Sunday, January 30, 2011

Thought for the Day

Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness, MN (2009)

"There are no passengers on spaceship earth. We are all crew.
- Marshall McLuhan,
Canadian educator, philosopher, and scholar

Tuesday, January 18, 2011

Kitchen Corner

Escalante River, Grand Staircase Escalante Nat'l Monument (2006)

If there is one issue all Wilderness Volunteers leaders should concern themselves with when leading a trip, it is how members of the group interact with each other or, put another way, group dynamics. No other issue is of such singular importance when leading WV projects because the effectiveness of a group is directly affected by the way the members of the group respond to each other and to the leader. If my experiences are any indication of group dynamics, I would say that most groups get along well, the participants enjoy each other's company, and most groups work effectively together to complete the task at hand.

But what makes for good group dynamics? A good portion of the answer is in the fact that WV groups are self-selecting. People are coming together for a common purpose of working in the wilderness on something they feel is worthwhile, so WV participants are likely to be similar in a variety of key components. On backpacking trips, that notion is multiplied because people who backpack are an even more exclusive group and thus even more likely to be of a similar mind-set. Anyone willing to put a heavy pack on her/his back and hike several miles (usually uphill) to do something such as heavy trail maintenance is likely to have much in common with his or her fellow participants. The commonality of purpose and the common experience of backpacking unite people and make them more likely to bond.

Of course, luck plays a role in the cohesion of a group. Other factors involved center on the intensity of the backpacking experience. The difficulty factor, living close together for a week in the backcountry and depending on each other, working side by side each day, eating together, talking about the day’s experiences, sharing ideas, solving problems, and doing all those other things a team must do add to the intensity of the experience and help unite the group in positive ways.

What about car camping? How does the model above work in car camping situations where participants are camped near their cars and often near attractions that participants can easily drive to at the end of a work day? My experience has been that it is more difficult to establish the closeness engendered by backcountry projects even though car camping projects involve many of the same experiences. That is not to say that car camping precludes groups from becoming cohesive or bonding in similar ways. However, I do think there is a difference in the way that different types of projects affect the group and the group dynamics.

What is your experience with group interaction in leading trips? Do you have special techniques for getting groups to bond, to become cohesive units, or do you simply let things develop naturally? What do you do, if anything, when the dynamics of the group are developing in negative ways? What happens when one participant’s negativity affects others? What are your thoughts on group dynamics? Let me hear from you; I’m curious.

The recipe below can be used on either backpacking or car camping projects.

Turkish Rice

Olive oil
4 cups rice + 6 cups water (add water as needed during cooking to keep from sticking)
1 large onion
5 garlic cloves, chopped and divided
1 pkg diced Pomi tomatoes
4 cups vegetable broth (use 2 veggie cubes)
1 teaspoon ground cumin
¼ teaspoon red pepper
1 15 oz. can Garbanzo beans, drained and rinsed
1 bunch Italian parsley

Heat oil in large pan. Add onion and cook until tender. Add garlic, tomatoes, salt and pepper. Cook for about ten minutes. Add rice, broth, and simmer (covered) for about 20 minutes. Add garbanzo beans, cumin, and red pepper, blend in to rice mixture and cook for about 5 minutes longer. Add parsley.

Sunday, January 09, 2011

Making a List, Checking it Twice....

Inyo Nat'l Forest, CA (2006)

Veteran volunteer and outgoing WV Board President Bill Sheppard has led his fair share of trips over the past 10 years. 2011 will be no different, as he'll lead volunteers into California's Desolation Wilderness, New Mexico's Gila National Forest, and Nevada's Great Basin National Park later this year. And while spring and summertime seem a long way off, wintertime is planning time for Bill. Here's what he has to say:

"An annual ritual is underway - and I don't mean the migration of Minnesota "snow birds" to southern Arizona. I'm talking about something quite different, which anyone who has led a group of Wilderness Volunteers into the backcountry can appreciate: trip planning. Every new trip is an adventure, and planning the trip is one of my favorite parts.

The overall structure of the project is set up by Dave Pacheco, WV's Program Manager, who works with an agency contact at each trip destination. Dave gives us leaders "the big picture." What are the dates and the location of the trip? What work will we do and where? Which goverment agency - the Park Service, Forest Service, BLM - manages the area? Will pack support be provided? Who led the project last year?

Now the fun begins for us leaders. Out come the maps, calipers to measure distances, a magnifying glass to read those tiny contour lines. How long is the hike from the trailhead to camp? How far is the work site from camp? What are the elevation gains and losses? How far to the nearest water source? What are we going to eat?

Phone calls and e-mails are exchanged between co-leaders. Who will cook? Who will be the agency contact? Who will write the publicity blurb? Who will contact the volunteers?

We must get commitments from the agency. They must provide plenty of tools, and the tools must be in good condition. We like to have at least one agency person with us to supervise the work project. We rely on the agency staff to answer many questions about the area. Where can we rendezvous on the night before the hike to base camp? What kind of weather should we expect? What interesting places and activities do they recommend for our free day? What kind of animals might we see (and which ones might want our food)?

An important part of trip planning is visualization. In your mind's eye, place yourself at the trailhead, at the base camp, at the work site. What does it look like? How's the weather? How are "the troops" holding up? Our crystal ball is pretty cloudy at this early stage, but it gets clearer as we learn more about the area, the project, and the volunteers. As we get more information, we refine the trip plan and our expectations.

Ultimately, we must remember that our volunteers are taking a week of precious vacation time to "give something back" in America's wild lands - a week which could otherwise be spent lounging on the beach, relaxing at home, or sightseeing among the comforts of civilization. Above all else, we as leaders want to ensure that everyone's experience in the backcountry is safe, meaningful, and fun. And the time to start planning for that is now."

Tuesday, January 04, 2011

Happy New Year!

Ring in the New Year with a trip. And whether you're a veteran, a newcomer, or just plain curious, check out the new WV video to see WV at its best and learn more about who we are, what we do, and what it's like to spend 7 days in the wilderness "giving something back."

Special thanks to Aaron, Jeff, and Kristen for providing their two cents - and to Kevin MacLeod for providing the soundtrack. Check out the 2011 project list here, and sign up today.

(Enjoyed the video? Watch the extended version here.)