about place names that you have seen on the course website. What do these names remind you of? Do you have any personal connections to these names? What do you know about how you will travel to your course area? What kind of terrain will you cross to get there? Will you travel north, south, east or west to arrive?
Geography and Climate Research
Next, consider searching for the name of your course area on Google Earth or on the satellite view of a map. What color is the terrain in your course area? From above, does it look smooth or textured? Is it near an edge, where the color changes? Could it be a shoreline? What do you think these colors mean about what it will feel like to stand on the ground there?
Based on the colors and textures you see on the satellite image, consider what you know about the climate. Does it look like it could rain a lot? Is it a place where there is snow? Is it a desert? Use a reliable weather service such as the National Weather Service to lookup the weather. Consider researching weather trends in previous years to have a sense of what the weather may be like at the time when you go on course.
Native Land History
The course area where you will be traveling is Native Land. You may be traveling with permission on land that continues to be the sovereign territory of an Indigenous nation, or you may be traveling on land claimed as United States’ state or federal land. Either way, the land that you will visit with Outward Bound has been the home of Indigenous people. You can use the Native Land Map to investigate the place where you will be visiting. You can also lookup your own home as a means of sharing with your new crew members where you come from. To learn more about the history of the Native Land you will visit after United States colonization, use the Tribal Connections Map.
The maps you will encounter and use on your expedition will likely be created by the United States Geological Survey (USGS). Check out USGS Historical Topographical Maps for a fantastic resource on maps of your course area through time. Many of the maps will look more like drawings or art pieces, especially if you haven’t yet learned to read a topographic map. Becoming acquainted with looking at a topographic map can help you become more comfortable using one to navigate on an expedition.
Water is an essential part of all expeditions and often frames our travel routes. USGS Streamer allows you to trace the watershed you’ll be traveling in by discovering what springs and creeks are above the river, lake or ocean where you will be exploring or by finding out what is downstream. This exercise can give you a sense of where your water may be coming from or why you will have to pack potable water with you, as well as the importance of keeping freshwater sources clean!
Do it Yourself!
If you’re ready to make your own map, check out the National Geographic Mapmaker. You can add layers like Tectonic Plate Boundaries, Longitudes and Latitudes and Ocean Currents. You can also consider creating your own map by hand in a journal, including some of the words and shapes you came across in your investigations.
On your Outward Bound expedition, the celestial movements of the sun, moon and stars may become an aspect of your environment that is more present than when you are at home. As you get ready to be out in the field, pay special attention to what time the sun rises and sets where you live. Once you become attuned to the sun, begin to notice the moon: when is it out during the day? When is it out at night? What phase is it in? When does it rise and set? Consider using your journal to document what you notice, which you can use as a point of reference on an expedition as well.
If you are curious about stars, look at a star map before you set out, such as Stellarium. What constellations will you see when you sleep in your course area? Are these familiar to you? Tracking the celestial movements can sometimes give us a sense of delighted familiarity even when we’re in an unfamiliar space.
Creating Bonds Through a Shared Experience
The natural environment we find on an expedition may have plenty of unknowns. We become more capable of learning from that environment through the community we create with our crew. Your expedition members will most likely be equally as apprehensive about what kind of natural environment they will find. Learning and sharing about your space may help you build the bonds that allow you to create a shared home in a new environment.
About the Author
Nora Spicer has instructed backpacking and canoeing courses at the Hurricane Island Outward Bound School since 2014. She has an MA in Environmental History from Harvard University and teaches Place-based US History (honoraspicer.com).
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