The course began September 16th. I arrived the evening before after spending the day with a friend in Laramie, WY. Arriving in Lander was one of the most exciting and nervewreaking things I had experienced in awhile. The address that i had used to navigate to Lander turned out to be the International NOLS headquater building. I walked into this 3 story mansion looking like a lost child, when from behind the front desk I heard, "You must be a NOLS student," to which i promptly spun around looking half embarassed and admited that I indeed was one of their students and terribly lost. I was directed to the Noble down the street. This was a old historic hotel that NOLS bought a while back with was turned into a dorm type place for students and instructors to live in during their in town days in Lander. After lugging all of my gear, 2 crates and 3 backpacks, up to my room, I journeyed down the street to the Rocky Mountain branch which is were I would soon begin my course. As people began to role in we all nervously tried to size ourselves up against each other, telling stories, giving our background in outdoor education, or competeing in massive ping pong tournys. That evening was when we would meet our Proctor, Clair Parish, and the two other backpacking instructors Eric and Becca.
Sitting in the dining room all anxious and ready to finally meet these "NOLS INSTRUCTORS....dun dun dun" I was half expecting some macho lumberjack woman and some long bearded "I climb everest w/o Oxygen" man to walk in and throw down on us. Boy was I wrong. In came this 5 foot lady with a smile ear to ear in a pink polo shirt with a popped collar bouncing as she walked. This was Clair, the lady who was going to be in charge of us for the next 94 days.......I glanced around and other people had the similar bewildered look on out faces. Clair had/has more energy than a room full of ADHD children on sugar! She was so exciting to listen to as well as extremely hilarious. After an intro to the course, objectives, goals and alittle fun ice breaker with the rest of the students and our instructors we called it a night to unpack somemore and try to absorb what had just happened.
The following days were filled with meetings, rationing food, packing, packing, packing, organizing, packing and alittle more packing in case we didnt do it enough. hahah. The Rocky Mountain (RM) branch was a extraordinarily nice place with large cargo bays for packing and organizing gear, and gear shop and issue room full of all the toys one could ever dream of having as an outdoor enthusiats, and the GULCH, a room full of 50 gallon tubs with more varieties of food one could imagine capable of being eaten in the back country. Part of the morning was spent going over all of our equipment with an instructor. everything from underwear to shoe laces were checked and scrutinized to make sure it would stand up to the abuse we were about to take them on. Following that we were given an ellaborate introduction to the rationing system by Claudia (one of the most BA women I have ever met, and a amazing organized and complex person when it come to figuring out food for backcountry trips). We were put to work immediately bagging all of the food we would be needing for the backpacking section. It was an awesome experience to be pulling 50 gallon drums of chili mix from a drawer and measuring all of it out knowing that if we messed up it was our fault and we would have to deal with it 6 days from now when we decided to eat it.
After packing and rationing we took alittle field trip down the street to city park. It was quit a sight to see 15 students with full packs in orange hunting vest walking through the town of Lander on the way to the park. Here we were introduced to our tents, stoves, and bear fence. The first two were normal pieces of equipment to bring on my own trips, and was familiar with their systems, however a 9,000 volt fence was something one doesnt normally encounter in the backcountry. this fence was a new system designed by some NOLS instructors to keep food and personal items in a safe location away from sleeping areas so bears would keep out of them. It was quit a sight and many of the people we encountered in the field wouldnt even give us the time of day to try to explain what the big green gun case looking thing was on the side of our packs. It was even better when someone small carried it for the day because it stuck up two times the size of the pack and looked like one was trying to reach Mars on satilite.
So after a long day of organizing and being introduced to the NOLS way of doing things, we had a few more meetings with Program Supervisors and our instructors to get things ready for a early start the next morning. With full bellies and full minds people drifted off into their own corners of town and the Noble to say their last good byes to friends and family, to write or record their feelings, and try to get mentally ready for the 93 days ahead of them. It was a weird place and time. Not many of us were close yet, there was that superficial bond of knowing we are all in it together and probably going through the same thing, yet no one was really ready to talk about it. So with silent nods and quick smirks we passed each other in the halls and on the streets, all thinking about what our connection would be with that person and what was going to happen to us in the following months.
Waking up the next morning there was an excitement and anticipation in the air. everyone was awake before their alarms went off and the showers and bathrooms were packed with people getting one last front country experience in before "roughing it" for the next week and a half. As we packed our cloths up and moved everything into storage, as we loaded the buses and drove away everything that I had dreamed about, worried about, planned for, and prayed for was about to happen and whether I was ready or not here it was the start of my Outdoor Educator Semester!!