Sunday, July 24, 2011

The Great Outdoors

Mark and I just completed our second pioneer trek last week, the first being four years ago. It is extremely satisfying to see 130 plus teenagers trek over 32 miles on the original Mormon/Oregon trail in the vast expanses of Wyoming. Some of these kids are athletes in their own right, but many have never spent time in the great outdoors to really enjoy and appreciate what life has to offer.
I think everyone felt a great sense of accomplishment in being able to complete something hard,and gaining a better understanding of those ancestors who came across the plains trekking over 1300 miles in adverse conditions with little food and inadequate clothing.

Thirty years ago, from July 7 to August 7, 1981, I spent a month around the Escalante and Boulder Mountain areas of Utah with 32 people from across the United States. We were participants of the Boulder Outdoor Survival School (BOSS) hiking over 250 miles in the beautiful, great outdoors. It was an incredible, strenuous, character building adventure that I have reflected upon throughout my life.

We traveled from elevations of 5000 to 11,000 feet with temperatures ranging from freezing to 110 degrees. Four of us were from Utah, four from Texas, three from New Mexico, nine from California, two from Pennsylvania, Ohio and Idaho, and one from New York, Colorado, Oregon, Toronto, Michigan, and Wisconsin. Twelve of us were females, 20 were males. I learned many life lessons that month. In a nutshell, I learned that family is extremely important, that the human body is truly amazing, and that there is a God in heaven who loves us, helps us, and watches over us if we will but recognize Him.

"Those who say it can't be done are usually interrupted by those doing it."

Days 1-3, Impact

The first three days were called, "Impact". We had no food, no blankets, canteens,or ponchos. We had only the clothes we were wearing, a jacket, thermos, stocking cap, gloves, plastic bag, long sleeve shirt, bandana, socks and a small first aid kit. The first day was rainy and cold as we trudged through and drank water from the river, filling up an empty can and straining the sand out with a bandana over the top. A couple hours were spent on a blind walk with our eyes blindfolded with a bandana. The idea was to get an increased awareness of one's footing and to learn to trust others in the group. We quickly trained our ears to listen carefully to the sound of feet from the person ahead. It was freezing that first night as we tried to stay warm by huddling together as a group and sapping away someone else's body heat.

If you thought you were hungry today, just wait until tomorrow..

The second day, we hiked from morning till night in blazing hot heat. The only break was jumping into the river, boots and all to try and cool off. We had sore legs, blistered feet, and empty stomachs. On the third day, we hiked and hiked till early evening when we finally reached our base camp. We celebrated that night with a banana and Gatorade. My stomach felt so full I could barely finish off the banana. But I began an appreciation for simple things, like food, a blanket to sleep on and clean water. My base camp bag I had packed was delivered to me that evening so I could change into clean clothes and socks. Whew.

The goal of impact was to gain control of attitude, appetite, and physical condition. I found a lot of strength after completing these three days.

Day 4
Day 4 was Sunday, a day of relaxation and rest; a day to contemplate and write in my journal.

I began to realize how many luxuries I had in life and how many things I took for granted every single day. The strength of the human body is amazing and the will is supreme. The things you tell your mind determine what you can do and accomplish.

"It isn't the mountains that wear you out, it is the grain of sand in your shoe."

Days 5-9, Group Expedition

The guys and gals were split up for the group expedition. Survival was very enjoyable to this point. I did not feel hungry or tired until the end of the week. We did lots of steep hiking and elevation climbs using topo maps to navigate. Day nine had a 25 mile individual hike which began around 6 p.m.and traversed along dirt roads and trails marked with green glow sticks.

Being alone in the beauty of nature lends itself to much inner reflection and I began to ponder many things in my life. Little things popped up as I moved along, bringing a flood of memories to the forefront. It was a spiritual experience. I couldn't help but think of the myriad of feelings and emotions that are recorded somewhere in the folds and creases of our brains.

I thought about the importance of a good childhood, the joy of great memories with my family, and the enrichment of wonderful, good, positive relationships. I pondered the significant role that music has played in my life. I was overwhelmed with gratitude for my mom and dad.

During the hike, rain broke out and the road and paths turned to clay which stuck to the soles of my shoes. And I mean really stuck. As the night descended, I couldn't see the trail because of weather and bad eyes (no contacts or glasses) and I got concerned. I was alone in a black, wet, rainy, cold forest in an unknown place with no map. One wrong turn could spell disaster.

Just because it is a well beaten road is no sign it is the right one.

Fortunately, two guys from our group joined up with me from behind and together we found the way. We arrived at our destination around midnight. The last of our group came in around 4:00 a.m. I was dog tired and really hungry for the first time.

It is one of the most beautiful compensations of this life, that no man can sincerely try to help another without helping himself. Shakespeare

Only 19 days left.

Day 10, Sunday, July 19
Sunday was another day of rest. I needed it.

Breakfast fare was oatmeal and ash cakes made with flour, water and ashes from the fire for leavening. Most everyone took a cool stream bath in 44 degree water. Aahhh, it felt terrific.

Once again I began thinking about values of family, marriage, children, etc. I felt a deep yearning to work on my spiritual side, to learn and study about the great creator and our purpose here on this earthy sojourn. We had a sacrament meeting with a few of us who were LDS. The sacrament was passed using ash cake and a canteen of water. It felt good to renew my covenants with Christ once again and pay homage to the Creator in such a primitive setting.

Day 11 to 16, Survival Week, July 20-25
Day 11 began with killing a big sheep which was then skinned, hung on a tree, quartered and divided into parts among five stations. The idea was to realize the significance that this animal sacrificed its life for our survival. I developed almost a reverence and greater appreciation for all meat in general.

In the five stations we:
1. Tanned the hide;
2. Made sweet bread dough to cook in the stomach;
3. Made sausage with the small and large intestines;
4. Learned how to cook meat in a pit; and
5. Made jerky by smoking the meat over a willow tripod.

We dug a big pit by the stream, lined it with branches, placed the meat inside, covered it with a damp, cool towel and put fresh, wet willows over the top. We also made a steam pit by lining a large hole with rocks. A fire was lit on the rocks which made ashes in the cracks. The fire burned through the night and the next morning, we put in the meat, covered it with hot rocks and grass and let it steam throughout the day.

I was really fatigued and ready for some good protein. The meal tasted soooo good. We added carrots, onions, potatoes and the like to round out the meal. The jerky was divided up to eat at future times.

Friday, July 24th rolled in and I was quite done with survival. I was glad to have come on this "trip" but I also wished it was finished. It reminded me of the year I spent in Japan (age 20), teaching English at a private Buddhist University. I was really glad I came, I didn't want to quit, but I sure wished I were home.

Comfort is not essential to survival, and is often valued too highly. You must value your life more than comfort and be willing to tolerate heat, hunger, dirt, itching, pain and almost any discomfort. If you expose yourself to self-pity because you have a blister and think you can't walk another mile, you have not thought the situation through.

As my mind pondered the 24th of July, my thoughts went to my pioneer ancestors and the sacrifices they went through, all because of their great faith in believing in the gospel of Jesus Christ and their undying hope for a brighter future in "Zion". Great sacrifices were made to come west. My ancestors began their long journeys in England and Denmark, embarking upon a long sea voyage across the big blue before their weeks of traveling westward.

I had completed two weeks of my survival course and could hardly wait for the next two to pass. I dreamed of the things I would do upon my arrival at home. They included:
1. Take a bath and shave my legs.
2. Wash my hair.
3. Lotion my skin.
4. Clean and clip my fingernails and toenails.
5. Brush and floss my teeth.

Pretty shallow compared to what the pioneers would be doing upon entering the valley. They had to concern themselves with building a home, planting a garden, gathering wood for fires to keep warm during the winter months, setting up schools for the children, making clothes, basic survival and keeping their faith and beliefs strong.

To break up the routine, we decided to have our own Christmas in the desert. We drew names and had a couple days to come up with some type of homemade gift for that person.

"Christmas" arrived on Sunday, July 26th and was really fun. We held sacrament meeting and enjoyed a really great meal of chicken stew complete with carrots, potatoes, cabbage and TVP, and sides of ash cakes with honey and watermelon for dessert. The watermelon was undescribably good!

We then began the gift exchange. I drew Susan Arthur's name and made a wooden pendant for her from a cross piece I cut from a branch. I carved out her name on the face along with a fern design and made a willow chain to hang it on along with a set of willow chopsticks. It turned out pretty cute!

Mary drew my name and gave me the carved log (above) which still sits on my bookshelf today. Although I don't recall any of the other gifts that were exchanged, I remember how clever people were.

Let us cherish the bread before there is none, discover each other before we leave, and enjoy each other for what we are while we have time.

Student Expedition, July 27-30
The most strenuous and dangerous part of my survival experience began with the Student Expedition. We were divided into small groups of 4-5 people each and given a destination, a set of Topo maps, and a destination spot to meet at the end of the week on Friday. I ended up with a group of four, excellent, very fit runners, Tami, Sue, Casey and Carolyn.

All day Monday we bushwhacked down a mountain, hit Stair Canyon and hiked many miles at a fast pace. I was hot and exhausted, having never worked so hard physically in my life. When we finally sat down to rest and I kept blacking out and literally could not see anything but black. After a bit I could see, but my vision was blurry, my head was spinning, and my pack felt like it was crushing my back and stomach. We traveled on for several more miles when I nearly fell down to my knees from exhaustion. I could hardly breath. Panic ran through me because I knew there was no way I could continue at that pace, but there was no way out. Finally, the four girls sat me down, made me drink lots of water, eat some raisins and just relax. I was so sick to my stomach I thought I was going to die. I began to feel a little better and so we continued on a few more miles. There was no other choice! I remember watching Sue directly in front of me, and literally followed her footsteps, one by one. My left knee went out of kilt and started aching every time I bent it. I started praying hard because I was a mess!

We stopped in Water Canyon, the first place with water in the Gulch and camped for the night. We cooked some stew with bullion for dinner. The evening was beautiful with endless stars sparkling all night long. In the morning, we ate cornmeal mush with powdered milk and some ash cakes with raisins and honey. I felt 100% better.

Coming together is a beginning.
Keeping together is progress.
Working together is success.

We began hiking at dawn and hit the trail hard. Although I felt better physically, my knee was really hurting. I started praying pretty earnestly for a miracle. We had days and miles to go before reaching our destination on Friday. With the state of my knee, I honestly didn't know how I could do it.

We were instructed to leave a note at a cairn by a cabin. As we hiked down to the cabin, low and behold we ran into another group of girls from our expedition. I felt so much elation because this group was given the shortest, easiest route for the week. What a tender mercy and an answer to prayer. I switched groups and was so glad I did, because for that day and the rest of survival, my knee had so much pain I could hardly bend my leg. This group had one "problem child" who was young, (16), immature, and a bit heavy and out of shape. I had no problem keeping up with them even with my painful knee. Their route, however, was not easy. We spent hours bushwhacking down Deer Creek with willows smacking our faces, twisted ankles on mossy rocks, steep inclines, heat, aching joints, and a hurt knee. Everyone was so mad at "problem child" and so fatigued, they were about ready to kill each other. Finally, around 5:00 p.m., we decided to stop and camp. We made dinner, went skinny dipping, washed our clothes and hung them up to dry, gave foot massages (thank you, Susan!) and had a great time.

In the morning, we slept in, cooked breakfast, went skinny dipping again, rinsed our hair and felt terrific! I even cleaned my fingernails. It was the cleanest I had been the whole trip. We hiked down Deer Creek , hit the Escalante, hiked a few miles upstream, and continued throughout the week. Just before Friday, we met up with Tami, Sue Casey and Carolyn!

Casey pulled a groin muscle so they cut off part of their route. They said their route was brutal, extremely hard and not much fun. I was soooo glad I was able to switch groups.

It's a hurting day Lord! A good day for learning. No man knows how much he can endure until he must. Richard L. Evans

Solo Week, July 30-August 5
Alone is good company.

Everyone was separated and given a cave or designated area to spend the last week alone. No hiking, no navigating, just surviving alone in a small area. Solo week was wonderful and worth every minute of pain, hunger, or frustration.

We were given food for the week consisting of:
2-3 cups of flour,
2 cups of rice,
3 carrots,
1/2 onion,
1 potato,
3 cups oatmeal,
2 cups powdered milk,
10 honey packets,
dried soy beans,
TVP and
10 bullion cubes.

I arranged my cave into the kitchen and sleeping areas. The kitchen had a small fire pit, fire wood, all my food, a small and large billy can, juniper bark, char cloth, flint, a steal knife and two wooden spoons that I made.
The sleeping area had my poncho as a ground cloth, my wool blanket, night clothes (thermos, sweatshirt, hat, wool socks, jacket), books, comb, personal supplies, etc.

All went well with one snafu. In the middle of the pitch, black night, something started rustling the food in my "kitchen." I couldn't see what it was so I hid my head under the covers, hoping not to be attacked by a mountain lion, badger, skunk,or some other wild thing.

The next day, I discovered that something had eaten all my raisins but one and feasted on the flour and oatmeal. Later on, a big huge rat or ground hog ran into my cave and ran straight for the food. I hurled some big rocks at it which scared it away and lit a fire. I kept the fire alive from then on and had no more trouble with animals.

The rest of the week was glorious. I read The Holocaust, Man Search for Meaning, scriptures, wrote in my journal, etc. I had lots of time to write down goals, evaluate my experience, and proceed forward with a new frame of mind.

Please do not pierce the boundaries of my hearing. Today I wish to remain in the depths of silence. Silence is golden and within its boundaries are great works achieved. Brad Q. Ottley

The Conclusion

Solo week ended with a reunion of the group, more hiking, a fun repel off a mountain, dinner, a bit of sleep, and waking up at 3:00 a.m for a final fifteen mile run to the bus to go home. No more sand, dirt, bugs, ants, mosquitoes, flies, rations, rats, etc.

Man's mind stretched to a new idea never goes back to its original dimensions. Oliver Wendell Holmes

Some Final Thoughts

I discovered many things about myself and life during this survival experience.

What appears to be the end may really be a new beginning.

I learned much about gratitude and attitude. I learned about who I am. I learned to have faith in Heavenly Father and rediscovered the importance of family, relationships, small kindnesses. I learned the value of simple things. Shannon was the most giving, helpful person in our group. If there was only a bit of food or a small pothole of water, she would share or give up her portion to someone else. Even when we were all dog tired, she would work hard to collect firewood and start the fire at night.

I learned how great the great outdoors is, how it is to be respected, how good it feels to be physically fit and to eat nutritious food, to have a controlled appetite, to have discipline over our attitude, the importance of a journal, and most importantly, to rely on the Lord.

Thirty years later, I reflect upon this experience as one of the most meaningful things I have done. In that light, I give thanks to my pioneer ancestors who were steadfast and faithful in their beliefs and desires in making all the difference in my life as well.

Happy July 24th!

Sunday, July 3, 2011

Half Year Check Up

January of 2011 marked the first year to compile an annual family yearbook for my larger family of Southwicks. Subtitled, "Family histories as told by themselves," everyone was invited to compile something about his/her year in review and include goals, aspirations or resolutions. I enjoyed reading everyone's entries and each person's perspectives, likes and desires. I learned many things about my rellies.

Half the year is now passed and past. I figure it's time to check up on my New Year's Resolutions (which were pretty much plagiarized and borrowed with a few of my own).

My 2011 Resolutions are:

1. I will take a walk or get some other exercise every day, and especially when I feel stressed.
2. I will remind myself that there are no problems, only "opportunities for personal and professional growth.
3. I will do something every day that makes me laugh out loud.
4. I will take more risks. Everything you want is just outside of your comfort zone.
5. I will worry about only one thing at a time, if I worry at all.
6. I will eat right 90% of the time, and eat whatever I want 10% of the time.
7. I will send out a lot of "Thank You" cards.
8. I will focus each day on something I can do to help another person, preferably unknown to that person.
9. I will not agree to do things simply because someone asks me to.
10. I will get as much sleep as I need to be happy, healthy, and fun to be around.
11. I will focus on what went right every day, instead of what went wrong.
12. I will take long, hot baths or showers as often as I need them to relax.
13. I will find at least five new, really healthy foods that I actually enjoy, and eat them.
14. I will ask myself, "Will this thing really matter in 150 years?"
15. I will walk to more places - like to church, to a friend's house, etc. and park in a distant stall from my destination.
16. I will be thankful for everything.

To date, I have done #12 really well. In fact, I have never had a year that I have soaked in the bath tub so long and enjoyed it so much. I have done pretty well with seven more resolutions and the other half (yes, that would be eight), not so well. In fact, I totally forgot some of them. How can I ever hope to make changes in my life when I forget what changes I wanted to make? It is not that I don't need to make the changes, but rather I feel it would be an improvement to make the changes.

So for the second half of this year, I desire to become more aware and focused in these areas. I feel that self improvement leads to self discovery. If that self discovery is guided by the spirit, then I feel I am becoming closer to the source of my maker in doing His will. That is really my ultimate resolution, to be more like Him. Trust me, I know, and my kids will remind me, that I have a long way to go. But recognition is key to change and so I begin Part II of 2011.