By: Kelsey MacMillan

This past weekend I had the opportunity to teach the Denmark Mountain Hikers’ group from the Denmark Congregational Church in Maine. The quote of the weekend that stuck with me was “My patient isn’t reliable; he’s telling me he’s 75.” The patient’s response, “No, really, I’m 75.” As someone with a background in education, I was taught that there is a trend emerging of “non-traditional” learners. This is a group of people in an older age bracket who are going back to school to finish a degree, further their education, or change their career path. In the field of Wilderness Medicine, we are seeing a similar trend.

The average age of this particular group was about 60-65. Each of these participants actively participates on group hikes at least monthly, and some every Friday. These hikes are year round and the group encounters all types of terrain, weather, and unexpected challenges. It is encouraging to see people who are considered by society “out of their prime” being more active now more than ever. However, in doing so, just like any other outdoor enthusiast, there is a need to be prepared for the elements. As a whole, the Denmark Hikers determined attending a Wilderness First Aid course would not only be beneficial to them personally, but as a group because they consistently hike together.

With that being said, I believe that having a course filled with “non-traditional” learners ends up being a benefit to the group and to the instructor. In the course, I had a former EMT, a Paramedic, a former community college teacher, a former theater teacher, and many more backgrounds. Throughout the course each individual was able to provide the others with examples from their past experiences to make the topics more relatable to one another. (The former theater teacher also made the scenarios more believable!) For example, on the topic of hypothermia, a student relayed a story of taking a group of students on a cave trek and one of her participants wore all cotton. Two hours into the trip, she noticed that student was cold and wet, having difficulty moving, and shaking uncontrollably. As the teacher, she knew she needed to get the student some dry clothes and get them out as soon as she could. While taking this course, this woman said to the class, “I wish I had known to tell those students not to wear cotton and to stay dry!” It was a great story to share with everyone and a perfect way to connect a past experience with our current training and teaching practices.

Overall, the purpose of sharing this experience is for me to encourage people of ALL ages to come and take a SOLO course if they are at all interested in being active in the outdoors. There is so much for both parties to learn and no need for fear of “not keeping up.” My group had no difficulty in retaining the information over the long two days and applying what they knew with scenarios. The biggest complaint throughout the course…”it takes us more time to get dressed to go out in the snow than it does for us to remember these skills.” I thank my group for teaching me some new things this weekend and hope to see more and more “non-traditional learners” in our classrooms throughout the country.