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People Aren’t Strange

With apologies to Jim Morrison, people are wonderful and interesting, and my 7-day NOLS Gannett Peak hike was the perfect opportunity to think about old friends, new friends and a long, happy life.

By John Jarvis

Every year I try to schedule at least one trip into wilderness. I think it is good for the soul, and a refreshing break from the frantic pace of daily life, a digital detox. Last month I flew to Lander, Wyoming, for another NOLS Alumni trip, this time up Wyoming’s tallest mountain, Gannett Peak. Before I left, one of my teammates at work asked “Who are you going with? Are these friends or people you know?” I told him no, that our cohort would all be strangers, but that I had never really considered that before. I guess that might seem unusual. It would be fun to go with friends, and I was looking forward to meeting this interesting group of individuals who all saw the Gannett Peak trip description in the NOLS catalogue and said “I’m in.”

And each time I take one of these trips into wilderness, I have in mind that when I get back I want to try and translate my experience into some practical learning that I can share with our team at Hughes Marino. We talk a lot about culture, teamwork, leadership, growth and getting uncomfortable, and it just seems like these NOLS trips have a bunch of all of that. But what kept coming to mind for me during the long trail miles on this trip was this notion of going on an adventure with strangers, which didn’t seem strange at all to me until someone pointed it out. I think there may be a valuable lesson here. Allow me to work it out while I tell you about the seven days I spent in July in the Wind River Range.

The Theory

We have all read articles about research showing that a primary factor in living a long, happy, productive life is having friends. One study concluded the health risk of having few friends is similar to smoking 15 cigarettes a day! OK, friends are important, but none of these studies differentiate between old friends and new friends. Think about it. Isn’t it possible that while having friends is important in living a long, happy life, maybe old friends and new friends are both important? And maybe meeting new people and continuing to make new friends at every age is every bit as important as nurturing existing relationships? I could be wrong, this is just a theory, I have lots of theories, but this one resonates with me. I look forward to future research studies that test this out, and in the meantime I am going with it.

The Strangers

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We were certainly a motley crew. Ten students and three instructors, ages ranging from 16 to 58, including men, women, boys and girls from all over the country. The only things we seemed to have in common was NOLS, and a love of wilderness, and being up for a challenge. Maybe that actually says a lot about us, and about why we bonded so quickly and performed so well together. But for now, let me describe our cohort, and the variety of age, gender, background and geography that all assembled in Lander, Wyoming, for a weeklong adventure together.

My Tentmates

Greg, 16, from Ann Arbor, Michigan, spent thirty days backpacking with NOLS in the Adirondacks when he was 14. (Side note- his parents dropped him off for this trip then spent the week at the Ritz Carlton in Jackson Hole before picking him up. Love that.)

Keith, 50-something, a mechanical engineer from Lexington, Virginia, vegan, spent thirty days in Alaska mountains twice with NOLS, the Waddington Range in ’88 and Denali in ’89.

All in the Family

Wylie, 50-something, and Roman, 19. Wylie, an orthopedic surgeon from Fairfax, Virginia, spent a month backpacking through the Wind River Range with NOLS in ’78, saw this trip as an opportunity to introduce his son to the NOLS experience.

Charles, 50-something, and Ruthie, 16. Ruthie spent a month backpacking and adventuring in the Bighorn Mountains with NOLS when she was 14, saw this trip as an opportunity to introduce her Dad, a private equity investor in Charlottesville, Virginia, to the NOLS experience.

The Gals Tent

Sarah, 50-something, acupuncturist and Chinese Medicine specialist from Brooklyn, New York, took two different month-long trips in the Wind River Range with NOLS, backpacking when she was 15 and cross-country skiing when she was 17.

Marti, 18, from New York City, spent thirty days on a mountaineering course with NOLS in Alaska when she was 16.

Caroline, 24, from Ashville, North Carolina, celebrated her 21st birthday while mountaineering with NOLS on a 30-day course in the Cascades, plus a week fly fishing (with llamas) in the Winds with the trip ending the day before she set out again with our Gannett Peak crew.

The Instructors

Evan Horn, Stud, has a nine-month-old baby, Benjamin at home, which is rumored to be why this 50-mile trip was shortened this year from ten days to just seven.

Kenny Goff, aka Kenny G, Stud, decided to apply his two business degrees from Indiana University to a life in the outdoors, is now a first-time homeowner with a cool pad in Joshua Tree, California. Climbing anyone?

Tre-C Dumais, Stud, her resume includes Denali Mountain Rescue and mountaineering in Antarctica, she’s the real deal. She says she likes getting into wilderness because it showcases the best version of herself. Love that.

Hughes Marino Los Angeles

Hughes Marino Los Angeles

The Trip

It was long. It was hard. It was glorious. We covered fifty miles and total elevation gain of 17,000 feet with packs. We experienced, at various times, sunshine, rain, wind, hail and lightning as one would expect in the Winds. The summit day began at 2 AM, finished at 6:30 PM. Not all summited. Tre-C injured her knee jumping out of the way of a massive boulder that rolled through our climbing line. (It was a scary moment, and could have ended much worse.). A couple volunteers turned around a mile from the peak to escort Tre-C back to our advance base camp, and the reduced group of ten proceeded successfully to the summit in two rope teams.

Hughes Marino Los Angeles

Hughes Marino Los Angeles

The Takeaway

So here is my point, the lesson I will take away from this experience, and try to apply in my life back at home and at work—People aren’t strange. People are wonderful and interesting, especially if you take the time to hear their stories and to share your story with them. We sometimes need to step out of our “boxes,” those arbitrary social constructs that can have the potential to limit our social relationships. If we keep an open mind, we are free to simply meet the people all around us. On our trip, we weren’t divided into boys and girls, men and women, young and old. We were all just part of the climbing team, and everyone pulled their weight.

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Make new friends and keep the old. One is silver, the other is gold. OK, so perhaps my grand theory isn’t exactly ground-breaking. I do notice that this little diddy doesn’t actually clarify which is silver and which is gold? For my part, I prefer to believe that both are gold.

Hughes Marino Los Angeles


John Jarvis is an executive vice president of Hughes Marino, a global corporate real estate advisory firm that specializes in representing tenants and buyers. Contact John at 1-844-662-6635 or john@hughesmarino.com to learn more.

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