This story is a part of our “Outward Bound Stories” Series. Photography by Saskia Kahn and interviewing by Dareise Jones.

A photo of Outward Bound instructor Chloe wearing a puffy jacket, jeans, and hiking boots. She has a joyous smile on her face while posing in front of a stack of canoes.

When my Outward Bound students tell me they think they can’t handle camping or other outdoor activities, I love to let them know that I didn’t fall in love with the outdoors until my sophomore year of college at Central Michigan University.

I’m from Michigan, and when I was a child, I spent many days playing outside, making forts, and playing with bugs, but I wanted to be a music producer. My dream was to shoot music videos and produce soundtracks.

I loved the idea of being the person behind the scenes, and I like tech, so when I started college, I decided to major in radio and minor in leadership.

It didn’t take long for me to realize that I didn’t like the radio program. There’s a lot that goes into those programs that I think, as a teen, I just didn’t realize. It didn’t suit me the way I thought it would, so I was looking for a new major.

A portrait of Outward Bound instructor Chloe looking proudly into the camera and smiling. She wears a fleece jacket and a backpacking pack.

During the time I was I was considering a new major, I went on a trip for a freshman year leadership class.

The whole class went to a gym for the day to rock climb and complete a ropes course together. We talked about what it means to be a leader when you’re rock climbing, and I remember thinking that rock climbing was pretty cool.

At the time, I was battling with self-image. I didn’t like the way my body looked. I thought I wasn’t pretty enough or cool enough, and rock climbing helped me with all those things.

I built so much confidence in myself from rock climbing. You have to be strong to rock climb. You have to trust in yourself, trust in your partner and push yourself.

I loved it, and how it changed my life so much that I started rock climbing six days a week. I was there so often that at the end of the year, the college student who ran the center, offered me a job.

He told me they preferred hiring outdoor majors, and I told him if he gave me more information about it, I would consider it. He said I’d learn about camping, backpacking and the high ropes course, and that I could do a variety of jobs with the degree depending on the track I chose, like teach kids or be a national parks interpreter.

I thought all those things were pretty cool, so I decided to give it a try. I switched my major so I could work at the rock wall, and I never looked back.

Central Michigan University is known for their outdoor and environmental recreation program, and the 30 week internships students in the program must complete. I did my internship at an expedition company in California.

I had never led or been on an expedition, but I tried my best out there as an intern instructor. I learned so much during my internship. I worked in their gear room, on education materials, and I went on backpacking, canoeing, and camping expeditions with students.

I had a mentor there named Charlie, who supported me and pushed me beyond what I thought I could do to help me hone my instructor skills.

He was the Gear Manager at the time, and I remember telling him about my fear of gas stoves. I showed up for work one day, and he had a crate full of broken gas stoves that he told me we were going to fix.

He said he’d show me how to fix the first few, but I would have to fix the rest on my own. I did it, and I am proud to say that I am now a pro at using and fixing gas stoves.

At the end of my internship, I had to choose between leading a backpacking expedition or teaching students how to canoe. I told Charlie I didn’t think I was ready to canoe because I knew backpacking better and he said, ‘You’re going to go canoeing because it’s something that will challenge you. I’m going to teach you how to paddle so that you can keep up with the kids.’

He worked with me for a whole weekend to prepare me to lead my canoe expedition.

I appreciate that experience so much because it showed me the impact that a great teacher and mentor can have on their students.

I moved to Maryland in 2018 because of a bet. One of my co-workers at the rock climbing gym bet me $100 that I wouldn’t leave Michigan for a summer. I told him I’d do it, so I got a job running a ropes course at an outdoor adventure center and used the $100 he gave me for gas to drive to Maryland.

I worked there for three months and met my partner there. After I finished college, I decided to come back to Maryland and be with him.

When I returned, I became a teacher at the Arlington Echo Outdoor Education Center. I wanted to try teaching in a classroom to see if that was a good fit for me.

When the pandemic started in 2020, I continued teaching virtually, made YouTube videos for the school and managed their social media accounts.

I also taught myself how to do watercolor painting as a way to cope during the pandemic. I liked painting when I was a kid, but I had never tried watercolors. I would hike in the woods with my backpack, my sketchbook and watercolor set, and then I’d come home and paint things that I saw.

At the end of 2020, my partner encouraged me to sell my paintings and my friends at Arlington Echo suggested I turn my them into cards. I took their advice and NatureNotesbyCS was born. I sell my cards, stickers and prints from my storefront shop and on Etsy.

My dog Ninja helped me get through quarantine too, and after two years of teaching inside, I wanted to be back outside with students backpacking and canoeing.

I applied for an instructor position at Outward Bound in January of 2020, but due to the pandemic, I didn’t join the team until 2021.

It’s been an amazing few years at Outward Bound, and when I think about why I love working here, two things come to mind: the staff and the students.

Our Outward Bound instructors are the most passionate, caring, empathetic, and loving people I’ve ever met in my life.

I’ve been with Outward Bound for six seasons now, and my colleagues have become my friends. Everyone has a skill that is special and unique to them that they bring to the organization.

I’ve learned so many things from my colleagues. I’ve become a better communicator and a better person because of the team I work with. I also love working at Outward Bound because of our students. I just love them.

They make me laugh; they make me smile. They make me cry in good ways, and sometimes in frustrated ways because I care about them so much.

I’m a student with them. I’m there to be their protector and their teacher, but I’m also there to learn with them. My students help me see the world in ways that maybe I wouldn’t have considered and give me different perspectives that I can use when talking to others.

Outward Bound instructor Chloe is rock climbing in the forest. She wears a helmet and harness as she takes a big step up a bolder. Her students are on the ground looking up at her.
Chloe doing a demo climb for her students. Photo: Dalton Johnson

I’ve had many great moments with my students during expeditions. I remember hiking up a hard hill to Annapolis Rocks with a group of students, and they were tired and cranky.

It was a very steep hill, sunset was approaching, and we still had quite a chunk to hike before we’d get there.

It was fall so it was getting colder as the sun went down, and we were all very emotional because it was our first full day of hiking, and a hard hill on a first full day is super tough.

Every quarter of a mile, we had to stop to take a break and my co-instructor and I would check in to decide on a plan if we didn’t make it there in time.

We finally got to the top, and I said, you know what, let’s just dump our bags at camp and go watch the sunset together on Annapolis Rocks, which is an amazing view.

I told my students to grab their snacks and come sit on the rocks and watch the sunset. I told them we would work together to set up camp, so they wouldn’t have to do it by themselves.

And so, we took that moment to rest, eat snacks and watch the sunset together. It was beautiful.

During that hike, many of the students were scheming on how to go home, but as we watched the sunset, all I heard were comments about how cool it was and worth the strenuous hike.

We had a moment of silence, a moment of gratitude, and then we cooked dinner in the dark and my co-instructor and I helped them set up camp. It turned out to be one of my favorite expeditions.

I was shocked when I won the Silver Whistle Award because everyone that I know that has won the whistle in previous years is an inspiration of mine at work.

It means a lot to me that my colleagues and my friends chose that for me, and it affirms that I chose the right path and I am following my passion and people can see that.

An up close portrait of Outward Bound instructor Chloe. She has a wavy red bob hair cut, and vintage, large glasses on. She is wearing a vintage Outward Bound fleece. She smiles warmly at the camera.

I feel so grateful to be honored in this way because getting to this point was not easy for me. I started my outdoor and environmental recreation program later than my peers.

I’ve faced and overcome challenges with learning how to become an outdoor instructor, but every part of my journey has been worth it. Every part has given me the courage and knowledge that I am now proud to share with my students.

A selfie of Outward Bound instructor Chloe smiling with her dog Ninja. Ninja is a medium sized tan wavy haired dog with big brown eyes and long ears.
Chloe and her dog Ninja Photo: Chloe Straub

I grew up originally in Mid-Michigan, but have also lived in Southern California, and have now lived in Maryland for a few years. I graduated from Central Michigan University with a Bachelor’s Degree in Outdoor Recreation. I had never even been backpacking, canoeing, rock climbing, or backcountry camping until my first year of college! Outside of OB, I am a yogi, watercolor artist, absolutely non-professional dancer, and tea enthusiast. Most days out of the field, you can find me cuddling my dog, Ninja or working on my small art business.

Chloe has been an Outward Bound instructor, trainer, and mentor since 2021. Chloe also was voted by CBOBS staff as the 2022 Silver Whistle Award winner, a prestigious award given to a program staff member who go above and beyond for our students and our community while embodying excellence, craftmanship, and dedication.

Learn more about the rest of our program staff and what it’s like to work as an Outward Bound Instructor.