My future seems to be falling into place, funneling me toward a path that is both exciting and scary. It feels good to have my plans solidifying. It’s not an easy set of plans, but I’m feeling mostly optimistic none the less.
|Climbing an 11,000 footer in the Rockies, in a blizzard.|
My application for the NOLS Instructor Course was accepted, and I just sent the paperwork back to Wyoming– I’m definitely going to do this. Going on the Instructor Course makes the most sense of any of my possible choices in the near future for a number of reasons. If I stick with the kind of life I’ve been going through for the past several years, I’ll continue to bounce from one seasonal job to another, with no real stability. Even though I don’t intend to be a year-round instructor for NOLS, a few months of working there will undoubtedly be worlds better for me than a few months of working for any of the other seasonal operations I’ve worked for in the last few years. And thanks to my year and a half at Americorps in Vermont, and a small but very generous scholarship offer from NOLS, the course will be almost free, which is about all I can afford these days.
So what’s making me so nervous about this otherwise no-brainer of a career choice? I mean, what could be bad about turning month-long backpacking expeditions in the Rocky Mountains into a career? Three things– backpacks, boots, and education.
|Holy crap, look at the size of that thing! (the pack, I mean)|
By backpacks and boots, I mean weight. On my NOLS course in 2005, we measured our packs at up to 70 pounds. I weighed 140! And, to be fair, I carried that beast proudly and without any problems. My legs were like tree trunks at the time. NOLS has made an effort to lighten the average pack weight on their courses, but a 40 pound pack is still heavier than any I’ve carried in the past five years. And I haven’t worn leather boots in years. I will certainly try to go lighter than the average student on the course, but probably not by much. I’ll buck up and wear my heavy boots, carry the standard issue 6000 cubic inch pack. I’m sure I’ll get used to it pretty quickly, since we’re not hiking twenty miles a day or anything like that, but it’s going to be a big mental hurdle for me.
NOLS does have a few lightweight backpacking courses during the summers, and if a spot opens for teaching one of those courses after my Instructor Course, I’d be on that like white on rice. But there are only a few of these courses, and I certainly won’t assume that I’d be the lucky one to get that spot.
|Campsite on the Green River in Utah.|
The other scary bit for me is the education aspect. NOLS courses are based around wilderness expeditions, but their focus is not simply backcountry skills. I’ve led plenty of leadership development courses in the past few years, so I know I have the ability to lead the students in the wilderness, but it’s still a little daunting. I’ve got this nagging voice in the back of my head, asking “what if I suck at this,” “what if I get homesick,” “what if I hate the students,” “what if I butt heads with the administration?” Well, that’s just something I’ll have to see after I get there.
Day after tomorrow I head out into the White Mountains for a ten-day (give or take) miniature version of one of these expeditions. It’ll be good practice. And hopefully it won’t reinforce any of my fears about the summer.