The Tough Road Home-Part 3 of Deb Danielle’s Worst Vacation Ever

Day Six
Dear Mom,

I am as much “at one” with nature as I ever hope to be. More, actually. Tomorrow we’ll be back near the Outward Bound cabin/office and I’m sure when I call to explain everything you’ll agree I should come home. You wanted me to do this because the boys both did it but they stayed in CABINS and besides, they both probably loved being smelly and dirty—they’re boys. They probably had contests to see who could sniff their own armpits the longest.

Funny enough, the group has helped me a lot in the decision to leave and we have bonded. I will actually be sad to go. The ex-con has even offered to trade headbands and given me some stones he carries around in his pocket. I can’t help but notice my headband is much nicer than his but I will make the trade, nevertheless.

Day Seven
Dear Mom,

Oh God. You flipped out. I have talked and wept and begged to no avail and have finally agreed to return to the program tomorrow morning and finish it. I never said anything to you about being eighteen because it doesn’t matter—I am far from free to make the decision and I was a fool to think I was.

I’m staying over at the cabin in my vile sleeping bag. Tomorrow I will slink back to camp and rejoin the group. Pathetic. There is a shower here and all the (clean!) belongings I left behind at the start of the trip. I won’t be allowed any of it now, since I’m going back. I am miserable, spineless and filthy, like some kind of Shakespearean exile in the forest, but with no romantic ending in sight, just body odor, bug bites and bags of soiled toilet paper.

Day Eight
Dear Danielle,

I was so proud that you agreed to finish the trip when you’re having such a hard time. Of course I called the Outward Bound office this morning to get to the bottom of what’s going on there. Imagine my surprise when they said you were gone. Imagine how I felt when I discovered that you got on a plane this morning and flew back to Toronto. I have not heard from you and neither has anyone in the family. I am furious beyond belief and so scared but trying not to panic.

Where are you?!

Dear Mom,

I couldn’t go back.

There were things I liked about Outward Bound, things I achieved—building a fire, pitching a tent, cooking, hiking, finding the trail when no one else could. My back and legs got strong and I saw beautiful places and thought about the meaning of life. But I wasn’t prepared for the weird intimacy with strangers or the way they seemed to be setting us up to reveal our weaknesses and face our fears and so on. I thought it was just a camping trip.

Yet there was something I needed to learn, Mom. You see, you think I’m an underachiever and that I need survival skills. You think I CHOSE not to get perfect grades. But I didn’t get the A+ average because I didn’t know how, Mom. I didn’t have the study skills because all through high school I was working on something else: my survival skills, and don’t mean the wilderness kind. Also, I was working on making you happy—something that has been my driving goal since I was nine years old.

But I’ve learned that sometimes making you happy is going to make me unhappy—in this case, miserable—and I don’t think I can live my life like that. To do Outward Bound, to face down the physical and emotional challenges, you have to want to do it. It doesn’t work if you’re doing it for someone else and it really doesn’t work if you’re doing it under duress.

So here I am at eighteen and I couldn’t do the thing that would make you happy, the thing that would make you proud. That hurts me so much, Mom, it feels like I’m dying inside. And yet I know it’s the right thing. Maybe someday when you’ve had some time, you will be proud. And you should be, Mom, because to get on that plane I had to face my worst fear of all: my fear of losing you.


It cost me $87.00 to change my flight. At the airport in Toronto I called a lifelong friend who was living in residence at U of T and then took a bus downtown where he managed to get me a room in the women’s residence where I stayed for a few weeks.

I called my mom that night to let her know I was okay and that Mike had found me a room. My reception was chilly to say the least, but I knew from her voice that I’d be forgiven at some point, maybe even before I left for McGill in the fall.

Weirdly enough, leaving Outward Bound is one of the things I’m most proud of. It changed me, strengthened me and set me on the course to be an adult in a way that staying, under those circumstances, would not have.

And once she calmed down, it turned out my mom was proud of me too, which was quite a nice bonus.

Thanks for reading.

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14 Replies to “The Tough Road Home-Part 3 of Deb Danielle’s Worst Vacation Ever”

  1. Good on you, Danielle – it sounds like leaving was probably just as hard as staying, but the decision you made was the right one for you. So…have you been camping since?

  2. Oh, D, what a compelling story and you learned the most important lesson–to stand up for yourself and do what you knew in your gut was the right thing. Great story…

  3. Very funny, Mom! And you may be right–they may have got tired of my sniveling. Thanks again for your support in my telling this story. What a journey for us!

    Joanne–thanks so much for reading. No, I haven’t done much camping since though I WOULD camp–I just need to be able to get dry and somewhat clean at the end of the day.

    Lisa–I cried writing it too but in a good way. It’s been pretty wild to revisit this story and obviously I have so much more perspective now.

    Jenny–glad you enjoyed it and have followed along with me. Thanks.

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