Wednesday, January 19, 2011

Gap Year Adventure, Part 2

I arrived in Frankfurt, Germany on the 7th of January after sad farewells at the MSP airport and tiring flights to London and then Frankfurt.  But all was smooth and uneventful, except for a few extra questions at London's customs where  my girlfriend, Caroline, and I were saved thanks to David Lauth's meticulous planning skills, (THANKS DAVID!).  I'm here until February 1st when I leave with Caroline to visit Cremona, Italy and one of my dearest friends, Stina, who is on a gap year of her own with the Rotary youth exchange program.  During my time in Frankfurt, I am living with my dad's younger brother, Paul, his wife, Petra, and their 2 children, Moritz (9) and Zoe (5).  Life with my fellow Abbotts is delightful.  I love getting to know my extended family better, being immersed in German culture, and, for the first time in my life, living in a city!

I spent my first week here settling in to my new schedule and learning my way around the neighborhood.  I also started an internship at a local Reformhaus called Andersch.  A Reformhaus is a business quite similar to a Coop in the States.  They originally only sold "natural" body product -lotions, soaps, candles, etc.  But now most focus on bio, Germany's term for organic, foods.  My work is good, basic.  I help set up the fruit and vegetable displays outside, bring shipments in and sort and shelve the new foods.  The exciting part for me is seeing the business/consumer end of the process which I will be joining as a farmer in the coming months.  For instance, on a Friday a farmer from just outside of Frankfurt came and delivered 500 kg of apples to the store!  I'll be getting a full tour of one type of food system this trip as a producer, retailer, and consumer!


Friday, January 14, 2011

What I learned at NOLS

Of course my outdoors skills have improved from all of the new knowledge and practice I had throughout the semester.  But all of that isn't what i'll remember when I look back on this adventure...

I've learned many things about community and how friendships develop.  This was the first time in many years that I was in a situation where I started out without knowing anyone else.

I learned a heck of a lot about the environment and my deep care for keeping the woods wild has been solidified in my mind. 

I learned that there are so many different things in the world to see and do.  And I learned that I want to live a life of seeing and doing those things.  Life on our planet is exciting and I don't want to miss much of it duiring my time here!

NOLS was a fabulous experience.  I love the school and highly recommend that others have an adventure of their own with them, no matter their experience or age!

Snow, Snow, Snow, Snow, Snow....Snow.

My last section at NOLS, backcountry skiing and winter survival in the Absoraka Mountains in Wyoming was one of the hardest things I've done in my life.  As my group quickly transitioned from the luxurious life of rock climbing and base camp living and prepared for our winter section, our spirits were high.  How couldn't they be?! If you ignored the fine details, we were about to be living in giant snowforts and shreddin' the slopes which had about 3 feet of fresh, untouched powder.  The night before we left everyone in the group was wishing that it would snow and snow and snow so that we could live in a true winter wonderland.

Bad idea.  Constant snow (more specifically, very wet snow for 8 of our 10 days) meant we never wanted to be outside as doing so nearly always resulted in wet clothing.  And the only way to dry wet things is with heat...our bodies being the only thing with said ability in a winter environment.  So we would put our wet clothing close to our bodies in an attempt to dry it.  Surprisingly, this doesn't work particularly well.

Travel is also made even more challenging with immense amounts of snow.  We wore a backpack and dragged a sled attached to us via poles and a waist belt. On our feet we wore backcountry skies, which are a lighter weight version of telemark skies.  We would put skins onto the bottoms in order to grip the snow while we were traveling (skins are long strips of a velvet-type fabric with glue on the top side that attaches it to a ski). Our heels weren't attached so once we had all of our gear on, we could slowly move through the thigh-deep snow.  The person in the front who broke the trail had the hardest job.  They could last about 10 minutes before needing to step out for a break.  So our progress when we weren't on snowmobile trails was very, very slow.

Building our giant snowforts, called Quigloos, shredding the gnar a few minutes from camp at 10,000 feet, and skiing up to the continental divide in a blizzard were all fantastic parts of this section.  The real highlight was how the group responded to the aforementioned challenges.  At first everyone was not happy and counting down thedays untill their flights home.  But midway through the section, we stopped all of our complaining and moping, and decided we couldn't check-out early.  We had to end our fabulous semester in style.  It was really hard to look beyond the crappy living conditions and the nearness of our homes, but we regained our goofyness and optimism and skied out of the mountains in high spirits,  proud of a succesful end to a terrific 95 days in the wilderness.