Outward Bound teaches lifelong lessons for two young women

Outward Bound teaches lifelong lessons for two young women
Olivia Farah at the Boundary Waters in northern Minnesota

What do smart young women do when their female elders challenge them to take on the experience of a lifetime? In Marley Barton’s and Olivia Farah’s cases, they accept the challenge and come out of it with confidence, lasting friendships and a lot of memories.

Farah, a sophomore at Bishop Kenny High School, was initially not enthralled with the idea of taking an Outward Bound course. “At first, I honestly was not that excited to go. My mom signed me up when she found out about it and that was that,” said Farah, who ruled out rock climbing because she is afraid of heights and instead chose to dogsled and cross-country ski in remote Northern Minnesota in order to see snow for the first time. “However, as Outward Bound was coming closer, I began to become more excited and my mom and brother and grandfather were also very encouraging.”

Sophie Hojnacki holds an intact tortilla, while Marley Barton (right) shows off a “defective” tortilla shell during an Outward Bound meal.
Sophie Hojnacki holds an intact tortilla, while Marley Barton (right) shows off a “defective” tortilla shell during an Outward Bound meal.

For Barton, a junior at The Bolles School, it was encouragement from her grandmother, Agnes Danciger, and aunt, Margaret Barton, who spoke highly of their own Outward Bound experiences, that clinched her decision. “As we were planning my trip, an announcement at my school came out for a leadership scholarship from the Frances Barnett Jacksonville Scholarship Fund at Hurricane Island Outward Bound School, and I knew it was fate and I had to go now,” said Barton about her August 2018 canoe and backpacking trip along the Appalachian Trail in Maine. “My friends were in awe when I told them I was going to go into the woods of Maine for 15 days with no shower or anything.”

Barton and Farah chose to participate in their learning expeditions to focus on character development, leadership and service. Outward Bound, founded in 1941, is typically a 15-day program which includes a solo portion. Notable alumni include Tom Brokaw, journalist; Jack Black and Ben Affleck, actors; and, locally, former Jacksonville mayor, John Peyton, Cindy Purcell, Michael Morales, Scott Gallagher, Bill Barnett, Kaki Smith and Brooks Giles.

Barton said she loved to hike but didn’t have much experience canoeing, so she chose to gain skills in mountain navigation, woods craftsmanship, weather observation, campsite selection, and paddling techniques, which were put to the test. “One day when we were canoeing, the winds started to shift and become really hard right at us. It was too rough for us to stop anywhere, so we had to push super hard all the way to our next campsite. Even though it was pretty hard, we ended up getting to our campsite fairly early, which gave us all a lot of time to relax and talk to each other.”

She said her biggest challenge was portaging the canoe between waterways. “It was much harder than it sounds. It was probably the longest day I had ever experienced,” she said, while also recalling another challenging day during a hike. “We were hiking up this insanely steep mountain while it was raining. I was on the verge of tears, but I knew there had to be an end somewhere, so I had to keep pushing through.” 

Marley Barton pauses from canoeing to fuel up with gorp.
Marley Barton pauses from canoeing to fuel up with gorp.

Farah, who completed her course along the Boundary Waters near the Canadian border in late December-early January, learned to navigate a route over frozen lakes, rivers and the portage trails between them, and developed skills in dog mushing, cross-country skiing, ice reading, winter camping and sled dog care.

“The coldest it was in my trip was a whopping -40 degrees! However, we stayed very warm,” said Farah, who noted that while her solo night was very challenging, at the end of the day she slept very well and said she was not cold.

When it was a struggle to stay mentally motivated while trudging through slush and ice, Farah said her teammates supported and encouraged each other. She said highlights of her course included “…the end of the day when we would sit around the fire and tell each other something we appreciated either about each other or just in general; the dog sledding and just the overall experience of getting to be around the dogs and work with them, and seeing a sky full of more stars than I’ve ever seen in my life!” 

While their courses were very different, both young women came home with an appreciation for things they previously took for granted.

“It made me really see how much stuff we use in our daily lives that aren’t essential, but at the same time, it makes me very grateful to own a shower. Living with two pairs of clothes wasn’t ideal but it was manageable, and I think people can go many days in the same clothes without them getting too smelly,” shared Barton, who said a restock of food supplies included “probably the best peanut butter I ever had. I am also grateful that I don’t have to lick my plate or bowl clean after eating a meal or having to set up and take down a tent every night and morning.”

Farah said, “It definitely makes you better appreciate the little things that we often take for granted. When I think that I’m having a bad day I really try to remember that it could be worse.” 

Venturing outside their comfort zones, trying new things and learning to work with a variety of personalities are among lessons learned and shared. “I would say that it’s okay to be nervous and it’s okay to be scared, however the people at Outward Bound have been doing this for so long and they are going to teach you everything you need to know! You might hate it at some points, however, in the end you are going to have an incredible story to tell, along with lasting friendships and memories,” concluded Farah.

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