I'm a WFR

I’m a WFR!  I’m pretty excited about it too.  Those ten days the alarm sounded around 5am so that I could squeeze in something that resembled a workout be it a run, swim or weights.  Before sunrise I found myself back in the kitchen, blending the smoothie I’d concocted the night before and heating Bhakti chai with homemade almond milk on the stove.  The chai mixture would likely boil over and extinguish the stove’s flame while I raced around dressing, brushing my teeth (usually skipping a shower to save time) and packing my backpack to get out the door by 7:30am and maneuver the snowy, icy drive across town.  The beautiful Colorado days unfolded in front of me, caffeine firing my sleepy brain and the sun just illuminating the flat irons.  Did I really run already, or was that just a dream?

WFR (pronounced woofer) is the acronym for Wilderness First Responder.  The Wilderness Medicine Institute provides a curriculum that is taught over a 9 or 10 day course.  The 10 day course has a built in “off” day, which was nice as I was able to squeeze in a longer run to keep me sane. 

#cheeseballs on Green Mtn.

#cheeseballs on Green Mtn.

Stepping into the classroom on day one was a blast into the distant past.  I can’t remember the last time I had to pull up a chair in a U-shaped grouping of tables and sit next to a perfect stranger.  With our common interest of love for the great outdoors, strangers quickly became familiar friendly cohorts and the group seemed to gel before we reached our first lunch break.  Thrown into classroom style learning, shared real life encounters and experiences followed by practical scenarios outside on the grass (day 1) and then snow (the rest of the course) kept the hands on the clock spinning fast and 5pm rolled around before we knew it.

Amidst the classroom attendance and required night time reading there seemed barely any time to accomplish much else.  I set an auto-response on my email accounts and hoped that nothing too pressing would enter my inbox.  I gained huge appreciation for what it takes to get everything done in a day when 9 hours are occupied (job, class, whatever) another hour in commute and a couple for working out.  There is not much time left for sleep, cooking/eating let alone paying bills, managing emails or heck finding time to engage with friends/family.  I found myself having to prioritize projects and mostly pushing tasks off till I knew the course was over.  The Chuckanut 50k registration opened that first day of class and thanks to everything went pretty smoothly and the few tweaks were quickly fixed by the man behind the scenes, Mark Gilligan.

traction splint for a fractured femur SCENARIO

traction splint for a fractured femur SCENARIO

Our days filled with acronyms, outlines, details, specifics and generalizations and as we quickly learned a test in our acting skills.  We each took turns playing the roll of a wilderness patient in the daily scenarios to help the rest of our classmates learn.  I found myself daydreaming scenarios I might create for the class while bracing my “broken collar bone” and simulating low blood sugar.  I appreciated these hands on learning opportunities as well as the chance to get outside and put to use the lessons the instructors taught indoors.  While giving us an opportunity to practice, I also felt many more lessons were reveled.  More than the text printed in the course outline and text book, I took away more life lessons.

* Use your judgment.  Intuition is key 

So often in life we are driven to ask “What if…” and “How do I…”.  It seemed any time one of these questions was asked the instructors would respond with “Use your judgment.”  Those words are empowering.  Think.  Be present.  The best outcome will appear when we trust our gut.

* Community is created with face time  

I’m not talking FaceTime on the iPhone.  In fact put those screens away!  Humans know this, yet when sitting with a group lately I feel it is more common to see most staring south with their face brightly illuminated by a tiny screen. In the classroom setting the instructors kept us engaged with them and with each other.  We had the opportunity to connect with each other in class discussions, during short breaks and through physical contact during scenarios, all quickly building familiarity.  My phone barely made it out of my pack from 8-5 each day and only then was to check on the status of my sister who was in surgery for a blown ACL.  Staying present and focused reigned best and when I did dive into the screen I noticed how quickly I lost touch.  By the time the class came to a close I felt a familiarity like I had known a lot of my classmates for much more than 10 days, but in the same instance realized I didn’t know many details.  Just time together sharing information, performing exams in scenarios and finding reasons to laugh brought the group of 31 into a sense of community.  (29 students, 2 instructors).

* Working together means knowing yourself

This often means knowing the difference of when to step back or to step forward or knowing when falling somewhere right in the middle benefits the group.  Learning your individuals strengths and weaknesses will help you be a better team member and contributing member to your small group and in any other life interaction you can imagine.  Typically I am happy to step forward and prefer to know and understand where a situation is headed.  Here I found myself consciously and verbally asking to take a more secondary position so that I could work on another roll.

* Create efficiencies

1) Cooking/prepping breakfast and lunch the night before so I only need grab the containers from the fridge and add to my pack.  The Vitamix already packed with my smoothie ingredients made for a quick turn around after stumbling in the door after an icy morning run.

2) I basically wore the same clothing each day changing out the baselayers for hygiene purposes, I didn’t have much to think about in my morning dash to get out the door. 

* long johns or tights

* warm ski socks

* waterproof pants

* sports bra & underwear

* t-shirt

* long sleeve hoodie

* down sweater jacket

* down sweater vest

* rain jacket

* boots or approach shoes (depending on temp)

* down mittens

* wool glove liners

* beanie

* sunglasses

3) I left workout clothes, shoes and my yoga mat in my car on the chance I could squeeze in a second workout on the way home each night.  As the first night showed (I hadn’t added these things to the back of Simba yet), when I went straight home after class I likely wouldn’t make it back out the door.

* Maintaining focus and energy

By day five it was pretty apparent that everyone was a little tired from the schedule, including myself.  We all powered through knowing day six was a day off.  By powered through I mean I am giving serious credit to the instructors and the students in class.  Everyone stayed engaged asking and answering questions.  We moved around to stay alert and took the scenarios seriously.  It is easy to get through.  It is better to get the most out of the experience by putting as much as you can in and therefore reaping more benefit.  Our instructors were awesome in creating an environment that made focus and presence required and enjoyable.


The class wrapped up with a practical and 100 question multiple choice exam on Sunday.  Since then I packed my bags and hopped a flight to sunny Ventura, California to log some miles with teammates Jeff, Luke and Jenn.  We've had a great time running and eating the last couple of days and capturing the fun with Patagonia media staff Stuart, Jeff and Andrew.  My mind rolls through a lot of the information I learned during those ten days and I can't help but share thoughts and factoids as we cruise along these trails.  Well put by Luke - "You just spent 10 days with a fire hose of information pouring down your throat, it makes sense you are still processing."

For ten years I have felt the need to enroll in this course, I am super psyched I finally did it and encourage anyone that spends time in the wilderness to take the time for some specific training.