Thursday, March 20, 2014

Alumni Profile: Bob Foulkes


Bob Foulkes may have been a little late signing up for Outward Bound, taking his first course at 46, but nevertheless the experience opened the door to a lifetime of adventures that have energized, enlivened, and enthused him for more than 20 years.  This year, at the vibrant age of 65, Bob took on another Outward Bound Canada adventure, he summited Mount Kilimanjaro and helped to raise almost $100,000 in support of Outward Bound Canada’s charitable programs as part of our January 2014 Reach Beyond Expeditions team.

With a new book out titled, Off the Couch and Out the Door (currently available through Outward Bound Canada here, with part of the proceeds being donated back to us), Bob describes his Outward Bound Canada experience and all he gained from that first experience.  The story is characteristic of what we often hear from alumni about their Outward Bound experience, we chose to profile Bob in our March Alumni Corner and share these excerpts from his book.

“In June 1995, at the age of 46, without a taut muscle in my body and weighing in at over 230 pounds, I bumbled and stumbled into my first grand adventure. It was one of those ‘it seemed like a good idea at the time’ stories that men recount to a licensed emergency responder or the attending physician - usually while sitting on the edge of an emergency room examination table.

My life changing experience, my epiphany, was an Outward Bound backpacking trip in the wilds of the Coast mountains north of Whistler, British Columbia’s world famous ski resort. For eight days, I was one of ten who, with two leaders, hiked in the wild, not a road, restaurant, hotel or traffic light in sight. No Holiday Inn, just a tent we packed on our back. No MacDonalds, just non-perishable nuts and grains. No showers, just icy streams to wash away our grime. Rugged yes, beautiful yes, haunting most certainly; relentlessly intimidating to an out-of-shape, overweight city boy - you bet.

I can pinpoint the exact date when I woke up to what I was missing. It happened the day my son came back from a seventeen day Outward Bound adventure. He was a changed man, he had left Calgary a boy and returned home a confident, self assured young man. He radiated energy. Whatever it was he found, it was so bright and shiny that I wanted it too. At 15 he was a bit young to be my muse but he could be my role model. I decided I wanted  my own Outward Bound adventure. 

I wanted to conquer an epic test. I did decide I needed a bit of insurance. I talked two friends, Ian and Stephen, into joining my adventure. Both were single and free of complications. They were older than me and hopefully in worse shape. Cynical, yes; but a man has to do what is in his own interests.
The day arrived. We joined each other in Vancouver and bussed up to Pemberton to meet our group. We were older than the others, six women and one man, by at least 20 years. Most were from BC, the furthest one from Scandinavia; most of us were doing this for the first time. Roy and Colin were experienced leaders who had done many Outward Bound trips. Their obvious competence calmed us all.

Our days were consumed by the basics. We ate food that was chosen because it was light, easy to carry or lasted a week without going bad. We ate couscous, rice, lentils, oatmeal, and every other dry good and grain known in the third world…

We lived in one set of clothes for eight days. A stream provided good news/bad news; a chance to wash off the sweat and grime balanced against the inevitable heart stopping moment when the ice cold water touches delicate skin; I found all my skin was delicate, especially below the waist line. In this simple, elemental trade-off, I came to believe that standards of personal hygiene should be flexible and situational. 

Colin and Roy taught us to rappel down a steep cliff; I’m now ready if I ever need to rappel down from my tenth floor Vancouver apartment … We [also] hiked up a mountain to the summit; our mountain, our summit…. We hiked with a 50 pound pack on our back, the most fun is getting used to the change in my center of gravity. There’s nothing more thrilling than losing my balance and falling backwards in front of everyone…

[Then] we changed campsites, another hike through the bush. From this new site we are sent on a solo, a day of aloneness designed to facilitate self reflection… Roy came to get me 24 hours later. I had survived, passed the time, couldn’t wait for it to end and was packed and ready to go long before he came to get me. I was overjoyed to see him and couldn’t stop chattering. [However], deep reflection, revelations, insight, personal enlightenment and meaningful life lessons eluded me. I came to the realization that deep down, I am quite shallow. 

With as little drama as when we started, we ended our epic adventure in a rainstorm on the edge of a logging road. We shared big hugs and a group picture, one I still cherish…. We went down to the main building, showered, ate real food for the first time, got on our bus and went back to our lives. 
I walked away knowing my life would never be like it was before. My Outward Bound adventure was transformative, I felt profoundly, positively changed. 

[After the trip and] back in Vancouver Kristen, my daughter, met me for a debrief. She gave me a photo, taken a few years back when I was at my worst; a smoker, a drinker, stressed out and hollowed out from work, incapable of even minimal sustained exercise. 

I was Ebenezer Scrooge, visited by the ghost of Christmas past. That picture captured the old me; now there was a chance for a new me. It would take work to make it last but I had at least taken the first steps; now a non drinker, a non-smoker, a bit slimmer and more physically capable than I had ever imagined. Ironically, I was demolishing a big Mac while reflecting on all this; how quickly I revert to my old self. 

I had found some of what Blair discovered, I would be forever grateful that he had broken trail on this adventure. He would occasionally remind me we were not quite equals; he had led the way, he had done it first and he had done it longer, 17 days to my eight. Even so, I could understand his adventure because I had done it; I knew the depth of his courage and his fortitude. We had a bond, better than father/son, we were fellow adventurers. 

I felt a renewed sense of optimism, confidence and energy. 

I was more calm, more self assured, more joyful, more aware and more together. 

Somewhere in the mountains I had dumped my cynicism, ennui and moral fatigue. 

It was a start, who knew where it would lead?” 

To learn more about where his Outward Bound experience led, read Off the Couch. Out the Door, available here, or visit his website: bobfoulkesadventures.com.