A Game Changer ~ Deb Willits Outward Bound experience As a teenager ~ 1974.

Deb is a local Ridgway character or a local gal with a lot of character whichever you please.  She is the Chair of the George Gardner Scholarship Fund, that provides financial assistance to local Ouray county kids wanting to participate in a wilderness experience.  The rest of her curriculum is impressive and much too long for me to begin, but she’s an accomplished athlete, an important cog in the Telluride Ski School, has raised/ is raising two kids along with husband Pat and still finds time to adventure on the rivers, mountains and deserts throughout the west.  

Jerry Roberts


We cleaned out our garage recently and I came across a 20 page, handwritten story I had written in the Fall of 1974 for my Senior Creative Writing class. This experience had such a profound effect on how my life has unfolded. 

Deb Willits


Getting off the plane in Duluth, Minnesota after six hours of flying, I could immediately pick out everyone else who was there for Outward Bound. They all had on brand new work boot, work pants, T-shirts and all were lugging around some sort of stuffed duffle bag; just like what I was wearing or carrying.

I found my suitcase and fought my way through the tiny airport lobby, tripping over duffel bags and boots, and out onto the front lawn. There were about sixty kids, male and female, reclining on top of and beside their suitcases which were spread out all over the grass. A lot of them were trying to get some enjoyment out of what would be their last cigarette for 24 days. Tobacco, alcohol and drugs were strictly forbidden here. It was sort of comical, some were passing a cigarette around among five people like a joint. They would take a couple of puffs and let the smoke out slowly with a look of heaven in their eyes. Others drank deeply from their canteens, which I’m sure weren’t filled with water.

Looking around, I could see groups forming already. There were gatherings around the kids who talked loud, and around the ones with cigarettes and canteens. Others like me, just sat back and took it all in, thinking of my last days at home and wondering what the next 24 days would bring, and hoping I would survive.



Slowly we broke our own trail to the lake. At the end of our trail we just wanted to chuck the canoes and lie down, but Lynn and Margie told us this wasn’t good for the canoes and they taught us the proper procedure for removing the canoe from our shoulders. The canoe carrier had to walk straight into the water, no matter how deep, so that when it was flipped over, the bottom of the canoe wouldn’t scrape the shore. The pack carrier had to walk in too to help remove the canoe and to get the pack into it. It was at about this time that I realized my feet were going to be wet quite a bit in the future. I don’t know how I even dreamed that with all the lakes in Minnesota I was going to somehow manage to keep my feet dry.


The following day we hopped into our damp, mud encrusted clothes for a long day of traveling. We had a lot of canoeing and portaging to do this day, so we started out as soon as the sun rose. The portages weren’t that bad. What had seemed like miles the first few days were like nothing today. Our problem was trying to find the right way with our maps and compasses without getting lost. We hadn’t quite gotten the the knack yet for how use this valuable equipment and we ended up going the wrong way a lot of the time. We hadn’t learned to match the contours of the map with the contours of the land and the lakes. There were so many weird shaped lakes in Northern Minnesota that we were confused a lot of the time.