Leaving the Army was Challenging. I set my plans the last few months I was in Iraq, I was going to be an auto mechanic; I would go to tech school, work at a shop, and tune VW’s in my spare time (yeah I was into tricking out cars…). Fast forward six months I’m out of the Army (honorable discharge), going to school for automotive technology, working at a small shop, and going to the gym everyday. That’s it. That was my life. Six months later I was sick of it! My boss was horrible, I had no time to work on my own projects, I just needed a change; so I applied to college.
I was accepted to Keene State College in Keene, NH and I started right away. College taught me to explore, to visit other places, and to push myself in different ways. I learned to love the outdoors with the help of the Environmental Outing Club (EOC) and and Outdoor Leadership Course (OLC). I spent a semester in Italy, traveled to six other countries, couch surfing when I could to meet other people. I credit that experience for opening my mind and really exposing me to the culture not just the physical location of those countries. After graduation I felt lost (again), I had a good job, nice apartment, and a great dog (The American Dream, right?) but I started to feel anxious, restless, and stuck. I needed another change.
A friend of mine told me about Veterans Expeditions (VetEx) – a non-profit focused on building a veteran community and reconnecting them with “the land defended”. Through speaking with VetEx I learned that National Outdoor Leadership School (NOLS) accepted the GI Bill (education benefits), so I applied and was accepted. I started my semester for outdoor educators in September of 2014.
We spent a few days in Lander, WY starting our Wilderness First Responder (WFR) class and packing for our semester. The first section was backpacking through the Wind River range in WY for about 25 days. We learned our WFR skills, became Leave No Trace master educators, and became familiar with our teaching styles; perfected our hardskills of packing our gear, setting up camp, and navigation off trail in challenging terrain.
The next section was rock climbing, we went to Red Rock just outside of Las Vegas for 10 days. I had been climbing for a few years at this point and started leading trad the summer before so I was stoked to be there. The stoke level dropped once I realized how managed institutional climbing needed to be to manage the risks involved. Climbing is inherently dangerous and all… Reflecting on it, that was my biggest take away – risk management is key. How can I manage people in an environment where the possibility of falling is high, rock fall is possible, and they may not be comfortable? I found that adapting the (judgment) skills I learned in combat was beneficial in risk management.
From Red Rocks we staged in Green River, UT for our longest section, 28 days in the Canyon-lands of south eastern UT. Words do not do justice to the power and beauty of that place. From the top of the mesa to the canyon floor you’re embarking on a geological journey through millions of years. The colors, textures, and shadows all give a presence of something greater. I felt an incredible sense of connectedness, a peacefulness that is hard to describe. We backpacked over 100 miles and dropped a few technical slot canyons in those 28 days. We also had our independent student expedition, 3 days without the instructors navigating from the mesa down into a canyon to meet up with the instructors for Thanksgiving. It was nice to enjoy the holiday with great people in such an amazing location, cooking our entire meal on whisperlite stoves… just an FYI you can actually make a decent pumpkin pie on those stoves.
The last 10 days of the semester were spent back-country skiing and winter camping. We spent 2 days resort skiing and lessons at Grand Targhee with our evenings spent on avalanche course work,then it was off to the WY range to earn our turns. We learned how to skin and tow sleds, build many different typs of snow shelters, perform buddy rescue with avalanche gear, and assess terrain for avalanche conditions…we skied a little too!
I credit those first few years right after the Army, the experiences I had with the EOC, OLC, VetEx, and NOLS for putting me on the path I’m on now. Finding a niche in the outdoor world, trying to bring people together and share my passion with others. Having people share experiences and help each other grow. This is my “pursuit of happiness”.