Base Life: The Grand Finale

by Andrea Wackerle


March 30th, 2018. Hey there! I’m a participant in SOAR’s Gap Year program. Today we met with the director to talk about our upcoming expedition and then dove straight into our transition planning, which is basically our plan for the summer and fall when we get home. We always have library time and gym time on Fridays at base, it’s a good way to unwind and end the week, plus it lets people who were behind on journals have some time to finish those up.

Our Expedition Planning this time was a real endeavor. What was special about this particular Expedition is that it was 100% on the participants to plan and execute. Kudos to our leaders this time taking on such a daunting task. It is to be our longest expedition yet, a full 18 days instead of the 14 that we usually do. We are also going to have a longer backcountry portion, 6 days instead of 4. What backcountry means is that there are no amenities. It is the wilderness. You bring everything that you need with you in your backpack and if you forget something then you do without it. Beyond that, we have a really great lineup for this Ex! We’re going to go to the Boulder Teahouse, a ropes course in Moab, Dinosaur National Monument, and Bandelier National Monument, and lots more. We all worked our rear ends off with expedition planning this time, and yesterday was practically nothing but staring at screens trying to polish everything up and hunt down loose ends. We’re very proud of what we put together and we can’t wait to actually do it!

During the week on Mondays and Wednesdays, we all go to volunteer in our placements scattered around Dubois. The placements are in the fish hatchery, the tannery, the Opp Shop thrift store, the National Bighorn Sheep Center, the Museum of Dubois, the Boy’s and Girl’s Club, and the Warm Valley Lodge. I myself volunteer at the Museum of Dubois on Mondays and the Opp Shop on Wednesdays. I like both of my placements for different reasons, but the thing they have in common is fun people. At the museum, I help accession artifacts, set up displays, do research, and act as a general handyperson. I actually learned how to use a power drill at the museum, which I was very excited about, having never had the opportunity to use one before. At the Opp Shop, I do just about everything. I sort through the donations, clean them up, take them to be priced, put them on the shelves, and then organize them after they’ve been rifled through by customers. I also move furniture and work the cash register. I’m a regular jack-of-all-trades at this point. Something I learned here is that large amounts of clothing add up very quickly in regards to weight, and stocking the racks can be an absolutely monumental effort.

We also did group volunteering during this base phase, which is always fun. The first group volunteering we did this phase was the bighorn sheep roundup, where sheep are captured on the mountain and taken to be studied so that scientists can keep track of the herd. Unfortunately, the local herd isn’t doing so well in terms of numbers. The ewes get pregnant and have babies as normal, but something keeps getting the lambs sick and they often don’t live to adulthood. Scientists and researchers from the University of Wyoming are looking for the source of the sickness to try to do something about it, but until the source is found not much can be done.

Our next group volunteering activity was to go and keep the senior’s company at the Warm Valley Lodge Happy Hour. We got to mix and mingle, having little snacks and asking the denizens of the lodge about their life. One of the people there was actually one of the children in England that got sent to the countryside when the London Blitz was going on during World War II. Yes! Like in the Narnia books by C.S. Lewis! We also sang happy birthday to one of the residents and tried our hands at the puzzles that they have spread out in the area. I, personally, was almost done with one of them when we had to leave, and I was a little bit miffed at having to leave before my victory over the cardboard menace.

Our last group volunteering activity of this phase was to help in the Spring Cleanup at the National Bighorn Sheep Center. We clipped the reeds down so that they would grow in the summer, and then raked them up and put them in trailers. It took a while and it was cold outside, but with so many people to help it actually went a lot faster than it did last year. Our biggest problem was the wind, which kept picking up our piles and blowing them away so we had to chase down the stray reeds.

During this base phase, we had plenty of life skills lessons. So many that we had to ask around to figure out which ones we had done. Partly, this was because we didn’t have any more college classes to attend, but also because they were all genuinely important things to learn about. They were on topics from health, to cooking, to how to fix a toilet and more.

When we did the Gourmet Cooking 2 life skill, we went through all the regular note taking and presentation parts, but then we actually put our newfound knowledge to good use. We made a very nice dinner for ourselves as a team. We had arugula, or rocket, salad with vinaigrette, a spicy cauliflower side dish, and orange honey salmon. We all had fun cooking together, and we’re all very thankful to the leader of this particular life skill.

The toilet fixing thing was our Home Maintenance life skill, taught by a Gap instructor. To teach us how to fix toilets, he went about dismantling the ones around base. We then had to figure out what was wrong with it and how to fix it. What he did to my toilet was that he actually removed the lever entirely and hid it just out of sight. I was understandably a little cranky about that particular part of the life skill, but I did at least have a fairly large clue as to what the problem was so I was able to fix it without much trouble. Also included in this life skill was putting the doors back on our cabinets, locating the circuit breaker box and turning our power back on, and replacing door knobs. I think the instructor had a little too much fun with this particular life skill, honestly.

We also got a lesson in manners from two of the instructors. We learned about how to be a good host, how to be a good guest and general table manners. We also learned about formal ways to introduce people at social events. So no worries, when we come home we’ll be just as formal and fancy as if you sent us to finishing school. Maybe. Probably not.

One lesson was in Self Care and De-stressing, complete with binders full of informational sheets. To my parents, it turns out that taking a nap to destress is actually a good thing, and also I told you so. Of course, I could also do yoga or take a run, but we all know that’s not going to happen when I have the option of sleeping instead.

Another one of the life skills was Effectively Using Calendars, including electronic ones, which is a very important skill for a scatterbrain like me. It turns out that writing things down in one central location along with the times they should be done by is helpful. Who knew?

A combo lesson we had was Public Speaking. We learned about how to get an audience’s attention and then keep it while saying what we wanted to say. You have to be confident to be a public speaker, or at least look like you are. As I always say, fake it til you make it!

Another life skill was Mindfulness with Technology, which I, unfortunately, can’t say much about, as I was absent during it. Its main premise, though, was about the staying power of things you put on the internet and to always be careful about whom you give your information to.

That’s about it for this base phase; I hope you all enjoyed reading this blog!