Blog

Learning From The Ironman

Expedition Therapy participated in a service project during the recent Ironman Race in St. George, Utah. Nearly two thousand athletes took part in this grueling all-day event.
 
A group of Expedition Therapy students and field staff crewed a hydration station, providing water and nutrition to the Ironman athletes during the 112-mile biking segment of the race, which came after their 2.4-mile swim and before their 26.2-mile run.
 
 
The students’ comments reflected the impact of this intense experience. Expedition Therapy student Peter F. stated, “Volunteering for the Ironman was a really interesting experience. The Ironman is the ultimate test of the individual's abilities, yet they still have a support structure of thousands of people. That was the most powerful message to me. It's a really strong metaphor for life in general, and how even the strongest people have a support structure they use when they need it. I have not been willing to use my support structure in the past because I thought it was a sign of weakness. Volunteering at the Ironman really hammered home the fact that it's not a weakness – it's a necessity if you want to keep moving forward. It was also a great example of what you can achieve if you put your mind to it.”
 
 
Expedition Therapy Student Taylor A. was also affected by his participation: "The Ironman competition was an amazing thing to watch and be a part of. It was almost surreal to watch so many incredible athletes pushing themselves to the limit. Something that blew my mind was that all these individuals were doing the Ironman for themselves. They did not need any external gratification to push themselves. In my own football and track experience, external gratification from fans cheering me on was the fuel that helped me push myself. As I look back on this, I realize that I needed that external gratification to feel good about my performances and myself. After experiencing the Ironman, I realized my lack of internal gratification. It will be something I work on while at Expedition Therapy."
 
The Expedition field staff were also stirred by the magnitude of the Ironman. Expedition Field Instructor and Service Coordinator Jackie L. commented, "I was fascinated by the whole event. The energy from the announcers, the volunteers, and the athletes was contagious. It was inspiring to see people from all walks of life competing in such an elite event. There was a community feeling of 'everyone matters' and the effort put in by the Expedition Therapy group was appreciated."
 
 
“Being there really sparked our students’ interest,” added Jackie. “It got them thinking, comparing what they consider to be hard on the trail to what they were witnessing these men and women, many of whom balance training with careers and families, do in a single day. They got into supporting the athletes, helping them out with fresh water, calories and even laughs, as Peter comically yelled "BANANAS!" to cheer up and pass energy to the bikers on their home stretch.” 
 
“I am thankful that Expedition Therapy could be a part of this challenging event. It motivates me to think that what seems impossible right now could become possible by making a choice and committing to it, and that the sacrifices along the way make reaching the goal that much sweeter.”
 
 
Service projects like this are an integral part of the Expedition Therapy curriculum. Our other projects include volunteering at animal shelters, cleaning up and maintaining national park sites, and many more opportunities for Expedition Therapy students to “give back” and fully understand the significance of service, as well as what it feels like. This is an essential part of what it means to be an adult and fully participate in the world.
 
Your Turn: What do you think about the value of service experiences in the lives of young adults? What other types of service projects have you experienced or participated in? Your comments below are welcome.

For Parents, A Family Expedition Of Rediscovery

It’s hard to find words to capture all the emotions we felt during our three-day Family Expedition with our son and the Expedition Therapy staff. The young man we had said goodbye to eight weeks earlier was lost, trapped in a self-defeating spiral of depression, impulsivity, denial and guilt. He was a stranger to himself and to us.

From the moment we first arrived at Expedition Therapy base camp and were reunited with our son, we knew we were in the presence of a completely different young man. From the gleam in his eye and the smile on his face to the hugs that we will never forget, the son we reconnected with that day was inspired by a renewed sense of self and purpose. We knew immediately that his experience with Expedition Therapy had renewed his love for life.

Throughout our visit, our son’s words and actions proved time and again that his journey had restored him. We had the privilege of seeing him as an accomplished student, empowered by the skills Expedition Therapy has taught him; as an able teacher, eager to pass on what he’s learned; as a willing communicator, open to sharing what he’s discovered about himself; as a compassionate mentor who has earned the respect and trust of his peers and staff; and as a changed young man, humbled by the pain he’s experienced and intent on living his life differently. His patience and his truly caring interactions with us demonstrated the self-confidence and learning that has been achieved with the help of the Expedition Therapy team.

 

When we headed out to Utah, our goal was to see and experience how our son had been living since he left home. We got a taste of that, and so much more. Through the planned activities, we definitely got a feel for the physical space…that incredible landscape and huge night sky! But even more important, you made us feel from the start that we were part of something bigger.

This has been the most rewarding and emotional three days that I think I have ever experienced. The Expedition Therapy team helped us feel like old friends, welcome and supported – and that motivated us to be open and engaged. They challenged and encouraged us, and that allowed us to reach a deeper understanding of the issues and emotions at play. The team facilitated our discussions with direction that was inspiring without being threatening. The entire experience was a kind of awakening that helped us understand why our son was willing to embrace his journey with you so fully. And that only served to reaffirm how grateful we are to have found Expedition Therapy!

During our visit, we enjoyed a variety of great outdoor activities that included learning aviation principles by flying the model airplanes, hiking through Zion with a beautiful sunset as the backdrop, and a truly challenging rock climbing experience, capped off by a great warming fire when we were done. Intertwined with all of this were the skillful and caring therapy sessions that the three of us participated in. Our son was patient and caring, communicating to us his well thought-out concerns that showed his serious commitment to change.

Our son’s journey is just beginning, and his next steps are key. As we navigate that course with him, we’ll remain forever grateful to the entire Expedition Therapy staff, for giving him a solid head start, rebuilding his self-confidence, and refocusing his energies on pursuing a bright, fulfilling future. His choices begin with him, and with your help and encouragement he has reconnected with who he is and who he wants to be. The Expedition Therapy staff is an incredibly talented, caring and dedicated group of people. Thanks everyone – you all are the best.

We can say, with complete and total commitment, that this experience has made us better people and parents. We feel that our son has been made whole again and returned to us. We count our blessings to have found Beth and the Expedition Therapy team, and we feel that they will always be a part of our lives from here forward.

Thank you so much – for our son, for us, and for our family.


 

A Peak Experience…by Expedition Field Instructor J.J.M.

The mountain was something to behold. It looked intimidating yet inviting, as if it were challenging us to brave its jagged peaks and experience its grandeur.

“We have to climb it – we just have to!” exclaimed student S, but we knew that it was much farther away and quite steeper than it appeared from our vantage point several miles away. He was correct – it had to be summited (or at least attempted), for this peak was colossal, truly the envy of the surrounding skyline.

After discussing the climb with our Senior Expedition Leader, he and I estimated that it was probably 1,000 vertical feet and thus achievable with the proper focus, planning and effort. We agreed that there was indeed something unique about this mountain: it was a bit ominous, but at the same time it loomed bold and proud, pressed snugly against the backdrop of the vibrant Utah sky.

After breakfast, we gathered the team and collectively decided on a plan of attack. We discussed the weather, what gear we needed, food, water, exit strategy, safety concerns and above all, a practical approach. We chose a route that would meander along the south side of the mountain and then up the back of the main peak.

Shortly after beginning our ascent, we realized how truly amazing this corner of southern Utah is. The surrounding terrain was studded with multi-layered canyons and deep, lush, ravines. As we gained elevation, we arrived at several “false summits.” These misleading peaks provided much laughter though, for just when we thought that we were close to the actual summit, we reached the top of a ridge, only to find that there was another yet to climb – and then another, and then another.

As the second hour of our hike slowly turned into the third, idle chitchat ceased, as the effects of altitude gain and the resultant oxygen loss began to take a toll. The temperature had also cooled considerably, so we were in a constant battle between being warm enough but not too warm, so as to avoid sweating and thus getting too cold.

On the final pitch, as we were about 100 yards from the top, I stopped for a moment to catch my breath and the splendor of our effort hit me. I was witnessing another type of beauty, that of working together to achieve a goal.

Maybe I’m biased, for I have had a passion for the great outdoors since I was a child, growing-up among the majestic pines and sublime mountains of Northern Arizona. But as I watched our Expedition Therapy students summit the final peak together, as one, I was privileged to witness an incredible sight – the kind of raw emotions that are filmed when you have no idea a camera is present, or perhaps that inexplicable feeling of a kind act committed without expectation of reward.

The entire team exploded with excitement as we reached the tip of the highest peak. As I glanced at the GPS, I noticed that we had actually climbed 3,800 vertical feet, onto an exposed, awe-inspiring cliff, with a panoramic view of the entire valley and surrounding mountain range. It was indeed something to behold…simply brilliant!

Warm embraces and “high-fives” were accompanied by screams of joy echoing throughout the canyons, followed by a few moments of complete, utter and respectful silence. The moment was ours!

We had accomplished this goal collectively, through trust, teamwork, dedication, determination and desire. It was a time for contemplation, reflection and reverence, acknowledging the wonderful gifts that the wilderness provides, and appreciating something very special that we had truly earned.

A Mid-Point Testimonial…by J.Z.

The combination of action and reflection that Expedition Therapy promotes is by far the most effective means of therapy I have ever received.

I have been pushed to emotional, physical and intellectual boundaries that seemed too far away to imagine only four weeks ago.

I now address conflict, scale 170-foot cliffs, and climb sheer rock faces. In the shadow of these accomplishments are my fears, preconceived notions, anxiety and depression.

The confidence I have gained from pushing myself physically has inspired an emotional boldness, which has allowed me to address issues I was too scared to rehash.

I am far from finishing the Expedition Therapy experience, but I am already in awe of what it can do when I allow it to take hold. I am particularly grateful for the amazing students I share this experience with, as well as for the staff, whose insight and openness make hard issues seem manageable and tough questions seem answerable.

Giving Back To Zion…by Expedition Field Instructor J.L.

Zion…a place to find solace and refuge.

An aerial photo of the infamous Walter’s Wiggles switchbacks, the exposed knife-edge ridges, and the outstanding Angel’s Landing hangs in my family room back in suburban Pennsylvania. Back when I was just sixteen, my Dad and I scrambled our way up to the Zion National Park destination that attracts visitors from around the world. Standing on top, with 360-degree views of Zion Canyon, birds soaring within arm’s reach, and the Virgin River’s steady flow carving ever deeper into the sandstone, I realized that I’d never done anything quite like it – and I wanted more. More adventure, more spectacular views, more enjoyment of nature’s playgrounds, more of that wonderful feeling of being at peace.

Eight years later, I realize just how powerful an experience and how early a step in my appreciation of the outdoors that it was. And now, as an Expedition Therapy Field Instructor, I have the opportunity to give back to Zion, to help preserve its landscapes for future generations in the hope that they too may find what I did on that day long ago among the towering sandstone cliffs.

Expedition Therapy recently collaborated with Zion National Park on a series of service projects involving trail maintenance, the pruning of campsites, and the removal of trash and graffiti. These projects are all essential to the ongoing preservation and protection of Utah’s most visited National Park.

I took pride in leading this Service Project Expedition and working with our Expedition Therapy students and staff. Volunteering becomes a very humbling experience, once you are able to realize that the act of giving back makes you a part of something that is much, much greater than yourself.

The ethics of the Leave No Trace (LNT) philosophy we follow in the outdoors became very clear during this Expedition.

We created trails to help prevent short-cutting and lessen wear.

We pruned campsites to better contain campers in already impacted areas. This follows the LNT principle of “Travel and Camp on Durable Surfaces.”

We removed graffiti and trash, according to LNT’s “Leave What You Find” and “Dispose of Waste Properly" guidelines.

We worked hard and we completed our projects with some time left over to enjoy afternoon hikes, swims and ranger talks on a variety of park-related topics.

The Expedition Therapy students became acutely aware of how uneducated most park visitors are about how their actions affect the local environment. Highly visible signs tell tourists “Do Not Feed Animals” and “Don’t Take Shortcuts” on the trails, but it is obvious that many neither understand nor respect the well thought-out reasoning behind these requests. By experiencing the consequences of this behavior and then repairing the damage, I am extremely pleased to report that our Expedition Therapy students not only got it, but also paid it forward.

These events have also deepened and expanded my experience and understanding of Zion, an ever-changing natural wonderland with so much to offer beyond its immediate pleasures. It has also been extremely gratifying to share this experience with our Expedition Therapy students. Through their own individual actions, they can now see how a complete respect for the outdoors includes the willingness to preserve and protect it for the future use of those who follow in their footsteps.

From A Student To A Mentor…by T.D.

Five months after I had left, I came back to Expedition Therapy to be a Mentor. Even though my stay only lasted a week, it was a fantastic, fun and powerful experience.

Coming back as a Mentor felt totally different from being at Expedition Therapy as a student. Being able to have the trust to do things like carry the first aid kit, participate in the Wilderness First Aid certification course (which I had taken as a student), call to check into base camp, and be involved in most staff discussions, all helped me feel like part of the team. There were even times that I gave staff some suggestions and they accepted my input.

Being able to come back was like a refresher, and an excellent way to support my recovery process. I was able to connect with the students and share advice on how I have dealt with things, and some things that might help them as well.


It was also fun to be a part of their project to build a sustainable pizza oven, made from locally available natural materials, at the Expedition Base Camp.

I thoroughly enjoyed working with Expedition Team instructors A. and C., who were here with me in the field.

Working with C. was a blast – from the first day, he was behind me and gave me his trust. In return, I expressed my gratitude to him.

Thank you, Beth, not just for letting me come back to Expedition Therapy and be a Mentor, but also for giving me the support I needed, and more! You are an amazing woman and therapist.

Understanding The Purpose Of the Expedition…by A.S.

As I sat down to write this Expedition Therapy blog entry, I initially felt overwhelmed. How do I encapsulate the week I have had? Two new group members, a personal milestone, three amazing sites…it’s hard to know where to start.
 
Personally speaking, the most valuable part of this week came while rock climbing.
 
 
I was attempting routes that were more challenging than anything I’d ever encountered. For the first few days, I managed to complete the routes I attempted.
 
 
The third day brought a somewhat different result. 
 
The route was intimidating – a puzzling overhang, followed by foot after foot of sheer rock face. We spent some time climbing it via the mock-aide method, which involves setting up small rope ladders attached to metal pieces wedged into cracks in the wall, all while being safely belayed by a top-rope.
 
Sounds easy, right?
 
I thought so too, but after forty five minutes of being unable to continue past four feet off the ground, I changed my mind. Mock-aide was the most frustrating task I had encountered that week. 
 
But I refused to give up on that wall. 
 
I went on long past the point of exhaustion, getting angrier as I fell off the rock again and again. I eventually became too tired to continue and had to give up. I could barely stand. 
 
 
Sprawled on the ground, I wondered why I felt so sad. I later realized that all of my focus had been on getting to the top, on reaching the goal. In retrospect, I now understand that there was no way I was going to get up that wall. Not even the most experienced climber in the group could.
 
I remembered watching another group member climb earlier that week. He never made it to the top. He took on some hard sections of rock and failed, over and over again. But at the end of the day he was smiling and laughing, fully satisfied with his efforts.
 
I guess it’s important to remember that in rock climbing, as in life, the expedition can matter more than the destination. We sometimes get so caught up in the goal that we forget to look around us, we don’t properly appreciate the road we are on at this moment.
 
 
I want to be the guy who smiles at the end of a hard day, no matter what the result.
 
Here’s hoping that the next week brings us all an expedition we can remember.

The Kaibab Loop Challenge…by Field Instructor J.L.

This week, we headed to the Kaibab, or “mountain lying down,” to make an ambitious backpacking loop. This loop would be about 26 miles, with over 2,500 vertical feet covered, mainly on the first day.

We started at the southernmost part of the cliff band at an elevation of 6,300 feet, surrounded by juniper, sage, darkling beetles and sand. After a night’s sleep full of high winds, with thoughts of spirits and voodoo dolls, the group woke up with the plan to hit a spring for water. This would require a climb up to about 8,600 feet in about seven miles. The canyon trail followed the transition of ecosystems from sand to dirt, from Junipers to the sweet butterscotch smell of Ponderosa Pine. The last part of the trail proved to be steep and covered in fallen trees, creating an obstacle course for our seven fully-stocked backpackers. Water was flowing in the canyon. Determined to find the source, we trekked on until the sound of trickling water diminished. 

Camp was called and teamwork took place to get dinner cooking and evaluate the day’s trek. As night rolled in, the slope of our site allowed us to slip away into dreams (and downhill off our sleeping pads!) protected by the tall pines and evergreens that held in the day’s warmth. 

Morning brought anew a reminder of the need for success in finding water. We continued on to the spring, unsure of what we would find. 

We hit the plateau at over 9,000 feet, completing the uphill portion of our travels. Our leader’s sharp compass skills landed us water in a well, where we followed the Continental Divide trail in search of our destination.

Finding the spring after another six-mile day brought smiles and comfort as the trail opened onto an alpine meadow, with streams running to a pond. We were truly thankful for plenty of water and a flat, grassy surface to sleep on. We later enjoyed the warmth of hot cocoa under the stars, as the clear sky and high altitude chilled the evening.
 
 
Gratitude and appreciation was felt for the way the trip had played out so far. With the option of a day hike to a much anticipated sinkhole, the group decided it best to instead head down off the plateau towards a water tank, putting us closer to our vehicle. With a guesstimated 90% chance of the tank being dry, we carried extra water for the possibility of dry camping. 
 
 
Following the canyon, we traveled through the ever-changing ecosystems once again. The gurgling sound of flowing water stayed with us as we dropped down to the canyon floor and into a dense, rainforest-like area. The soil was topped with nautilus shells, reminding us that this area was once completely underwater. We found a site with rocks for seats, blocked one way by a boulder and protected by giant trees that looked as if they would embrace us in their arms and tell us the tales of the Kaibab. This was the perfect shaded lunch spot. Group members were feeling the hard work of the previous days. Breaks were welcomed as we continued down to the sand, juniper and sage once again. We arrived at the tank in late evening with nine miles behind us, to discover that there would be no opportunity to replenish our water. It was indeed dry.
 
 
Thirst, tiredness and sore feet all set in as we counted the few liters of water remaining. Thoughts of full jugs at our vehicle only 3 miles away helped us decide to eat a quick dinner and dig out our head lamps for a night hike back to the vehicle. Frustration set in with the need for more bushwhacking. The idea of being team members held the group together as we pushed out the miles. With each step, the sky grew darker and stars glowed brighter. Cheers upon arrival at the vehicle were shortly followed by snores earned from the day’s work!
 
 
 
 
 
In this supremely challenging expedition, the lessons of teamwork and having backup plans were well learned. Each member led a leg of the loop, while also keeping in mind the big picture of how his day would affect the next. Satisfaction in our abilities to navigate and arrive at each destination brought gratitude. Water brought revival in energy and comfort. Individuals learned how to “let go” of frustrations and doubts by communicating to the team in order to take forward steps together.

WFA – Hooray!

Our group had the opportunity earn our Wilderness First Aid certifications by completing the WFA Expedition. Powerful and exciting realizations happened in an environment we could all relate to – the outdoors is our classroom! Our Instructor taught us how to be a Rescue Team, where we were each assigned a specific function related to various emergency situations. We learned the ABC's of Wilderness First Aid as well as how to complete a thorough incident report.

The Rescue Team has a leader, who directs all other members according to their roles in an emergency. Learning all about Rescue Breathing, CPR and dealing with choking situations is of vital importance in the backcountry. Since our beautiful models were off on another photo shoot, we had to settle for Ms. Props and her lovely sister!

The Portable Field Defibrillator is a very reliable device that is used in case of a cardiac arrest. We learned that this impressive machine gives you the power to help save a life – in a situation where every second counts!

Other Wilderness First Aid lessons we learned included head injuries, dislocations, sprains, fractures, burns, bleeding, heat-related issues, and insect bites. Best of all, we felt like we had really accomplished something, as none of had successfully completed any type of educational pursuit in quite some time. Thanks, Expedition Therapy!

Playing The Slots…by A.M.

I had just arrived at ET earlier in the day. I got my gear, then joined the group on a Canyoneering Expedition. I was motivated to get over my fear of heights when I voluntarily decided to come to Expedition Therapy. This decision was a challenge I set for myself. When I was younger, I had an opportunity to rappel down a rock face, but I froze and could not move. I look back on that now and realize that I had been overcome with so much fear that I felt totally paralyzed from head to toe. All I could think about was my intense fear of heights and wanting to quit, so I bailed.

I had never imagined that I'd be facing this challenge yet again on the same day that I arrived. The Expedition Therapy Instructor Team provided me with a thorough safety lesson, which included rope handling, breaking, knots, canyoneering techniques, and the verbal commands used to communicate with each other. I learned that Ascenders are mechanical devices used when you are ascending the rope; Setting The Anchor is the point where the rope is secured to the rock with bolts, rocks, slings or other gear; The Chock Bag is filled with resin for gripping the rope better; Belay is a command word that means to secure a climber with rope; Abseil is a term used to describe sliding down the rope under control, such as in rappelling; Chimneying is a climbing technique where you put your feet on one side and your back on the other, then work your way up; and then there's the Crux, which is aptly named, as it's the most difficult part of the course.

After my safety lesson was checked off by my Instructors, I double-checked my sit harness, rope, knots and helmet. Then I asked an Instructor and a fellow student to do the same. Down I went, into the cavernous mauve and coral sandstone slot canyon, filled with confidence and awe! I spent the rest of the day "playing the slots" and now I really love canyoneering. I realize now that I had to let go of that huge burden…fear. As soon as I had the knowledge, the techniques, and the skills dialed in, I felt so much more confident. I was on top of the world and feeling light as a feather as I wound myself inside and through another slot! I have challenged myself to complete more of these slot canyon routes and am really looking forward to our Rock Climbing Expedition next week. Stay tuned…