28 Days Later, a Cup of Joe, and a Little Appreciation


I am back. I completed the 28-Day Field Course offered by the Boulder Outdoor Survival School in southern Utah. I am proud, because it was one of the most difficult things I have ever done. I am also hungry.

During my time out there, I learned to make shelter and fire, to find water in the desert, and to slaughter and process large game. I took my map-and-compass orienteering to a new level. I slept on the ground every night, and actually got used to it. I lost at least 25 pounds, maybe more. At one point, I spent 5 days and 5 nights apart from the group, doing nothing but saving my meager food rations and contemplating my place in this world.

My fears going into this experience were:
1) Hunger
2) Physical Inability / Fear of Failing
3) Lack of Coffee

As for hunger, I will just say that, yes, I was hungry. I was hungry the entire time. The interesting thing, however, was that after a couple days without food I learned that hunger simply is not something I need to fear. They say we can go 3 weeks without food. I found that I function almost as well after 4 days without food as I do on a full stomach. Check that one off the list.

With respect to physical ability, I was fine. I was not the fittest person out there, but when you need to get over the mountain to get the water that will keep you alive, you get over the mountain. Check.

As for coffee, I will never go that long without my bitter black life-juice ever again!

In all seriousness, I cannot emphasize how clear it was that my fears were not worth the thought I gave them. In place of those fears, I was left with some simple but essential lessons.

First, a calm mind is the foundation for survival. Second, there is no survival without the tribe. Finally, as a general rule, fear has little or no functional value, and should be abandoned to the fullest extent possible.

Yes, maybe I can now make fire by rubbing sticks together and have learned a variety of other cool and interesting things. There is no replacement, however, for community and the mutual support it provides. There is no worse threat to survival than panic.

I know that I will reflect for a long time on the deeper lessons of this experience. One thing, however, cannot be overstated. On the final night, as I approached the end of the journey during a 12-mile walk beneath a spectacular meteor shower, I was completely overwhelmed by a sense of gratitude. This feeling has not subsided yet. I am grateful for my wife, for my family, for my friends, for my community. Simply put, I am grateful for you, each and every one of you. You have always been there, supporting me in ways I could never fathom until now. I have never properly thanked you. But there is no question in my mind that you, my community, are what have given me this wonderful life.

Survival is a daily thing, and I thank you all for that gift.

[A full set of pictures to come in a couple days.]


11 thoughts on “28 Days Later, a Cup of Joe, and a Little Appreciation

  1. Hey Johnny,
    Thanks for sharing. You inspire and encourage and instruct me. You may know that I’m 3.75 months into a 4.5 month sabbatical, about a third of which is time without people. Nothing comparable to your 28 days but still time “alone.” I learned some similar lessons, I think. But the way you express what you learned — and I’m sure there’s more — instructs me. Thank you, Jim
    P.S. Do you remember the movie about the guy who “ran away” to get off the grid and ended up dying in Alaska? He needed your knowledge about the tribe. One of the final entries in his journal was something like, “Happiness isn’t real unless shared.”

    • Jim, I couldn’t have said it better. The beauty of blogging is the chance to share. I started the blog in order to record what happened on the way, but it has evolved into a medium for sharing what is happening to me (and, of course, to Cris and our marriage). The movie is Into the Wild, and I thought about it while I was out there. While I had a similar attitude as the protagonist, I was lucky enough to have people around me and to learn what “survival” really is – and what it is to be an “individual”. By the way, I would love to hear more about your sabbatical, if you have time soon.

  2. Hello John,
    Although we are only recent acquaintances, I have been so inspired by your journey and I must say congratulations for accomplishing these very difficult things. I saw you pack honesty, courage, patience, faith and love, among other inspiring virtues, with you on your journey and I think they have served you well. To echo Jim above, I couldn’t agree more about community, and each of us has an important, however small sometimes, role to play. I am reminded of one of my favorite quotes: who we are is God’s gift to us; what we do with ourselves is our gift to God. Wishing you continued wisdom on your journey. – Patrice (Ryan’s girlfriend)

  3. Hey Johnny,
    Congratulations on such an achievement! Long ago while backpacking I ran into an Outward Bound group and always desired to follow them….I am now your Mom’s age and a bit less ambitious!?! Cary and I leave in 2 weeks to celebrate his 70th birthday by exploring the beauty of the canyons of Southern Utah….but we will be doing it in comfort with great food and my morning cup of java. You will be with us as we hike and admired for your great accomplishments. Thanks for the inspiring story. The greatest lesson I have learned in life is Immanuel…God is with us! Much love, Lynn Nolan

    • If you happen to pass through the tiny town of Boulder, Utah, be sure to have a meal at Hell’s Backbone Grill on Hwy 12. Truly a diamond in the rough. And reiterate my thanks to the owner/host from a BOSS student.

  4. John — This is incredible, inspiring stuff. I’m so glad that you’re sharing this with the world so I can follow along on your journey and learn from your example. All the best on the rest of your adventures!

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