Get a life: Old guy outward bound

Michael Cavanaugh, DVM, DABVP

I always wished I could have gone on an Outward Bound Adventure back when I was in high school. Unfortunately, it wasn't an option for me due to the limited financial reserves of the Cavanaugh clan. Even though I was growing up in Topeka, Kansas, I knew that given the opportunity I would love backpacking and climbing and other fun stuff the high country offered.

Fast forward to the year 2000. My wife and I were celebrating our 20th year of marriage and she surprised me with a climbing-focused Outward Bound trip in Yosemite National Park, which is truly a climbing Mecca. I was so excited and got all of the necessary medical paperwork and releases back to them and was looking forward to honing my rock climbing skills. Then I received a phone call informing me that the week I was scheduled to go was cancelled as they didn't get the minimum number of registrants to run the program. I was bummed, as I had already arranged the time off work and had been training and making travel arrangements. They offered me an alternate course which was a backpacking and climbing week in Joshua Tree National Park in Southern California, so I took a chance and signed on.

I am so glad I did as it was a fantastic experience! I enjoyed the simultaneous beauty and starkness provided by the desert environment. It was in April and the timing coincided with the blooming of many species of cacti which were very beautiful. The weather was fascinating: It would get very warm during the day, but the second the sun set, the temperature dropped. I had always heard how cold it is in the desert at night, and I'll attest that is very true. It was cold enough that after we finished eating, the group would settle into sleeping bags by 8 p.m. just to get warm. I was not used to getting so much sleep, so I would usually wake up at 2 or 3 in the morning and lay there looking up at the sky. I had never experienced a sky essentially free of light pollution and the stars and planets and orbiting satellites were amazingly distinct. A steady stream of passenger jets passed overhead high enough that I could see their lights but couldn't hear them as they headed over the mountains toward Los Angeles.

The climbing was awesome and the size of the granite rocks with names like "The Pencil" and "The Eraser" offered interesting routes and challenging opportunities to rappel. It was fun to help people who had done no previous climbing to overcome their fears and find the joy and the rush of safely completing a route.

The photo of me poised against the rocks is a self portrait that I took during my two-day "solo". Imagine spending 48 hours with absolutely no contact with any other human being and being solely responsible for just you. It was quite an amazing 48 hours. Lots of time to figure out how to arrange your tarp to avoid getting soaked when the wind and rain decided to kick up, choose which delicious cold food to eat, and plenty of time to contemplate one's navel. I found a journal recently that I wrote in during my adventure. I had written letters to myself, my kids, my wife, my mother (who passed away in 1987), along with notes and observations about the terrain and my fellow wanderers.

AAHA offered three different trips last summer (backpacking, climbing, and rafting) in conjunction with Outward Bound Professional, but sadly the trips were cancelled one by one because all the people who were fired up to join me on these trips decided not to sign up. Undaunted, I continue to believe that the AAHA Adventure Series will one day thrive with all sorts of interesting adventures. If you have an interest in going on an Outward Bound or other adventure, drop us a line and let us know. When we assemble a cadre of like-minded individuals, we'll put a trip together and enjoy some amazing networking and camaraderie during a great adventure. Hope to see you out there!

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