North Star staff member Jordan Reiff just arrived back in the US after spending his fall semester in New Zealand on a National Outdoor Leadership School (NOLS) course. Upon his return, we commissioned an article for Leb’s Ramblings to hear about his adventures.
Lots of Time in the Woods: A North Star Alum in New Zealand
If North Star has taught me anything, it is that if you have a chance to go outside, GO. So, this semester I went to New Zealand to take a course with the National Outdoor Leadership School (NOLS), an organization that teaches leadership and outdoor skills in wilderness areas all around the world.
In early September, I set sail. I explored the North Island for my first week, where I stayed with 2008 NSC staff member Bobby Gordon – I also visited Brad Holland and Richard Roberts in Australia after the course – and then headed to the South Island. Course breakdown: 24 days mountaineering, 20 days canoeing, and 25 days hiking.
When I tell people that I “studied” while backpacking in New Zealand, many think that I’m exaggerating. But, the “S” in NOLS is not an accident. Our instructors taught us classes on wilderness first aid and risk management, which we practiced on the trail, as well as communication skills and how to create a high-functioning group. It reminded me of camp, with more girls and fewer showers. Below are a few valuable things that I learned on each section in the wilderness:
Mountaineering: You cannot understand anything until you examine it closely. We can see the summit, but that does not mean that it is close and it does not mean that getting there will be easy. Let’s get there before celebrating.
Canoeing: Stick with your decisions. Once you choose something, you will likely have to go through with it. The river only moves forward.
Hiking: Always know where you are. If you need to carry a map at all times, do it. Thinking constantly about your destination instead of your position distracts from the moment. Look up.
We left the mountains with all sorts of new knowledge, and – most importantly for North Star – stories. In 77 days, I slid on my butt down a 500-foot snow slope, chased my sleeping pad half a mile, paddled a canoe completely full of water without tipping, paddled a solo canoe down a huge rapid, hiked two kilometers in the wrong direction, nearly fell down a hill into a lake, and much, much more. Like camp, I have trouble describing it to anyone who was not there. Like camp, I will always remember the people that I met. Talking about how this adventure ended for me has been difficult, I think because it is far from finished.