Bob's OB Experience at 70 - Outward Bound

Bob's OB Experience at 70

My Course, Inspirational

Words by Bob Thomson - Batten 659

“What, are you trying to kill the old bugger?” pronounced my brother and then, chorused my brother-in-law, “Janice, have you taken out a new life insurance policy on Bob?”.

I sat there, gob-smacked, with my seventieth birthday card in my hand, having just shared the news with family that my wife Janice had gifted me an 8-day Outward-Bound course to Anakiwa. It was the 25th May and I had just 5-months to prepare.

Janice had completed an Outward-Bound Course in her early forties and loved it. I had always thought that I’d like to have done this too but had gradually given up on the idea as the hair greyed, wrinkles deepened, and the body preferring to walk rather than run.

As I thought about the upcoming challenge of 8-days at Anakiwa I had visions of scaling across obstacles up on the high ropes, being upside down in a kayak and other fear-based activity however that wasn’t my biggest concern. I was spooked-out thinking that I’d not be able to keep up and therefore would be a handbrake to everyone else’s fun and adventure.

I studied the pre-course training schedule and learnt that I’d need to run or fast walk 3kms in 25 minutes – that’s around 8 minutes per km. Initially I was concerned about this as I’d stopped running many years ago, but I was a good walker and discovered that I could nail the minimum time requirement with a bit of a jog thrown in here and there. However, I was only walking one or two days a week and not every day for 8-days in a row as would be required – I’d need to do a bit of training if I was to keep up with the pack!


Bob Thomson

Bob Thomson

Time flew by, my fitness had picked up, and there I was assembled with my fellow team members from Batten Watch 659 at Picton wharf. Our course was named after the famous NZ aviator Jean Batten and we were the 659th group to have assembled for an Outward-Bound course. There were 13 of us; 10 women and 3 men. I was not surprised to learn that I was the oldest with most in their late forties and fifties – many of similar age to my own kids. They looked fit, keen and confident. At that point none of us could possibly have imagined what was about to happen. Sure, we’d have to tackle obstacles, overcome fears, battle with fatigue but none of us would have guessed that we’d forge bonds and friendships among us as we would team-play the 8-days ahead of us.

As part of our preparation for Outward-Bound we’d been asked to think about what our expectations from the course would be remembering that the challenges are not just physical but mental, emotional and even spiritual. I remember thinking to myself “I will not die wondering” meaning that I’d have a go at everything and give it everything that I could. For me this would be a once in a lifetime experience, I had plenty to gain and much I could lose? I did not want to return home wondering what could have been!

But my expectations were much more than overcoming all the physical challenges. I’d previously battled through 10-years of personal challenges and I was also wrestling with when and if I should retire from work.  I was loving working and am passionate about what I do.

I had not expected that camping out on your own, ‘going solo’, would have been such a challenging experience.  And it wasn’t the isolation or the remoteness over the 2 nights and a day plus that surprised me. Somehow, even though we’d not had time to think about much more than survival in the preceding 4-days, we’d been coached and prepared to get the best from this time alone. The value of timeout and time alone really surprised me.

As I look to life beyond Outward-Bound I’m thankful that ‘I made it’ and wasn’t the handbrake to our group that I thought I might have been. I believe that more of us oldies should have a go, and in the process enjoy and benefit from the experience.

I count myself fortunate to have been able to keep good health and maintain a reasonable level of fitness. Those of us that are ‘north of our youth’ know that you lose fitness easily and so need to keep a focus on the things that keep you going. For Janice and I that means walking and cycling but generally trying to keep active albeit maintaining our large and developing garden. We’re both still working, not that we have to, but more from the enjoyment of working and hopefully making a difference.

I’m trusting that my Outward-Bound experience will be an inspiration and a legacy to my children and grandchildren as it is my hope and dream that they too will be inspired to ‘pick-up the baton’ and head to Anakiwa.

Outward-Bound is a life-changing experience; conditioned by the raw beauty of the Queen Charlotte Sounds landscape, the tactile conditions under which you’re challenged, and the bonds forged between fellow human beings. Together, all these things created an environment that caused us to think more about what’s really important in life.

For me the experience reinforced the importance of my faith and my family; for you that may be something else. Be encouraged to have a go because it most definitely is a worthy experience!

DM659 BAtten Crazy