Life on the Trail: An Instructor’s Perspective

Article and photos by POBS instructor Joe K.

To return to POBS as an expedition instructor after a winter of rest means to hit the ground running. Within a day of our spring season beginning, we’re back on the Appalachian Trail. I get to share meals with people I have been missing, and return to a rigorous lifestyle. That said, there are things that feel new.

On the trail, we share stories with each other, and I learn new things about fellow instructors I’ve known for some time. While spending hours in the rain gathering wet firewood for a fire we have no choice but to build (not one, but BOTH our stoves malfunctioned), I get to hear what books Phil has been reading lately. Mads informs me I look like a forest witch in my black rain poncho. Emily tells me about her time in Ecuador.

Not one, but BOTH of our stoves malfunctioned.

Each day we assign jobs, deciding who will cook, who will navigate, who will clean the pots and pans, and who will ensure that we, experienced hikers and campers that we are, are well hydrated. This last task is more difficult than you would think – there is seldom a greater challenge than drinking freezing water when you’re cold and it’s raining. Even when you’re a grown adult.

We do all this while hiking each day. While going over the curriculum. While practicing our technical skills such as bear hangs and pack adjustment. While preparing huge amounts of pasta. And, as balance is needed in all things, we play games as much as we work, as anyone who works in outdoor education is sure to do at one point or another. A personal favorite aspect of being a professional in the outdoor education field is learning the appropriate time to throw a pine cone at your friend.

We circle up (circles are our favorite shape here at OB) and each share what we each hope to bring to our students this summer. Some are deeply personal things like body positivity, others are simple fun facts like which plants make the best tea. It doesn’t really matter to me, because I simply enjoy feeling closer to my friends and coworkers. This feeling, to me, is the greatest blessing of staff travel.

I think of all these things as I gasp for air as we work our way through the last of our elevation gain for the day. I remind myself I can call a break whenever I need to, I can rely on the team to help me out, and I can take care of myself in ways that allow me to do difficult things again and again and again. The way of life on an Outward Bound course is a good way to live life itself.

A brave soul leaves her sleeping bag to retrieves snacks for the crew
Being gluten free means you get your own chocolate bar
Working hard during the day, prioritizing rest during the evening. & showing off your wool socks while you do it
I firmly believe that life on trail can show a person’s character in an honest and beautiful light.


Have you ever wondered what it takes to be an Outward Bound instructor? Check out our article, appropriately entitled What it Takes to Be an Outward Bound Instructor >