A once in a lifetime experience - a lifetime ago - Outward Bound

A once in a lifetime experience - a lifetime ago

Inspirational, Life after OB

OB Alumni Rose O'Connor gives us a wonderful personal account of witnessing her son's experience at Outward Bound - over 30 years on from her own experience.

I recently returned to Outward Bound in Anakiwa in the Queen Charlotte Sound nearly 30 years after completing my own 24 day adventure course. 

However, this time it was to attend my 15 year old son Rowan’s seven day ‘Explorer Course’ graduation ceremony. Through his experiences, I’ve done a lot of reminiscing and soul searching about my own ‘experience of a life time.’ It really is amazing what one forgets over time, which in retrospect is not necessarily a bad thing! 

Courses still start at the Picton ferry terminal. The courses involving larger numbers involve a launch ride through the picturesque Queen Charlotte Sound to the pier at Anakiwa while Rowan’s shorter course, with 14 eager 14 and 15 year olds, travelled by van instead.

The destination was the same though and I’m sure he was as nervous as I was, although somewhat warmer as he was wise enough to choose an autumn course as opposed to my ‘winter treat!’

I stood at his ceremony as part of the circle of graduates – much to my son’s horror that I should dare to show up! However, isn’t that one of the few joys left to the parents of teenagers – our ability to embarrass them even if it’s only a fraction of the embarrassment they have and still continue to cause us? 

Interestingly, in ‘my day’ I recall that there was only one type of 24 day course reserved for 18-24 year olds. I also recall that the four 18 year olds on my course were the most selfish, laziest individuals I had then ever met. But hindsight is a wonderful thing and having now ‘produced’ a few of my own 18 year olds, those others seemed remarkably ‘nice’ by comparison.

So, to Wendy, Ben and the two others whose names escape me, I apologise for once being that 21 year old ‘know-it-all.’ (You’ll be pleased to know that I’m now a far more humble 21++ year old!) 

Rowan’s graduation ceremony also celebrated the completion of the now 21 day courses along with a shorter high school ‘leaders’ course, shorter courses for ‘mature’ adults and horror of horrors a ‘parent–teenager’ bonding course.

Rowan looked just as alarmed at hearing that they existed as I did but not as alarmed as the 13 year daughter leaning against a nearby tree pretending she didn’t know me! (Having no cell coverage at least got her out of the car!)

311 Rutherford

 Rose's watch - Rutherford 311



Rose and Anne

Rose O'Connor (right) with her sister Anne

What better way to enforce discipline with a 13 year old than to threaten to enrol her on a ‘child-parent bonding’ course with her beloved mother!

I’m hoping to get a lot of mileage out of that threat but to be perfectly honest, I’d far rather pull out my own toenails than spend eight days of 24/7 doing ‘challenges’ with either her or any of her brothers!

The graduation ceremony was ‘moving’ to say the least and the inspirational words spoken by the various group instructors was truly motivational. It led me to think that perhaps Outward Bound needs to invent a course for past ‘graduates’ who could well do with a dose of inspiration and motivation which has all but been zapped in the daily grind of parenting and surviving (well semi-surviving) teenagers. 

So, afterwards Rowan happily boarded the launch for Picton and spent the final hour ensconced with his 13 new ‘besties.’ He reluctantly accepted a welcoming hug – when we reached the car. However, he says that despite a few bruises and blisters (he should have listened to his mother and prepared his feet better!) like Kurt Hahn who started the first Outward Bound School overseas he learned that, “There is more in you!” 

Similar to my experience, Rowan said that just when you thought you’d given it all and there was absolutely nothing more physical or emotional left to give – another ‘challenge’ awaited! 

And finally, I must apologise to my instructor Kevin from all those years ago. He pushed us one ‘challenge too far’ and I’m now embarrassed to admit that we retaliated.

But to be fair, we were all ‘slightly’ exhausted having spent the day pulling weeds, washing cars, floors and windows, painting and clearing guttering (no scaffolding required in those days), scraping chewing gum off pavements as we completed our ‘community service stint’ in Picton, kayaking from Picton to Anakiwa with several not-so-pleasant ‘challenges’ thrown in along the way, washing our equipment from three days spent kayaking nearby rivers and waterfalls and thinking that we were finally destined for a hot dinner and no more flap-jack ‘bars,’ our allocated two minute warm shower and bed,  you, Kevin, were unrelenting! 

Rose and Rowan v3

Rowan and Rose

We then had to run back to Linkwater and along Queen Charlotte Drive, towing our injured 120kg buddy/Watch mate Tangi in a trolley, in the icy dark of winter while Kevin biked back to collect our van from Picton. It wasn’t our fault that Kevin was a fitness ‘freak’ training for the Coast-to Coast, nor that the van broke down and we had to run over 10kms instead of the intended four before being rescued!

So, apologies for stealing and hiding Kevin’s treasured Calgary Winter Olympics uniform belonging to his brother-in-law but he really shouldn’t have trusted its hiding place to 14 exhausted, hungry under-graduates. He really did push us to the extreme level of ‘challenge that day and he got off rather mildly!’

We eventually owned up, even if it was the night before the course ended as we, Rutherford Watch 311, presented our concert item song along with his sports clothes raised on a clothes line! Kevin deserved it! (And I’m not really sorry even now!) 

So, Rowan’s adventure seemed far tamer to this aging Outward Bound graduate. However, he spent much of his seven days based off site at Deep Creek – without that frozen Anakiwa concrete pad for PT (fitness) at 6am, that daily gruelling two mile run (sorry Rowan but of course my fastest time beat your record), a plunge into the freezing waters of the Sound and finally a wash down in the icy outside shower at the concrete corral!

It really is amazing how super speedy you can sprint through the pain barrier with the dream of a hot breakfast beckoning.

But all is not lost for this aging Outward Bound graduate. I still have great tolerance to pain, strive to squeeze in as much as I can in a day and run (at a much more sedate pace) along my favourite Buller beach followed by a polar plunge into the Tasman Sea whenever I can - all year round.

Crazy though it may seem, that is my little bit of Outward Bound spirit resurfacing- character-building, very therapeutic even though it’s very very cold! 

Outward Bound – certainly a lifetime experience and one that I will never forget nor regret!


Rose O’Connor

Rutherford 311