Pushing a Little Bit Farther
Meet Nathan Breland – seasoned outdoor adventure team leader, certified by True North Adventures, with the mountains of Montana in his back pocket. But even the steepest slopes of Montana didn’t fully prepare him for Washington’s Olympic Coast, where he and his team were at the mercy of the ebb and flow of the Pacific Ocean.
An Extra Push
From the onset, Nathan and his team faced the stark reality that there was nothing between them and nature as they rushed to find suitable campground in the waning light. Their trail ran right along the coast. In the evenings the tides rose, making the beach a treacherous place to pitch tents.
They ventured to higher ground, braving steep uncharted hills, trudging through mud, one step at a time, sideways and diagonally so as to not slip. Nathan’s experience climbing mountains taught him that before the final summit, there is always a gap. In the case of this mountain, the climb before the ridge was very steep. Some team members asked to pitch their tents there, but Nathan urged them over the final bit to reach a safer place. “Sometimes as a leader you have to take a risk, even if it doesn’t seem like the safest way.” Nathan said in hindsight, “You have to make the necessary push to get the team to real safety.”
Forward not Back
Each day was a race against the tide. On the second day, team Nathan realized that to beat the tide they would have to cover 5 miles of trail in 3 hours. The normal pace on such terrain is 1 mile per hour. But the team understood their challenge, and made a commitment to meet their collective goal. As Nathan puts it, “We got down and dirty.” They raced up the trail to make it past the danger before high tide. But as they celebrated their victory, they realized that there were more danger points ahead that weren’t marked on the map.
As the tide rolled in, Nathan’s team stood on a ridge and watched their trail disappear under the Pacific Ocean, leaving only one option – to trail blaze. They climbed up the coastal mountains with only the topographical map to identify where they were. As dusk approached, they realized they had not found a place to camp. The trail was too steep to settle, but if they turned back it would be too dark. So instead Nathan urged that they take a risk and forged onward on the steep trail. Gratefully even the oldest of the members made it safely to camp.
Nathan reflects, “Sometimes you have to make the extra push and you achieve things that you did not think were possible.”
The Burden of Leadership
Kimihira Miyake led a team from the northernmost point. He described it as “twilight country.” For Kimihira’s team, the tide was a constant factor: it determined when they traveled, how far they had to travel, and where they camped, the latter being the most challenging.
Looking back on those seemingly hopeless, dark, rainy nights, with no campground in sight, the rising tide lapping on their boots and spiny seaweed shadows watching, this is what Kimihira wrote:
“I learned about the burden of leadership. Leadership is not a glorious position where you can feel your worth in front of others. It is a very scary position that holds so much weight. It really hit me on the third day when we had to continue walking to find our campsite as the waves got closer. I was so consumed in myself, hoping for answers that might come from others or for something to happen miraculously like finding a campsite nearby. In the end, I realized I couldn’t have this dependency mentality. I couldn’t wait for circumstances to become favorable. I had to mold my circumstance by making decisions. I had to take responsibility. I had to learn the process of carrying on despite such a burden, and what I needed to do to fulfill the responsibility attached to my position. The answer I found was to live for the greater good.”
The Greatest Hurdle
Kimihira had calculated that they would have to cover eleven miles in order to reach their campsite. They had started walking from five in the morning and walked twelve hours straight, but slight miscalculations on the tide and distance to camp left Kimihira’s team on the beach without a place to camp.
Kimihira expressed his inner conflict. “Since I made this mistake, I was struggling within myself. ‘If only I decided to keep going, then we would have realized sooner’. ‘If only I scouted ahead to make sure we were at our final destination.’” Meanwhile the team began to fall apart: the faster team members pulled farther and farther ahead, while the slower ones fell farther behind.
Finally the tide came in, and the team reached a standstill. Kimhira realized that everyone was looking to him as team leader to ultimately make a decision. He could either wait for something to happen or make something happen. Everyone’s safety became his priority. At that moment he promised that everyone was going to make it to safety together.
Scenic view of high tide extremities He began to climb up a muddy slope to find higher ground for the team. They had a rope that was rescued by a team member, a former scout that knew to “always be prepared”. It pulled the team up the slope. The area was just big enough to carve out space for one tent and for the rest to sleep under tarps. Kimihira later writes, “I actually don’t know how high the tide would have reached us or if this was the best decision. But, one thing that was certain I heard the logs that were on the beach below crashing into each other later that night.”
This greatest hurdle brought out the true merit of each of the team members. Everyone, even team members who had fallen ill kept their spirits high. And everyone pitched in to make the situation work, some made food to warm the rest of the team, others cleared brush to make enough space for sleeping bags and a tent.
Kimhira expressed his elation of the next day when they made it to basecamp, “As the last person planted their feet on the beach around the corner, I felt so much pride in everyone who recognized their accomplishment. This feeling is something I will never forget.”