Student Stories: A Little Birdie Told Me…

Recently we've called upon our students to share some of their Outward Bound experiences with our community. We want to thank Kailani aka "Birdie" for her submission about her scholarship expedition in 2014, an experience full of lessons that remain with her five years later.


Birdie climbing a 5.8 route at Shaffer Rock, PA in 2019.

Five summers ago I received a scholarship to attend the Get Out And Lead Outward Bound expedition on the Appalachian Trail. The leadership program was a formative experience for me, and shed new light on the importance of both individual strength and group resolve, as well as the nature of fear. Five days into our hike, we stayed at Shaffer Rock in South Mountain, PA, and spent a wonderful day rock climbing. At age 14 I was terrified of heights, but in the sunlit glens around the massive quartzite-brindled wall, I learned how much I enjoyed climbing.

That night was our first solo sleep. At age 14, I was also terrified of the dark. When we disbanded from our camp to return to our individual settlements and sleep alone for the first time, the forest was drenched in night, and as I stumbled through the bracken toward where I was pretty sure I'd camped, my headlamp died. On the edge of panic, I called to my friends across the valley, and they shined their lights to me so I could see where I was going. I made it to my camp and managed to sleep with a whip-poor-will calling through the trees.

I never thought I would do things like this voluntarily. But this past weekend, I returned to Shaffer Rock with two close friends to go climbing and camping. We bathed in the same stream and climbed the same routes I had almost five years to the day before, and I looked down through the valley and thought about how things change, how they stay the same, and how we as people evolve through time.

I'm going into my senior year of college. I climb all the time now. I've traveled through the US and internationally alone. I dream of thru-hiking the Triple Crown Trails. Though many miles have passed below my feet since my GOAL trip, what we did and what I learned have retained remarkable clarity. And though through that whole trip I was crippled by self-doubt and questioned my ability to lead myself and others, I have in the following years been the president of my high school's SGA, started and led several clubs, and struck out on adventures of my own design and volition. My OB pin sits on my desk as a reminder of how far I've come. I wear my necklace of beads that we gained through the course whenever I'm really afraid about something I have to do, as a reminder of the difficult things I've already done. I find myself calling on the lessons I learned on the AT, and the experiences that helped shape and reveal who I was, and who I want to be.

Birdie with a wolf-dog cross named Flash, at the Mission:Wolf sanctuary in Colorado where she lived and volunteered for two weeks this summer.

Thanks Chris, Coulton, and the people in my group. We've fallen out of touch, but I hope you all are well. I hope someday we can join again and celebrate how much we've all grown since we traversed those long miles together, and the miles that are yet to come.

-Kailani "Birdie" Clarke, OB GOAL July 2014


Once upon a trail...

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