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:
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.]