| April 3, 2017 |
I’ve started writing about this course a few times now, and every time I sit and think about these 9 days, I feel overwhelmed. So I’ve been a real jerk about it and haven’t devoted the time to actually put this course into words. I don’t really have a lot of photos, so I can’t even overcompensate for my hesitancy to write with photos. Damnit.
Well, let’s be honest here. I was super lost before this course. Frustrated, confused, and ready to just run away to Hawaii. NOLS and Raquette Lake gave me just what I needed at this time in my life. I’m so glad I sucker punched the doubts in my head, questioning why the hell I was spending the money on this course (cost was FOUR digits) when it wouldn’t give me any credits toward continuing education for my actual career, I didn’t feel my desire to learn was justifiable alone, and I wasn’t entirely sure what I wanted out of it. Yet… I was drawn to take this course to be more comfortable venturing into the outdoors (and not depending on others all the time), and maybe… just maybe… find a way to use this course to get me outside in my career. Even if not, I didn’t care. I just wanted to take this course.
And so my journey began in Raquette Lake, New York on January 5, 2017. Let’s dive into this…
Being a travel Physical Therapist definitely lowered the guilt of taking this course because I didn’t technically have to take time off of work. I just created a gap in my travel assignments that allowed me to buy some time. I basically had the month of January blocked off in my mind (with no plan after), and I was ready to jump into some learning. The spark for this course came from time in the Pacific Northwest. On the multiple hiking group pages I’ve joined on Facebook, I kept seeing posts about “Wilderness First Responders” who were rigging up stretchers to help injured hikers out of the backcountry, creating splints for ankles, and caring for people with heat exhaustion. All these posts made me incredibly curious, so for a few months, I just kind of entertained the idea of doing a WFR course. I’d think of it and say, “hmmm that’d be cool,” and then forget about it. Eventually, I stopped forgetting and decided I wasn’t going to WAIT. I started looking up course dates, and decided to COMMIT to doin’ it. Nobody was gonna stop me, not even myself.
At the time (October-ish), the only thing I knew for certain was that I’d be in NY for the holidays, so when I saw a course in upstate NY in January, I knew it was fate (or somethin like that). The best part of taking this course in Raquette Lake? It is actually part of SUNY Cortland University, and the nine days included accommodations at Huntington Camp. This meant that, not only would I basically be in school again (I’m a total nerd for learning, and I miss school, and the idea of taking notes and studying made me overzealous), but I’d also be in
summer winter tundra camp! I couldn’t even contain my preconceived excitement.
Then the logistics started coming together. It’s early January in upstate New York. Average temperatures are in the single digits. Sometimes negative. The ground? Frozen. Entirely. We got an email from the camp manager saying we’d have to cross a FROZEN Raquette Lake to Huntington Camp. Oh gosh… What was I getting myself into?! I actually had a friend, Simon, taking the WFR course in Washington around this same time. I saw a photo of his classmate laying in a cold stream to create a hypothermia simulation. Shit started getting REAL.
The list of required gear alone was intimidating, but also made me intensely excited.
Head and Hands
Two insulating hats that cover the ears and partial face
Scarf, facemask or neck gaiter. My new best friend, Buff, came along for the ride.
Several pairs of insulating gloves that can be worn over each other. One light pair for conducting full body assessments.
2-4 pairs of long-sleeved shirts, preferably wool or synthetic long underwear (no cotton)
2-3 medium weight layers of wool or synthetic shirts, sweaters, fleece (no cotton)
Down or synthetic vest, jacket or sweater
Insulated parka with hood
Waterproof rain jacket, poncho or anorak. Breathable “Gortex” style is best. Good thing I already had this, thanks to PNW rain.
Sweatshirts or cotton shirts for use in dorm or dining hall
1-2 pairs of long underwear bottoms. Same as upper body wear (no cotton)
1-2 pairs of wool, fleece or other insulating pants
1 pair waterproof rain or snow pants and one pair of breathable insulated pants
Jeans or slacks for dining hall and dorm use. Yay, dorms! It’s like college, all over again!
3-5 pairs synthetic or wool liner socks (no cotton)
3-5 pairs thick insulating socks (no cotton). Thank you, Darn Tough. And Thank You, Marshall’s for carrying “Slightly Irregular” version of DT socks. #bargainshopper
1 pair of insulated, waterproof winter boots (the Camp can loan these). Glad I got these guys at REI to keep my tootsies warm.
Medium weight hiking boots with gaiters will work
1 pair of slippers, moccasins, booties or light sneakers to slip on when inside (In all the Camp buildings, we generally take heavy boots off by the door.)
1 additional pair of comfy slippers, etc. to leave in the dining hall for meals
Sleeping bag for use in heated bunk room or set of linens… I opted for sleeping bag. Roughin’ it.
Headlamp or small flashlight with extra batteries
Watch with seconds (for taking vitals)
Daypack or small backpack to carry items you’ll need for simulations
Water bottle with tight-fitting lid (can be purchased at Camp)
Toiletries and personal hygiene products, lip balm, sun screen
Prescription and non-prescription medications (we cannot supply these)
Helpful camping items: pocket knife, personal first aid kit, lighter or matches, camp chair for floor or ground, compass, camera, stuff sacks for small items, etc.
Swim suit for use in sauna; water shoes or sandals for walking to the ice hole… Sauna? YES! But… Ice hole??
Additional indoor clothing, nightwear and underwear/socks. Or a onesie, if you’re cool like that.
Notebook and pens for classroom; a small notepad with baggie is helpful for recording vitals during simulations
Good lawd. I packed all my gear into my brother’s 80L pack with stuff sacks, and looped three pairs of footwear to the outside. It didn’t all fit in my 60L. I felt like I was packing way too much. But OH MY am I glad I brought all I did, because I would’ve been so freakin’ cold and wet and miserable had I not followed the above recommendations. To note, I was also afraid of wearing my eye glasses the whole time, and ridiculously sent an email to the camp manager to ask if it’d be okay to wear them throughout the course. (When I arrived and saw other people wearing glasses, I felt absolutely insane for having asked.) With plans to get laser eye surgery on January 20, I wasn’t allowed to wear my contacts for a full TWO WEEKS prior to surgery. I was super bummed, but figured I’d find a way to make it work. I sacrificed my peripheral vision, and left my trusted contact solution at home for this trip.
And so… Into the tundra I went…
I planned to spend the night in closer proximity to Raquette Lake, as there was a storm pending and I didn’t want to drive my 2WD Toyota Corolla through unfamiliar territory in the snow. Raquette Lake was surprisingly far from Long Island, so I booked a hotel room in Glen Falls, packed my gear, and made the drive up north with relative haste. I drove through the Adirondak Mountains and arrived in Glen Falls, NY, the evening of January 5. My evening was uneventful, except for catching up with my bestie, Talia, on the phone. As we are both firm believers in the Law of Attraction, we meditated on the fact that this course would give me some clarity and growth I really needed. I opened my mind and decided to stay entirely present during the course, rather than be fretful about the fact I was feeling lost.
I sent my last messages to friends and family, hopeful that I would NOT have cell service at Camp Huntington. It was time for a technology detox, and I didn’t want to be distracted by the outside world. I was ready to be present.
Well, it wasn’t actively snowing the morning of January 6. But… I’m sure glad I got the extra rest at the hotel, rather than driving from Long Island in the AM. I quickly regretted NOT bringing my Canon 60D on this trip because I was greeted with picturesque scenery from the second I pulled into the parking lot on Antler’s Road. Three other students and myself loaded our bags into a sled on a snowmobile, which traveled much faster than we did by foot across the mile-long, frozen lake.
Erica, Amanda, Anthony, and I began the walk with amazement at the scenery! As SUNY Cortland students, Amanda and Anthony had MUCH knowledge to share about Raquette Lake as we walked, basically summarizing all this oh-so-beautifully. With a background in recreational therapy, I had a lot of questions for Amanda, who had done so many incredible projects in the outdoors. Erica, on the other hand, was going to be starting a job in Outdoor Education the Adirondaks.
This was just a preview of the unbelievable minds I’d be surrounded by for 9 days.
We were greeted by the camp director at Camp Huntington, and instructed to drop our items in our respective cabins: one for the girls, one for the guys. Rob gave us a general timeline for the day, and we were gifted some free time to settle in and explore before reporting to the first day of the course and dinner! The girls’ cabin, McDermott Hall, was WAAAAY more accommodating than I had pictured! Firstly, there were far too many bedrooms for the number of girls on the course. We had 7 girls, and about 28 beds to choose from (7 rooms with 2 bunk beds in each). The cabin was separated into two sections, with a lake view from the back porch, and two communal bathrooms. It was nice and toasty warm, too!
I had my own bedroom with 4 beds. Excessive? Yes. Only two girls on the trip actually decided to be roomies (Reba & Elisa), as they go to school together and are adorably giggly and awesome together.
We headed to the Carlson Classroom around 4PM for all the “first day” fun stuff, like getting our textbooks (YAY books!!!). I immediately felt way lucky to have signed up for this course, because our instructors were AWESOME (pronounced OW-SOME, with a little more “umph” and emphasis on the OW), have insane amounts of wilderness medicine experience, and are very involved with National Outdoor Leadership School (NOLS). Our class of 20 went around the room to introduce ourselves, providing the following information (as requested by our owsome instructor):
Where do you call “home”?
Any previous medial experience?
Why are you taking the WFR course?
If you had to choose to fight a bear, mountain lion, or wolf, who would you fight?
The responses to ALL above questions were interesting and entertaining. From wishing for a career change from asbestos control, to requirements for a degree, to jobs in National Parks, to simply learning to help friends in times of need, everyone had pretty badass reasons for taking the WFR course. People also made some seriously owsome cases for which animal they’d choose to fight. Which animal would kill fastest to decrease our suffering? Which animal do we have better chance of surviving against? Is it a grizzly bear or black bear? You choose. Brown, lay the fuck down. Black, attack. And, most importantly, by “wolf,” we ARE talking about John Snow’s direwolf… right?
The day wrapped up with a group of us reading in the library, which somehow magically transitioned into discussion about the universe’s dark matter and watching a TED talk about how trees communicate with each other. Yes, really.
I thought, “HOLY SHIT, I’m surrounded by my people.”
Mhmmm, this class is going to be pretty fucking
Erm, I slept a little odd the first night. Kept waking up hot then cold then hot and then even MORE hot and sweating and uncomfortable and tossing and turning and why am I in a sleeping bag on a bed? Oh, that’s right. Glamping.
Everything is owsome.
Okay I’ll stop saying owsome now. Sorry, I don’t make promises I can’t keep.
I was loving the camp atmosphere–from the bunk style (where having my own room really felt like cheating) to no cell service (yesssss, just as I wished for). Also, the structure of mealtime was fantastic. We had to arrive for breakfast at 7:30am, lunch at 12:45pm, and dinner at 6:30pm. For each meal, there was a different rotation of students on “Kitchen Patrol” (KP for short) who arrived 15 minutes early to ensure the dining room was set up for meals (with a pitcher of water on your table), and toot the horn outside when everyone could be seated. The rules? NO hats in the dining room. Stand behind your chair until Rob tells you that you may sit down, which is after he reads an inspirational quote (*unless a student offers words of wisdom) and makes any general announcements. Wait for food to be placed on your table by KP, and then be told you may begin eating. Don’t get up to get coffee, tea, or anything from the salad bar until you’re told it’s open. After meal time, you’ll expect KP to clear your plates, use the dishwasher, wipe down the tables and then set them for the next meal. And they will be set PROPERLY. Don’t put the napkin on the right, silly!
We dove right into a ton of material today, covering all different kids of shock, lung injuries, dental shizz, and general spine trauma. Being that it was about 9 degrees during the early morning, we were challenged during scenarios to access our patients’ skin located below a MINIMUM of three other layers. We also quickly appreciated the use of foam mats to stand/lay on during scenarios. This day, I acted as a patient for a left-sided rib fracture with shortness of breath and closed pnemothorax (hint: PALE LIPS).
The Patient Assessment System we learned is superbly organized and already getting drilled into our brains. We began learning to systematically evaluate the emergency situation before jumping into the patient assessment in order to keep us safe as responders. We learned little number rhymes to help us remember each of these five steps for the “scene size up”:
(1) Who’s #1? I’m #1! Identify hazards to people in the area.
(2) What happened to you? What’s the mechanism of injury?
(3) Nothing on me! Protect yourself with body substance isolation (fancy schmancy way to say: put on gloves.)
(4) Are there any more? How many patients are there?
(5) What’s the vibe? Form the seriousness of the situation. Are you ready to dive in? Is it safe? Is the patient breathing and pink? Well, that would be a good sign…
We then learned the “ABCDE” of the initial assessment, and head-to-toe assessment. Though I’ve done a ton of patient evaluations as a Physical Therapist, this all felt pretty new to me. I’ve never done any kind of emergency response, and definitely needed to break my desire to rush through the assessment early on. I initially felt a sense of urgency to the scenarios, but quickly learned how much TIME we have as WILDERNESS responders. We were taught to take our time.
As they say in Swahili, “Haraka haraka haina baraka” – nothing good comes from hurrying!
At dinner time, I sat next to one of the instructors, and he got me SUPER stoked. We talked about wilderness medicine and how there are tons of people trying to close the gap between rehabilitation, injury prevention, and the outdoors. I saw my first glimmer of hope and started getting a wee bit excited for all the opportunities this course was going to open up for me. Maybe I could do ski patrol? Search and rescue? Adaptive sports?? The options, the options!
We fired up the WOOD SAUNA tonight, where I left my glasses outside and blindly held conversations with our owsome crew of people. Most of the people in my evening crew were older folks not enrolled in SUNY Cortland, but all of us were created equally and I tried to get to know everyone even just a little bit throughout the course because WOW did they have a lot to share! I’m not entirely sure what the “ice hole” is still, but we DID run from the sauna to the snow a couple times to make snow angels in our bathingsuits. And we also gave snow stone treatments to each other, hah!
After about TWO hours in the deliciously hot sauna, it was time for bed. And ohhhh my did I sleep like an angel, and went on some pretty epic adventures in my dreams. I guess I was feeling a little inspired?
Stay Tuned for Part 2!
P.S. Apparently I’m a dirty sailor now and I like using the F-bomb in my writing, and apologize to my Mother, any former patients reading this, and any parents reading my blog aloud to your children. I have deleted some usage of the F-bomb, despite wanting to say everything is fucking awesome >10x on this single post. I’ve resorted to 3 uses of the word. Sorry, and you’re welcome… 0:)