Outward Bound – they say only the tough go in the winter

Mt Baldy, Richmond Forest Park
Getting ‘branded’

They say only the tough go down in winter and, having been at Outward Bound for the coldest June on record in ages, I have to agree with them. It was cold. Fortunately I am the sort of person who would take a parachute if I could and I had doubled or tripled the amount of warm clothes on the list and was very grateful that I had. I used them all.

Would I do it again? In a flash, although perhaps not this week as I have been having 12 hours sleeps – with the odd Nana-nap thrown in. I think I’m in recovery mode.

The experience of a lifetime

If you are thinking of applying for Outward Bound then do it. There are plenty of scholarships around. Ring Outward Bound and find out who might be offering one. If you are thinking of going in winter, then double or triple the amount of woollens on the list. And do some serious physical preparation. It is very physical, every day is action packed and out of doors. They won’t cancel anything because of the weather unless some of the group get hypothermia, then they might pull you out. But you will probably still have to haul the kayaks up a couple of very long, steep hills and then you’ll still have to do PT (running laps through the forest at Pelorous run in our case).

For me it was the experience of a lifetime. I am slowly starting to integrate what happened over those 21 action packed days. I am finding it strange settling back into ‘everyday life’ and I am holding onto the advice they gave us at the end. I am being mindful of what I replace the Anakiwa water with, and I am aware that others have not had the life changing experience that I have over the last 3 weeks. I try to listen and not evangelise. However, Outward Bound stories keep bubbling out. I remember something new and hold my tongue sometimes and hug that memory to myself until its appropriate to share.

The humour gets you through

Outward bound
Scott Watch Bunkroom

Scott Watch 606, what can I say, 14 people from different walks of life, ranging in age from 27 to 65 years old. You are amazing. The banter, the puns, the laughs I shall remember for a longtime. That’s what got me through the difficult bits. We did everything together, shared a bunk room, tents, cleaned gear together, ate together, and helped each other through the difficult bits. Everyone had something they shone at, some at sea, some on the land. Our instructors encouraged and built a sense of trust within the group from day one. There were times when we needed that.

The instructor’s skills were impressive, both interpersonal and physical skills. Seeing them in the water when we were kayaking was truly awe-inspiring. The way they manoeuvred those kayaks and get people righted so quickly demonstrated the depth of outdoor skills it takes to be an Outward Bound instructor.

From sailing to kayaking to solo

We sailed the length of Queen Charlotte Sound all the way to Ship Cove in an open cutter. We slept on the cutter under a star filled, frosty sky with a tent fly rigged from the mast. Its quite hard to find space for 14 adults to lie down on a cutter. I managed to get a bench by the rail which would have been great had it not had a hatch cover in the middle of my back and the tent fly flapping in my face all night. I found out that life jackets have more uses than just keeping you afloat in the water and the extra string I took came in very handy. The second night I was much more organised and had a much better sleep. We were lucky it didn’t rain and very lucky that our instructors didn’t make us swim around the cutter each morning for PT as some groups had to. Our PT that trip was a run to look at the waterfall in Ship Cove and then, of course, a jump off the wharf (a very long way down to the water).

We did nearly run the cutter aground due to the fickle winds in the Sounds. However, quick thinking by ‘Captain’ Jana and a very polite request to “lower the sails now. Please!” had us with the sails down in record time and the instructors high tailing it to our rescue. Apparently we interrupted a coffee break and a deep and meaningful discussion about education philosophy. Later they towed us around a bay filled with huge pod of dusky dolphins. Yet another magical Outward Bound experience. Thanks  so much Ben and Scotty.

We thought we would sail all the way back to Anakiwa, but we disembarked at Davies Bay. That sounds better than it actually was – we jumped off the launch, swam to shore and ran, dripping wet, the 3km back to Anakiwa.

We went tramping for 3 days in the Richmond Forest, starting off from the carpark with the sleet coming in horizontally. The following day dawned frosty clear so we climbed Mt Baldy and then walked for over 3 hours after dark to reach our camp site that night. Nobody wanted the flapjacks, sorry Phil.

Mt Baldy, Richmond Forest Park

We climbed rock walls. Some actually climbed the rock wall blindfolded! And some of us, namely me, got stuck for about an hour in one place. Arthritis and trigger finger in both hands means that I don’t have the finger strength to grip onto small finger holds. But I was determined to do it and eventually I got to the top. The abseiling down was a blast.

We did low ropes and high ropes, jumped 1metre gaps 30 feet above the ground, hoped on one foot on the log, again 30 foot above the ground, did the climbing wall and flew off into the nothingness on the flying fox – some of us screaming with delight (or was that fright). We learnt compass navigation and ridge aerobics while bush bashing up and down hills.

We even got dropped off in the bush after dark with a tent fly, a ground sheet, 3 apples, 3 flapjacks, 2 carrots and a small bag of nuts and raisins for our solo, 3 nights and 2.5days alone in the bush. It rained on the last night and those with less fortunate campsites ended up sleeping in their wet weather gear inside their sleeping bags. Me, I was toastie dry, That’s where experience worked for me, along with that extra string I took. I rigged up an extra shelter over one end of the tent fly so the rain didn’t get in.

On the coldest day on record in New Zealand

We  went kayaking on the mighty (cold) Pelorous River with half an inch of ice on the puddles beside the river and white frost flowers everywhere around us. At the end of the day we dragged the kayaks up steep hills, through mud marshes and up steeper hills. We had our first campfire and toasted marshmellows. The next day felt much colder with low river fog covering the already cold river. We learnt how to warm up near-hypothermic people in the Z tent. It works, but our instructors pulled us off the river because of the conditions. I was disappointed as I was feeling quite good that day. By the time we had dragged the kayaks up more steep hills everyone was feeling much warmer. PT that day was running laps at Pelorous River Bridge in the bush in preparation for the half marathon the next day.

Every expedition ended with a celebration

Every return to camp was ‘celebrated’ by a jump of the wharf into the freezing water. Every morning in camp we had PT at 6:20am followed by a 3.2km run, a swim in the sea, a cold outdoor shower, then a race to get dressed and get to breakfast on time. There was a penalty if your whole watch were not ready on time. Fortunately we never found out exactly what that was, but we saw other groups ‘get taken away’. It was a big incentive to be on time.

We had virtually no personal time except for late at night when we just wanted to sleep or on our solo time. There was always something planned for us to do, pack for another expedition, unpack and clean gear from an expedition, meet with our instructors, or, if we had any down time, we were rushing to get clothes washed and dried. Not time for letters or reflection. They plan it this way. We never quite knew what we were doing next or when we would be doing it. “Trust the process” was the only answer to our constant questions.

I loved nearly every minute

I loved nearly every minute of my time at Anakiwa. There was one day, day 19, (after having no sleep the night before) when I felt like I was 105 years-old. I think I was just mentally, emotionally and physically exhausted. But even on that day I could still enjoy kayaking backwards down the Pelorous river. (When they said vertical blades I took it literally because that is how we paddle in waka ama, but in hind sight I don’t think they meant quite that vertical). When I slipped down the hill at the end of the day one of the guys helped me up and told me he would slip an extra sleeping mat into my tent so I could get a better sleep. I felt really looked after.

Facing my fears

OB-our last dinner
I got by with a little help from my friends

I learnt that it is good to know exactly what my fears are. The jumping off the wharf had to be the greatest challenge for me. I thought it was a 2-fold fear, that I was only terrified of the deep water and of the cold water. It was only after I had done the high ropes (which I loved) and then had trouble stepping off at the flying fox, that I realised that stepping off into ‘the great nothingness’ was my third fear (and probably the biggest of the 3) for that jump off the wharf.

Eat that frog!

There is a saying at Outward Bound, “If you have to eat a frog don’t look at it too long”. Once I realised exactly what I was facing, I knew that to do it without hesitation, I needed help. I worked out a strategy as I completed the last part of the half marathon with a watch-mate. With the support of most of my watch on the wharf cheering me on, holding Darlene’s hand and with Scotty jumping in with us, I stepped off into nothing, into the deep and cold water and I ate that frog without hesitation!

There is always more in you – maybe even a half marathon!

The biggest thing I learnt was that there is always more in me. When I felt like I couldn’t do any more I always found some reserve to get me through, or someone said a kind word of encouragement or told a joke and the laughter lightened the load.

About half way through I found out to my horror, that we had to do a half marathon on the last day. Yes, 21.something kms. Just doing the 3 kms each morning was a challenge for me in the first place. When I decided to do Outward Bound 4 months beforehand, I could run about 100metres. I wasn’t sure whether they were kidding me or not. I have never run more than 3 km before. Then our last full day at Anakiwa I ran the first 11kms of the half marathon, beating about 8 of the teenagers to that point. However, near Davies Bay I fell and re-grazed the same knee I had grazed the day before. I walked the rest of it, but I completed it and I wasn’t the last to come in. At 64 year and 364 days old I officially completed my first half marathon.

It was an amazing, life changing experience

All in all, I had a ball. I would do it again tomorrow (well perhaps next week) given the chance.

I am really pleased I put so much effort into my preparation for Outward Bound. The 10 weeks of Boot Camp and the running really paid off. That was what got me through it, along with a lot of humour (even if some of that was slightly left of centre), the support of my watch and a really, really good supply of warm woollens, socks and hats.

Its hard to explain why I chose to go to Outward Bound

People wonder why I chose to go to Outward Bound, especially ‘at my age’. Sometimes I wonder myself. I knew if I wanted to compete in Vaka Eiva, the round Rarotonga waka ama race I needed to overcome my fear of deep water. However, I think it was the dates that really convinced me. The course finished a day before my 65th birthday. What better way could I celebrate going into so called retirement. Like most of my generation I have a horror of going into a retirement home. I suddenly realised that if I didn’t start to do something to keep my body more active then I would be into the “don’t use it, so you loose it” syndrome.

Weight loss – one of the benefits

I have always struggled with my weight, I thought I couldn’t loose weight easily. I tried lots of different things, but nothing seemed to work in the long term. I come from a long line of very big women. I thought it was genetic. After 10 weeks of boot camp I had lost 6 kg, I lost another 2 kg on Outward Bound. I am now lighter than I have been in 25 years. Yes, I did change the way I was eating, but not that much. I certainly had enough calories and never felt hungry. At Outward Bound my diet was very different to what I had been eating, very high in carbs and I still lost weight. It proved to me that I can do it, and that I need to keep moving to do it.

Its all about attitude

While on solo I came across a quote about attitude and it really spoke to me. I realised that a lot of what got me through was not so much my physical strength, my life experience, but my attitude.

“The longer I live, the more important I realise the impact of attitude on life. Attitude to me, is more important than the past, than eduction, than money, than circumstances, than failures, than successes, than what other people think or say or do.

It is more important than appearance, giftedness or skills. It will make or break a company… a church… a home.

The remarkable thing is that we have a choice everyday regarding the attitude we will embrace for the day. We cannot change our past, we cannot change the fact that certain people act in a certain way. The only thing we can do is play the one string we have, and that is our attitude. 

I am convinced that life is10% what happens to me and 90% how I react to it. And so it is with you… we are in charge of our attitudes”. – Charles Swindoll

ending Outward Bound
Back in a real waka

A magical surprise ending

We had a little ending and certificate ceremony before we were to board the launch back to Picton. As we were walking down the wharf I suddenly saw a waka in the distance and got really excited. I was explaining to my watch-mates that ‘that is a real waka, and that’s what a vertical blade looks like’. As it came closer I realised that everyone in the waka was in red, that it was a Maitahi crew and I wondered what they were doing so far from home. Closer still it came. They were chanting Toia Mai. Then I realised it was my over 60’s crew welcoming me back. They had come to take me home. What a surprise. One of my crew members had liaised with Outward Bound and so my instructors knew what was happening. I had no idea. The waka pulled up at the wharf, one of the crew climbed off and I climbed on and paddled off into the distance.

Part of me was disappointed not to be completing the journey with my watch mates, the other part felt like I was moving from one close whanau to another in a very special way. I had to ‘Trust the process’. It was a magical ending to an amazing experience.

Jan Blythe
Scott Watch 606

We didn’t really paddle all the way to Picton!


  • Kia ora Jan just read your story so inspiring. What a challenge what a woman. Tu meke. Now about Vaka Eva 2016 if you did this OB you can do that half the race done already. Truly a great inspiration to us all Jan.
    Nga mihi

  • Steph Campbell-Wilson

    As I said many times Jan, you are an amazing lady and truely inspirational to me and all of your fellow 606’ers! Great article, thanks for capturing it so well, such fantastic memories!

  • Rose Wood

    Wow that is so fantastic Jan. You can be extremely proud of yourself. The running would have to be my problem. I don’t mind short sprints but hate long distance. Always have. Good on you.

  • What an inspiring story Jan! You’re very brave – I love it that you faced your fear of deep water (I mean who does like jumping ‘into the abyss’)?! When we first moved here, you were getting over an operation – now look at you. Kia kaha!

  • Jan Blythe

    Thank y’all for your wonderful comments. Sally, please tell Jeff thank you for the kudos he sent on Strava on my runs before I left for OB. It helped a lot when I was struggling with the running. To me it really felt like a group effort at times. When things got tough I knew I had the total support of my family, whanau and friends. That made a big difference. Some of my watch members had had negative feedback about coming to Outward Bound.

    I think you’d all be amazed at how much is in you, I know I was. I have no idea where that half marathon came from. I tried a run this last weekend and managed 1km! I walked home. I don’t think I’ll put my Strava feed up on the site.

    My advice to you is to do something, start something, find something that lights a fire within you; Yoga, pilates on the beach, stand up paddle boarding, maybe even waka ama (you get to sit down), but keep moving, keep active. Even if you are a Gold Card holder its not too late to start.
    Cheers Jan

  • Amazing! You leave me for dead. And you tell a wonderful story. Kia kaha!

  • Laura Quin Ogle

    Wow!! Go Jan! What a wonderful experience and thanks for sharing it! So inspiring, and I hope one day I’m brave enough to try something like this!

  • Sally Grimmett

    Tears in my eyes Jan

  • Karen Cain

    Well done Jan. An inspiration to everyone!

  • Go Jan! You should be proud of the way you handled the tough challenges and embraced the opportunities…

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