OLDS: Caving

For our next section we went caving and had a small primitive skills section.
Caving was a blast because it was essentially playing in the mud, but underground.
For the first two days of caving we split into two groups. Our first cave was mostly mud and dirt to crawl through and throw at each other (which was the best part and also). The caves were so dark and cool and damp, the opening of the cave even felt like air conditioning coming from the ground. Inside the cave we threw mud at each other, crawled through the dirt, saw bats, and turned our lights off to experience real pitch black darkness (literal actual complete darkness). We also had to administer WFR skills because a substantial amount of mud ended up in my ear.

The second cave was a more technical experience in that there was less mud fights and more squeezing through tight spaces. I definitely enjoyed playing in the mud more, but exploring rock tunnels was fun too!

The last two caves were a mix of both mud slinging and rock squeezing. There was also a room where people made mud sculptures, a huge mud slide, and an underground river that we swam through to get out of the cave.

In the middle of caving we did a couple days of primitive skills. During this section we covered debris shelter building, basic fire assembling, map and compass reading and orienteering, and to top it all off we each killed a chicken (most of us with our hands) and then skinned them. The point of this section was to teach us very basic survival skills should we ever find ourselves in a situation without the proper gear and shelter. On the very first night of this section we were given a paper bag with various survival items and had to use them to build a shelter and start a fire. My partner and I had a magnesium stick and cotton swabs for our fire.

RIMG0357

Our primitive skills location

During this section we also had a 40 hour solo. We were each dropped off in a section of the woods about 200 yards from our neighbors. This time was meant for us to reflect on our semester, spend time with the Lord, and relax. It came at a very opportune moment for me as I was sick as a dog and needed some time to recover. In the beginning of the solo I had to set the tent up by myself, which was quite a time.

During the solo I spent the day alternating between praying, reading from the book of Jeremiah, journaling, writing poetry, and singing worship songs (there was also a couple naps thrown in). I also spent some time listing out sins I struggle with and praying for the Lord to help me deal with them. It was a refreshing and incredible time of simply sitting with God and allowing Him to speak to me and help me process different things.

 

One of the poems I wrote during the solo sums it up perfectly:

I lay on the leaves and
watch the wind push them
from the sky to the ground.
They fall and dance
with the clouds and sun
before becoming a carpet
and place for me to rest
my body and mind as
I think on a Creator
who laid these leaves
down years before for
me to feel His peace
from and see His
power and experience
a love deep enough
to let me feel the
wind on the leaves
and know He gave them to me to remind
me of Him and me
and Him in me

This whole semester showed me how nature can be an outlet for worshiping God and spending time with Him, but the solo really showed me the value of going out alone into a completely distraction free situation with nothing to do other than spend time with the Lord.
That being said, sleeping alone in the woods was a terrifying experience, but nevertheless I prevailed.

Our teachings primarily covered Ephesians 4, 5, and 6:1-9.
Ephesians 4 talked about speaking with authority and realizing that we, as believers, are a threat to the enemy. Also, not letting anger have a hold on us but realizing that God can handle our anger so we should give it to Him.

Ephesians 5 discussed the importance of being precise in the way we imitate Christ; we are to represent Christ in a way that shows people exactly who He is.

Ephesians 6 covered the topic of marriage. We discussed this in a group, which was a good way to hash out our thoughts and learn from each other.

Overall, caving was an experience unlike anything I had ever done before. Being underground is like being in a whole other world, not to mention sliding down mud and swimming in underground rivers was a blast.

OLDS: Rock Climbing!

This section was my favorite wilderness section of all semester. I have never experienced anything like starting the day on the ground and then at the end of the day being able to look down at that same spot from the top of a mountain.

Theres nothing like feeling you’re on top of the world.

On the first day we were issued our gear (a harness, carabiners, ATC, webbing, prusik loop, helmet, and climbing shoes) and practiced using it on the climbing tower at camp before hitting the real rock. I had never rock climbed, or really climbed anything other than trees, in any sense before, so I wasn’t sure what to expect. It was very difficult at first, and that made me nervous for the rest of the section.

We started on actual rocks with some bouldering. Bouldering is a type of rock climbing done without any ropes or harnesses. Though you don’t need hardware for this activity most people use climbing shoes and chalk to help stay on the rock. Bouldering was a lot of fun, I wasn’t very good at it (which I know is seeming to be a reoccuring theme) but it was nice to get a feel for being on real rock before beginning the actual climbing. I had a lot of almosts during bouldering but only made it to the top of one called “E for Everyone.” Bouldering was a challenge by choice activity, meaning we only had to participate as much as we wanted to and could just hang out and watch when we weren’t feeling up to it. It was nice to have time to hang out as a group and relax together.

Next we top roped; top roping is a style of climbing in which the climber is attached to a rope that goes up the route, through an anchor, and back down to the belayer. We top roped at two places: Rumbling Bald and the Chimneys at Linville Gorge. The first day at Rumbling Bald, the first day of top roping at all, we had three routes to chose from. I only managed to make it to the top of one route (I spent about 20 minutes smacking the wall in frustration on one unable to make it over the first push before my group made me take a rest). I can’t remember the name of the route I did, but it was slightly slanted, had a section with a big crack down the middle on one part of it, and I had to get a boost onto the first part to get started. In the beginning I couldn’t riddle out how to smoothly and successfully advance up the rock. After a bit of fumbling it began to make a little sense and I managed to make it to the top.

At the second top roping site I had similar troubles and found myself getting incredibly frustrated and discouraged with myself. At this point I had pretty much given up on being a rock climber because everyone else had managed to succeed while I had made minimal progress. Sometimes when you’re frustrated you just gotta take a drink of water from your Nalgene, take your climbing shoes off, have an hour long conversation with the proctor of the year about theology and marriage and letting things go, remind yourself that the whole point of this is to have fun, and then you hit the rock on all three routes, make it to the top of two of them and land a sick dyno on the third (I didn’t get to the top on that one because I figured I’d quit while I was ahead).

Following top roping we did two days of multi-pitching at Tablerock. Multi-pitching is a type of climbing where the route is split up into several sections, in this case three, called pitches. The lead climber builds the route and anchors as they go and then belays up the next person, who then belays up the third person. The last climber cleans the gear as they go, and then the process is repeated on all the pitches.

I would love to try and explain fully the sensation of hanging from the side of a giant rock by a harness and rope and being able to see for miles and miles and realizing how small and insignificant you are, in a good way, with people you love, but I don’t know if I could.
So heres a poem about it instead:

Sitting on top of a rock
Looking at a scene of beautiful change
And reflections on faces of the
face of God
nothing
nothing
is as beautiful as this

Somewhere along the line after I relaxed and stopped verbally berating myself for not being as good as everyone else and focused more on having fun climbing clicked for me. I wouldn’t call myself a phenomenal climber, or even a great climber, but I was successful, and not just in the sense that I put myself out of my comfort zone and tried. I was good at it, much to my surprise and excitement, and that was an incredible boost of self-confidence. Its absolutely true that you can have fun even without being good at something, which I had learned on the river, but being good at climbing added another element of it for me; unlike the river I would love to do this again. This also taught me not to give up on myself so easily, because even though it took a minute, the abilities I had showed up and the skills I was learning grew stronger.

This section was a time of immense growth and realization for me. Our teachings focused on different spiritual disciplines and how when we as individuals are disciplined enough to grow in the Lord the whole body is built up (Ephesians 4:7-16). This deeply impressed on me the importance of my study time not only for my sake but for the whole body of Christ. I learned to have heaps and piles of grace and patience for myself and others. I received peace about hurts and confusions I had had for a long time about being a female.  I did something, several things actually, that I never thought I’d be able to. I saw a spark and determination in me that I had never before realized I had. I surprised myself, and it made me feel strong in a way I never had before.

This section has so many stories and memories: the bear that tried to steal our food, city and star gazing after the sun had gone down, fight club Friday on the bus, sunrises and sunsets, sitting late at the campfire after it had gone out, repelling, reading poetry aloud on Lunch Ledge, packing camp up in record time because we thought it was going to rain on us, going around the campfire and affirming our group, growing as a body, having everyone cheer for me as I took 18 tries to land the dyno.
I could write books about all those things and more, and maybe one day I will, but all of that was simply consolation to the overwhelming peace and joy I felt from learning and growing and being built up and accomplishing.

Rock climbing is this insane thing where you have to put your trust in gear and other people and just do it. Its hard and seems crazy and often make you wonder what on this green earth you’re doing. But its worth it, so so worth it. Because once you push through the fear or the doubt or the difficulties (or all three) you make it to the top of the route and your breath is taken away by the vast beauty of the world you can’t see when you stay on the ground.

Following Christ is a lot like that. Instead of trusting gear you have to trust the Lord. Its hard and on the surface doesn’t seem to make sense. You’ll have seasons of fear and doubt and seasons where it feels too hard, too tiring, too completely insane to carry on. But its worth it. Living for Christ, living in Christ, letting Christ live in you, is like making it to the top of the route and realizing that all the hardship and difficulties and pain brought you to somewhere beautiful. Its not easy, following Christ isn’t easy, but it takes you to a place you could never imagine or get to on your own.

Ephesians 4:1-6 is the best way for me to sum this time up:

As a prisoner for the Lord, then, I urge you to live a life worthy of the calling you have received. Be completely humble and gentle; be patient, bearing with one another in love. Make every effort to keep the unity of the Spirit through the bond of peace. There is one body and one Spirit, just as you were called to one hope when you were called;one Lord, one faith, one baptism; one God and Father of all, who is over all and through all and in all.

 

IMG_4416 (1)

I’m not sure why we’re all fuzzy, but nevertheless heres my people

OLDS: Backpacking

Ah, our first wilderness section! To introduce us to wilderness living we spent two weeks backpacking the mountains of North Carolina. On these two weeks we learned the basic skills of camp set up and tear down, backcountry cooking, packing our pack, avoiding our food (and ourselves) being eaten by bears, water filtration, and how to do almost nothing but walk everyday (this one isn’t always a basic backcountry skill, but we still learned it).

For our first day we got dropped off on the side of the Blue Ridge Parkway in a foggy drizzle. After praying and lugging our huge packs onto our backs we took off for our first half mile hike.

I admit I was nervous in the beginning; it was rainy and my pack was heavy and I felt that I could have been a little more in shape than I was, but nevertheless that first little hike set off one of the grandest adventures of my life.

I’ll spare you all the tiny and tedious details and just hit some of the highlights:

We played this game called Lowest Card and on that very first day while sitting in megatent to hide from the rain I drew the lowest card and ended up having to be the Leader of the Day (LOD) on the first day the students were in charge. Being LOD meant that you set the pace (I walked so much faster than I thought I could), were in charge of making sure everyone was ok, and decided when to take breaks. Though it was daunting to go first, I did better than I thought I would.

rimg0298

“Ok guys because I’m LOD today we’re going to take a selfie now”

On the fourth morning the girls and guys split, beginning a time of great bonding and the opportunity to swim in the creeks at our campsites (praise God).

On day five we had lunch at a place called Devil’s Courthouse. The view was unreal. Here we encountered a good number of people, basically all of whom wanted to know why our backpacks were so large. One guy even offered to bring us a pizza, thought he unfortunately didn’t come through on it.

 

My second favorite campsite was a place called Shining Rock. It was this huge granite rock that we sat on to watch the sunset. No one else was with us so we felt like we had the whole world to ourselves as the sun dipped behind the mountains.

Our next campsite was my absolute favorite. It was a little ways off the trail and to get to it you had to walk down a pathway that was almost like a tunnel because of how the trees grew up over it. We also had a creek to rinse off in and plenty of rocks to sunbathe on. It was so secluded and felt like paradise. On day eight, still at this campsite, we had a zero day (meaning we didn’t hike at all.) We got to sleep in, make muffins for breakfast, and didn’t have to pack up camp. Unfortunately, while one of our instructors was washing our dishes with camp soap and boiling water she spilled the water on her foot and suffered 2-3rd degree burns. We had to go into full on WFR mood and treat her.
It was wild day between helping Maurie and her foot, getting our supplies restocked, having so much free time, and needing two new instructors (the one who hurt her foot had to be evaced and the other one was only going to be with us for a week from the start.)

A part of hiking culture is this thing called a trail name. A trail name is a nickname you get out in the wilderness. Generally it corresponds to a quirk or habit you have, an incident you’re involved in, or something notable of that sort. Coming up with trail names for all the girls was one of my favorite parts of backpacking. We drew mostly on personality quirks and habits, but mine ended up coming from multiple incidents. After much debate I was dubbed Sting Ray, due to the large number of bees that singled me out as a target. Later it ended up becoming Mama Rae, but we can talk about that later.

The following day, day nine, was insane. It was our longest day; I was LOD again, we hiked straight uphill for the first portion, and then were poured on until the end. The trail was very dense and confusing because everything looked like it could have been a trail, but also looked like it was just straight forest. We got off track many times. The rain made us cold and got into our boots and I was positive my whole pack was soaked from the inside out (thankfully the trash bag I used to line it and my pack cover worked). We ended up having to hike four more miles than we originally intended to because our campsite was in the middle of a big open field-not exactly ideal when theres lightning around. We hiked through trails that were under water, and ended up having to climb into the trees on the side of the path and sit on our packs because of the lightning. Towards the end of the hike we were all cold and tired and slightly hypothermic. When we came upon our campsite I think all of us at least thought at crying; we were done walking, we could put on dry clothes, and this particular campsite had a bathroom and toilet paper (hallelujah.)

img_0121

I was trying really hard to be as enthusiastic as everyone else 

Day ten was glorious. We had another zero day so we slept in, sat in the sun, and shared our testimonies.

For the last four days we were back with the guys. It was a time of a large group meal, sharing our stories from when we were separated, playing cards, bartering for more Nutella, being back together around the campfire for teachings, and of course walking. (On the last night six of the seven girls slept in our four person tent, which was bottomless, and since I always slept on the end I ended up rolling/being rolled outside of the tent and woke up with the trees as my view; needless to say I experienced quite a bit of disorientation that night.)

On our last day we got a little lost coming out, but we finally made it! 14 days of straight wilderness living and approximately 60 miles of hiking. We got lots and lots of pizza as our reward. I took the best shower I’ve ever had the night we got back.

img_0092

The whole group

Backpacking was incredible because theres no other way to experience community like what we had for those two weeks (which set the foundation for the rest of the semester.) All we did was walk and hang out,; all we could do for entertainment was talk and play cards. We cooked together, walked together, set up and teared down camp together, and slept next to each other every night. We spent almost every evening under the stars around the campfire discussing Jesus. All we had was each other, and we needed each other because this type of thing isn’t easy. It was truly incredible to me how much we bonded in such a short span of time. And like I said earlier, this was just the beginning.

Our teachings on backpacking covered Ephesians 1:15-2:22. We discussed how Christ completes us and gives us all the knowledge we need (Eph 1:19-23.) In Him we lack nothing and can have everything, for He is fullness. Ephesians 2:1-10 was my favorite section of scripture we studied on backpacking. Some things I wrote in my journal were,
“We weren’t just dirty, we were dead and he brought us back to life (Eph 2:1-6).”
“The hero died for the villain (which is us),” and “We were spiritually dead so we couldn’t move towards Christ.”
The realization that not only did our sin make us unclean, but also dead was heavy. Christ didn’t just wash us- He raised us to life.

 

 

OLDS: WFR Certification

Our first section of OLDS was a Wilderness First Responder (WFR) certification course. This course gave us instruction and training in backcountry first aid. Essentially, to quote our instructor Bailey, we were taught how to “do the best we can with what we have.” Believe me, this came in handy later on (even later that week).

We split our time up between learning about different types of injuries and illnesses in the classroom, and then going outside and putting these skills to practice during real life scenarios.

olds16-wfr-41

OLDS students participating in a scenario

The medical field isn’t generally my chosen field of study, but it was fascinating to learn how to treat people using things you would have in your backpack for outdoor excursions. For example, I used sticks, my hammock, my hammock ropes, and a sleeping pad to make a splint for a broken leg. Our WFR class encouraged all of us to get creative and think out of the box of what normal first aid is.

img_3372

Making an arm splint for Lizbit

Aside from the medical training, WFR week was spent getting to know each other. This was our first section on OLDS, our first time being together. Theres just something about being painted with fake blood and helping each other remember what AMPLE (allergies, medications, pertinent history, last ins/outs, and events leading up to the injury) means that brings people together. Aside from that, we bonded over dinners and teachings at the OLDS director’s house, trips to Walmart, movie watching, singing ( a LOT of singing), working together to “treat” each other during scenarios as well as being the victims, studying for our test, and ultimately passing our certification tests. This week also included a remake of the song Lean On Me (“…you might have a problem in the wilderness, we all need a WFR to lean on..”), and the creation of a dance for our instructor Randy, who told us we were the best class he’d ever had.
We also played a game similar to manhunt, where four people would be the “runners” and have to avoid getting tagged by the “chasers” on their way to a base. During this game I, one of the runners, ended up stepping in a hole and spraining my ankle. The next day I ended up passing out from the pain, but on the way to the ground I somehow managed to bang my face up. Lucky for me I was surrounded by a bunch of qualified enough almost WFRs who could help me out. Even before we entered the backcountry our skills were coming in handy. (I also found a fair bit of irony in hurting myself so badly during a week filled with learning how to fix stuff like that.) S/o to my girl Aleah for going through the triangle to make sure I was okay.

For our teachings during WFR we went through Ephesians 1:1-14. We studied through Ephesians all semester, so we got to dig in really deep. We began by emphasizing that we are Christ’s holy ones and faithful in Him. We would spend the semester learning how to be faithful to each other as the body of Christ (1:1-2). Next we looked at our identity and how it should be formed because we have been chosen by God, and how in being chosen we are made new and blessed with His spiritual blessing (1:3-4). In verses 5-6 we learned that He has adopted us into His family, making all of us at OLDS brothers and sisters in Him. In this section we also discussed how to reconcile that we are chosen by God, but also have to chose Him too. Through the rest of the verses the main thing to realize was that we have been redeemed by God, and because of that redemption we now can place our identity in Him, and not what the world says or thinks we are. Verses 7-12 sum this up nicely,

In him we have redemption through his blood, the forgiveness of sins, in accordance with the riches of God’s grace that he lavished on us. With all wisdom and understanding, he[a] made known to us the mystery of his will according to his good pleasure, which he purposed in Christ, 10 to be put into effect when the times reach their fulfillment—to bring unity to all things in heaven and on earth under Christ.11 In him we were also chosen,[b] having been predestined according to the plan of him who works out everything in conformity with the purpose of his will, 12 in order that we, who were the first to put our hope in Christ, might be for the praise of his glory.

We are His, and we must use this truth to glorify Him always (1:13-14).

Even as we spent everyday that week together bonding and learning and laughing, we had no idea how much further, in terms of our knowledge and abilities and relationships with one another, we’d come as the weeks went by.