It all began on a sunny winter day. Two OB agents, B&B, set off for the airport to catch the plane that will transfer them to Great Britain. Trip was a bit complicated, but I’ll leave those details for another story. They were sent on a mission by an organization and their goal was to learn about new work methods and establish contacts with the sister organization in the UK.
With exception of some small difficulties, everything was proceeding as planned, and Borna and Bonk arrived to Wallswater, where the grandiose center was located by a large lake. Here, in the far 1946, at the John Marshall’s house, began the story of Outward Bound organization. Ships are safe in harbor, but that is not what they’re built for. They are not to be anchored, but to sail the vast and wild seas. The OB mission was to take the anchored ships to the open sea and teach them to sail on their own.
Report of the agent B
After exploring the center and meeting key people, we got separated and joined our task teams, wanting to learn more about their work methods and gather important data.
Borna joined a team of boys, led by a male instructor, and I got into to a team of 11-year old girls, led by instructor named Rosie.
So our work began, from sunrise to sunset, running in the ice cold rain and mud, different workshops, kayaking, building catamaran and canoe, night climbing on the training ground, overcoming obstacles, climbing waterfalls, going through streams…constantly getting wet and trying to dry yourself was an integral part of both day and night.
The wind was relentless and sometimes raging waves swept over the nearby road. Then the sun would shine and the temperature rose a bit, only to fall down back to 4 degrees of Celsius, with the wind defying us even more. We entered the icy water – ran into it, dived into it, jumped from the pontoons into depths, and stood outside fully clothed, blue and wet.
No matter what, we kept on going further. I saw Borna only in the evenings or maybe sometimes during lunch breaks, behind some container, where we would exchange newly acquired info.
Into the wild
Finally the expedition day came. The day before, instructor meeting was held in a large hall with a fireplace and lake view, and all the trip details were arranged. The forecast was desperate and alternative routes were being planned. Wind blowing over 100 km per hour, luckily without rain. A man can lean on the wind that strong and lay on it as on a sofa and with the stronger one you can even fly.
On Velebit I have learned how to fly on the strong wind. I had a couple of falls, breaking myself and my equipment, but slowly I’ve mastered the technique and was able to jump the distances up to 5 meters. So, I was OK with it, but how are the children gonna take it? Again I was thankful there was no rain. In the evening we packed our backpacks for the expedition, food for survival, outerwear… Some of the backpacks even out-sized the children.
In the morning we were issued with watertight clothing, put our backpacks in the trailer and by a minibus set off to Howtown center on the other side of the lake. The sky was murky, grey, and hopeless. No one was complaining or decided to change our plan so we went for the mountains. After ten minutes or so, wind began to rage, rain cut our faces, earth was soaked with water it couldn’t take anymore, mud, swamps, torrents. Soon watertight suits were no more so waterproof and all of our clothes were soaked with water. We continued through water, since there was no more point in trying to avoid it.
Wind knocked down a couple of girls and they fell in puddles, in mud… I kept raising them back, tying their laces, strapping backpack straps, collecting lost mittens and putting them back on their hands, all wet and dripping with water. I adjusted their loose hats and hoods, them not being able to do it themselves, with wind and rain ruthlessly cutting their young faces and heads.
“Trevor, Đesbor, can you help me?”, I kept reading their lips, since the wind stopped the sound going further from them. Trevor or Đesbor is how they called me. I couldn’t tell them my nickname was Bonk, so I gave them my real name with which they had some trouble pronouncing. Eventually I became Trevor. Some of the girls began crying, dragging themselves on the floor, falling down, but still continuing further.
I was anticipating the moment when Rosie will make a retreat call, but it never came. I said to myself, what is wrong with this woman, is she trying to kill these kids? Mentally I was preparing myself to carry the girls and a bunch of backpacks. Wind was getting stronger and was literally cutting every exposed part of body as razor blades; the girls were dropping like flies.
We took out two rescue tents – only the canvases and covered two groups with them, six underneath each. When they were all safe, with a smile I asked Rosie:
“And what about the two of us, now? What do you think about a cup of English tea on the meadow?” Well, she was out of tea. Instead, we focused on the map.
I was convinced now is the moment, but she just showed the path we need to take to get to the other side of the mountain. And that path was…a Croatian expression would be more appropriate now, but roughly translated it would be… far as hell and f… high. I gawked as a sheep (a Croatian expression again) at her, like she was not normal.
“Are you sure that these kids are able to climb that mountain massive? Is the other side protected from the wind?”
“No, it’s not, it’s out in the open”, she said.
Still, from the expression on her face I saw doubt about what to do, and I knew the moment was close. We hid under the canvas with the kids. Wind was tearing our shelter which was cracking as a whip. Here is where I made my final dramatic captures with my mobile phone, which soon after departed for the its final resting ground, ended by the water.
Time passed and the wind was getting weaker. Rosie peaked through the hole in our canvas and smilingly announced our immediate departure. We packed the canvases with haste and took our backpacks. Girls had some rest and were feeling a bit stronger now.
Among them was Tija (Thea), a girl with a look like she has swallowed a frog or a painted expression of surprise about what are all this fools around her doing, uninterested. At the toughest moments, she was the most helpful, she encouraged others, she carried backpacks, she was the leader, backbone, safeness. As the sharp rain lashes the face, Tija lashed my mind clearly letting me know often we are mistaken in judging others.
In our warm and cosy comfort zone we evaluate, estimate and judge the world around us and present our image of ourselves outwards. We are lead by patterns, different meme, too often imprinted, invalid, stiff forms, having no connection with the real world, except in our heads.
Our group of 15 went on, climbing the hill. Our path was crossed by a stream, dangerously overflowed by the rain. I crossed to the other side. Rosie first “propelled” backpacks and then the kids. Any fall into the stream, taken the speed of it, could have ended fatally. Luckily, we managed to pull it out. We continued through marshes, meadows saturated with water, like small lakes.
Girls were slowly dragging themselves, up to knees in water, just going straight, not avoiding anything. Wind eased up a bit, but did not stop. One of the girls couldn’t move her hand; it froze. She broke that hand before and was supposed to wear some kind of suspensor, for which she claimed it didn’t help her at all so she didn’t take it with her. Situation was clear, the moment has come, these kids couldn’t climb anymore.
We were headed towards the center, there we will make camp on the estate. Meantime we’ve found out that the team of boys quit after much less distance and were already in the base. I was admiring these girls. I took the backpack from the one with the broken arm, glad I have only one extra backpack to carry. We were dragging ourselves through creepy mountain grounds. Rain eventually stopped, wind calmed down, and even the sun peaked through the clouds.
Bright sky, what happiness. It takes so little for it, just one clear sky. But to really appreciate it and fully experience the joy of it, you need to go through this kind of trouble otherwise a blue sky is only an ordinary, nothing special blue sky. Girls were offered to decide: either we go to the center to make camp or we can do it in the wilderness. Only three of the girls were in for the wilderness option, Tia first among them, so we continued towards the center.
Sun was heating up, giving us small inputs of joy; we ate our chocolate bars and biscuits and soon most of the girls shifted for the wilderness option. We started going around the hill, instead of going directly to the center. We had to reach the asphalt road where a car would pick up the girl with a broken arm and took her to the hospital for medical examination. Now it was Mary’s turn to cry. She said she couldn’t go on and wanted to go home to her mom.
In the end she sat in a puddle of water and didn’t want to get out of it. Rosie pulled her hand determinedly and said ‘let’s go’. So Mary had no chance, she had to walk. Eventually, she stopped crying and walked by herself. We have reached the asphalt.
Rest, backpacks down, toilet, food, biscuits, fruit mash from the tube, stories… Car from the center arrived and took the girl with a broken arm and the teacher. We continued with our break and story telling. I am not sure how did Jessica came up with a question what does “gówno” means in Polish. When I told her it means “shit”, laughter echoed the mountains and they continued talking about it until the end and afterwards.
Rest of the way towards the sleeping camp I continued with Tia, Jessica, Mary, Miya and a couple of other girls, them asking me about Polish expressions, me asking them about English ones, since I am not so familiar with the language. So we discussed linguistics and etymology with occasional bursts of laughter, Rosie leading the way with the rest of the team. Mary was laughing out loud, not a trace of recent tears.
Tia started shutting herself out again, falling behind, dragging. I have noticed she was doing that every time she was not actively involved in what’s happening, being out of the center of attention; she became a different person. Girls filled with enthusiasm, wet to the bone, carried their heavy backpacks along the mountain path, and I allowed myself being left behind, wanting to have a word with Tia, which seemingly swallowed a frog again. I talked a lot, asked her questions, offered her hand on less safe parts, as to a true lady…and again a calm, poised and brave person started to come up. As evening came, we arrived to edge of the forest, a bivouac point.
Rosie was preparing food in pots over burning alcohol with one group, and I was setting up tents with others. Night caught up with us, so we had to work with headlamps. Frozen and soaked girls gathered around the pots like around an open fire. But this “fire” was only warming them on a mental level. It was really could outside. Some of the girls were barefoot, patiently waiting for their portions, eating them sitting on the ground or some log. Again, I was admiring them. I was proud of these kids, 11-year old girls, having gone through all of this. I was sure that if we were dealing with adult men, we would have much more trouble, people lamenting, everyone being the smartest and eventually quitting. This way, kids don’t know what’s heavy or difficult, they lift 100 kilos and carry it, trusting adults at any matter. Rising above their limits.
Tents were set up, girls were fed and changed to dry clothes. Rosie was wasted and she rested on my shoulder – “I’m knocked out”. I showed her Orion and Pleiades in the night sky. We high-fived and went over a dry stone wall to make fire. I was a bit surprised because I was told it is forbidden to make open fire in England.
“Three girls are quite frozen, they should get some warm at least”, Rosie concluded.
I was even more surprised when she took a couple of kindling out of a bag and built a pyramid, not more than 20 cm in height.
“This is supposed to be a fire on which people are gonna get warm?”
It was hard to find anything bigger and more suitable in a wet forest, but still I managed to gather enough trunks for a small bonfire. Rosie opened her eyes wide.
“Well, this is how we warm and dry ourselves in Croatia, after a whole day, not with three splinters”, I said proudly.
As the fire grew, frozen Mary, Tia and Jessica hurried closer. They were playing around fire, drying their shoes and talking. My behind was smoking from the moisture that evaporated. Again, girls found it very funny and we had another input of joy. Half past nine girls had to go back over the dry stone wall to their tents, and the two of us each built their own sleeping place. Fire was still slowly burning as we accommodated ourselves .
This was the end of the first day of our expedition.
The second day
In the morning Rosie told me my snoring was shaking her tent and that she slept only 3 hours, not due to snoring but that thoughts of expedition kept her awake. Afterwards I found out that I had a backup on the other side of the dry stone wall, where Jessica was “rocking” the tents. The plan was to get up at 7 o’clock, have breakfast and set off toward the lake at half past 7. There on, take canoes to the center on the other side of lake.
Breakfast and getting ready took three hours. Finally we were packed and moving on. This time we had a couple of backpacks more, since we had to carry the tents. Day before the expedition, those tents were brought and hid by a team from the center. Girls were persistent in carrying the tents, but they were giving up slowly, so Tia and I had to pick up the tents which were being left behind.
One more girl started crying, it was Jessica. She slipped, hit her head on the rock and earned herself a decent bump on the head. Forecast again announced heavy wind so we gave up on kayaking. Nonetheless, we made it to Howtown center safely, the one from which we initially headed into the mountains. We were welcomed with a warm tea, sandwiches and a dog named Roofy. Soon the minibus arrived and we were on our way to Wallswater.
Wind grew in strength, it began raining and the lake was raging. Rosie made a good call, she knew this lake.
All of us blushing, dressed in dry clothes, we handed in our equipment and went to study room to analyse the proceedings of the day. How we made it, what are our life goals and how to achieve them. That night we were building a raft on which we sailed out tomorrow.
Girls got their certificates and full of happiness, impressions and newly acquired pride traveled to their houses. Ships aren’t built for harbor, they are supposed to sail the open seas. Now they know how it feels like to raise the anchor, set out to open sea and battle the life’s “sea” adversities. From now on, they’ll sail on their own.
Mission was successfully completed. Borna and me weighed our anchors and sailed out of Wallswater port.
Of course, with some interesting situations along the way, but that’s a different story to begin with.
Text by Trzezbor Piekutowski
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