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Outside our comfort zone on the South Nahanni River

Aug. 2

The road that stretches before our feet is a challenge to the heart long before it tests the strength of our legs.
— St Thomas Aquinas

In a few weeks, Augustana will greet our incoming first-year students. At the opening convocation, I will recommend that these newly minted Augie students commit to doing a few things during their time at Augustana that take them outside of their comfort zones — perhaps joining the rowing crew, starting a new club, picking a difficult double major or studying in a developing country.

Most students follow this advice and find it well worth their while to move beyond the known and comfortable. They find to their delight that they can do things they thought were impossible. When students get outside their comfort zones, they discover that doing so is less a test of their intellect than of their courage. They find that when they have the resolve to do something, it can usually be done.

I have found it is sometimes easier for younger people to get outside of their comfort zones. Sometimes the older we get, the more cautious and conservative we become.

One of the great things about a wilderness raft expedition is that it provides many opportunities to get outside of your comfort zone. Where that mountain seems unclimbable or that slot canyon looks impassable, there are great opportunities to push yourself.
 On the South Nahanni, a swift wilderness river, Jane and I expected to sit safely in a raft throughout the trip. But we found we had the option of canoeing a section of the river in an inflatable canoe. I was opposed to the idea. After all, it had been years since I’d canoed on a river, and even then, it was on a slow-moving one in Iowa. But Jane persuaded me to get outside of my comfort zone. After a quick lesson, Jane and I paddled away in the canoe. What a wonderful experience! Being so close to the river and being totally focused on the river allows you to connect with the powerful river in a special way. Although maneuvering the canoe was not particularly difficult, it was exhilarating.

So we canoed a stretch of this swift river. We climbed a thousand feet up a rocky cliff to a precarious lookout that made me more than a little nervous. We swam through frigid pools in the Chasm of Chills, a granite slot canyon. All these adventures reminded me that a journey, particularly one outside of one’s comfort zone, is a test of the heart before it’s a test of the legs.

(See also Jane Bahls’ Arctic Adventures blog).

One Response to “Outside our comfort zone on the South Nahanni River”

  1. You guys are an absolute hoot. I can not tell you much Nancy and I have enjoyed reading your blogs about your journey.

    I left for a 16 day golf trip to England the same day you left the college for the trip east and into Newfoundland. I thought nothing about the blog until I returned home and pulled up the wdbsite. Well, I was hooked. Steven, your reflections on your posts were spot-on. I love the quotes and how you turn them into ways to live your life. Ii makes me want to return to the college for your first meeting with the incoming studnets.

    And Jane, where did you learn to write? You are like an artist painting words on an easel. I love what you have to say about what you have seen. You put things into words so well. Your desrcrition of sights and sounds are beautiful. You must have Spellcheck , as I can not even pronounce places that you have been. Whatever the case, Nancy and I look forward to your blogs each and every day.

    Nancy was in Raleigh with our son’s family when she first started reading your blog. Our son visited Newfoundland on his honeymoon and he knew exactly where you had gone and what you had seen.

    One thing that really got my attenbtion was the amount of driving you have done. 800+ miles a day and 1600+ miles over twp days. And these are not miles over paved roads. And 14,000 miles for the entire journey. That is incredible. And the two full size spare tires. How proactive was that decision. The Subaru Outback should hold an iconic place on the campus upon your return. Think Mission Ranch, Carmel, California. It is owned by Clint Eastwood and on display is the green pickup truck used in “Bridges of Madison County”. Clint and Meryl Streep.

    We will contine to follow you as you return to the Quad Cities. As great as it will be to have you both back on campus, we will miss reading your accounts of visits to places I had known nothing existed. I think I would have drawn the line when Jane entered the ice caves. What a thrill but how scarey. You have stepped out of your comfort zone on a daily basis.

    Be safe and God speed on your journey home. The broken sandel, the forgotten I-Pass, the lost key, all seem so far in the distant past. You guys are something else. I have such admiration and respect for what you have accomplished.

    From Batavia—David Moe 1969

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