Raife Bowman is an asshole.
Those are his words, although not his exclusively. The first interaction I had with Raife involved him labeling me camp hippie. He’s outspoken, and doesn’t suffer other people’s willful ignorance well. He’s also got a mischievous streak, which when mixed with his seeming invulnerability, and size (he jokes on a regular basis about being able to throw me like a “hippie javelin”, and I honestly believe he could) make for some almost unbelievable hijinks. At a local all you can eat wing night, he put twenty dollars into the juke box and played and sang nothing but eighties love anthems, replacing “love” with “Doug” ,his dog’s name. You don’t know joy until you see a giant man belt out “what about Doug? “ at the top of his lungs. Needles to say a few of the locals were thrown off by the forty five minutes of Heart and Meatloaf that replaced the country music they had been listening to. Raife revels in it though. A person who “started smoking just to be an asshole to someone” and subsequently quit for the same reason.
He doesn’t sound like the sort of person you’d like to spend day after day with, and I felt the same after meeting him. The first three days consisted of Raife mocking everything from my pants, to my penchant for reading. I’d almost written him off as something I’d simply have to deal with for the semester. Then I started paying attention to the actions he took when interacting with the other students. Raife is always the first person to offer help if someone’s struggling. On top of that the mocking and joking around instantly disappears during those interactions. He doesn’t force the help, or make fun of the way you’re going about whatever task or skill you’re having trouble with. It’s almost a guarantee that if, for example a bowdrill fire isn’t lighting after ten minutes of trying, you’ll hear “would you like to know how to do that better/easier/another way?”. Raife may be a self proclaimed asshole, but if you let his jibes and verbal barbs convince you that’s all there is to him, you’d miss out.
Raife hails from. Anchorage Alaska, and attributes his common statement “Bowman ain’t no bitch” to that environment and his inherent stubbornness. For example, Jack Mountain has a challenge called the “iron spoon”.
There’s local ice cream shop in Ashland Maine, that’s about a fifteen minute drive from camp. Every year people try to beat the record for most large ice creams eaten. Each large is three softball sized scoops, and previous record holders include Paul, another instructor here who ate four. When Raife heard about the challenge during his time here on the winter course, he not only said he would beat it, but carved a wooden spoon to beat it with. The reason he did it? Just so the term “iron spoon “ would be inaccurate. “That’s the only thing that kept me eating” he explains, “just so the iron spoon would be made of wood”. There’s a touch of the gadfly in Bowman, but the difference is that he backs up any talking he does. A week ago, we all finished canoeing and went to witness Raife attempt the challenge. After four larges, it was obvious he wasn’t feeling well, but the man does not lack the courage to back up his convictions. Not only did he beat the record of five larges set last year, but he did it in an hour and a half. The student who set the record originally? He took seven hours.
(Raife and I doing caber tossing in kilts. I wasn’t kidding when I said he could toss me)
Raife found Jack Mountain the way most of us did. Google. “its pretty much the only way to look at a lot of options and compare them. Except those other things. You know, pages? Books. Yeah. Those.” He says, still busting my chops as only Bowman can. After he finishes with the rest of the courses here he’s attending an outdoor leadership program in Valdez Alaska. “I hate college, and I hate school “ he sighs, shifting from side to side to calm his stomach. (I recorded this interview an hour after he’d beaten the ice cream record) “ but I’ll put up with it for a little bit to do stuff like this.”
When I ask what advice he has for incoming or prospective students, he immediately says that everyone should take a course like this, even if they aren’t interested in getting into the industry. He explains that these skills that most people used to need to know to get through life are still worth learning, and pokes fun at some of the “survival” shows that have become rampant lately. Survival is sort of a dirty word around here, and the onslaught of YouTube “experts” is a constant source of satire, exemplified by Raife’s alter ego “Raifebowmanbushcraft247”. The truth is the skills we’re learning are simple, but necessary for anyone who enjoys the outdoors. There’s no product or piece of gear that will save you or your clients on its own. Having knowledge of the world you’re showing them, and an understanding of necessary human requirements and how to meet them is much more important than buying Raifebowmanbushcraft247’s latest piece of gear.
He goes on to say that his advice for preparing for the course is simple. Don’t. “everyone knows it’s a lot harder to unlearn a bad habit you picked up watching a stupid youtube video, than to learn a new skill. Come ready to work, and they’ll teach you what you need to know.” It’s solid advice, especially for someone with no experience, but the drive to invest time in the outdoors.
As we finish our conversation, I ask him if there’s any final thoughts bouncing around his brain. Without missing a beat he responds “yeah, don’t try to eat six large ice creams from the quick stop II “
That’ll do you god of lactose consumption, that’ll do.
As always, if there are questions, or comments feel free to email me. Or just comment below and I’ll be happy to answer them.