Florida Keys, Florida --
Have you ever wanted to try driving a dog sled, paddling a white water river, or rock climbing in the Rocky Mountains? Well you could, and it could be free! If you've deployed to Iraq or Afghanistan, you might be eligible for an Outward Bound wilderness expedition. The expedition and your transportation to and from the location would be paid for by the Military Family Outdoor Initiative Project.
The trips offered include white water rafting, dog sledding, rock climbing, kayaking, sailing, backpacking, and canoeing. They are 5-7 days in length and are spread throughout the country. The goals of the program, according to the website, include "helping participating veterans build a supportive community with other war veterans; facilitating discussions on readjustment and transition challenges; and re-energizing and reinvigorating our veterans' spirit with adventures and challenges
in the beautiful outdoors."
I took one of these trips in January... sailing in the Florida Keys. Our group of veterans included 17 men and 2 women; army, air force, and a marine; active-duty, reserve, and separated veterans; and ranged in age from 24-57 years old. For such an eclectic group of individuals we bonded quickly, and our group in particular didn't talk much about our military experience.
Part of the experience is living in the moment which is why things like cell phones and ipods are forbidden on course, and our group did just that. We spent six days eating, sleeping, and doing everything on our sailboat except for one night when we stopped at a small island, built a bonfire, and camped there. Other than that we used the resources we had on the boat for everything. We awoke from our sleeping bags to beautiful sunrises on beautiful turquoise waters. We took turns at different duties to make breakfast on the boat and chart our course for the day. We learned reading a chart, plotting a course, triangulation, and how to use the sails to make the most
of the wind. When there wasn't enough wind, we rowed, and occasionally dolphins came alongside us.
Everyone pitched-in to get things done, and everyone gave input on where we went and
what we accomplished. We took turns captaining the boat, cooking, cleaning, and many other tasks that needed done. We also took turns overnight on "bow watch" looking for any other boats that might come by and also making sure the boat didn't drift.
We relied on each other for almost everything including safety, fun, and success and they
relied on us for the same. We laughed together, sang together, encouraged each other, challenged each other, and taught and learned from each other.
We learned about charts, knots, sailing, the wind, and the water. But perhaps more importantly, we also learned about ourselves. I made friends that I value dearly
and hope to have for a very long time.
If you're looking for a cushy vacation, these trips are not for you. There are no showers, comfy beds, or sleeping late in the morning. They will be demanding on many levels. But if you enjoy the outdoors and want to learn more about it, if you enjoy a challenge, if you want to learn more about yourself and push your limits, then this might be a trip for you. If you want more information you can go to www.outwardbound.org/index.cfm/do/cp.veterans
. You can also call 1-866-669-2362 ext. 8387 or e-mail email@example.com