This is one of the most difficult subjects to write about as I still wonder to this day what in the world was I thinking years ago? Why did I pay to go to survival school and starve myself which ended up in me losing over 15 pounds of muscle? I have no idea. I must have hit my head on something and thought about it differently. I must have been on drugs! Yeah, but I did it – I went to survival school. I must admit that I paid money to go do this experience of other-worldly, harrowing, starving time in nature. I suppose it was in my blood to do this no matter the cost and to prove to myself that I can and will do this. I couldn’t be a pussy in this but instead, I was going to take the worst of it and make it into a positive.
I signed up for this course through BOSS also known as Boulder Outdoor Survival School, located in Boulder, Utah, United States. I have read and heard of great things about the BOSS 14 day field course and I decided that it was time for me to do it. Prior to going to this school, there was a list of gear that I needed as the people there do not let people go out there virtually naked. Some of the items that were needed were cups, knives, some rope, some clothes, etc. Some training was also needed such as hiking and running as this was going to be a very physically demanding experience as well as a spiritual, mental one. The better prepared you were, the better off you were going to be in. This was not for people who woke up one day to do this. No. It was more for those who wanted the ultimate challenge by preparing yourself for it.
I had to fly over to Salt Lake City, Utah, and then take a shuttle down to Provo, Utah, where it was the initial meeting spot for everyone unless they were planning to drive there. I could feel the apprehension in everyone as they had no idea what would happen. Hell, some of them have never gone out into the wild. Then a van came by to pick us up and took us down to Boulder, Utah, where it would all begin. Once we all got there, there was a welcoming session to introduce us to the guides who would lead us, guide us, and teach us about what we need to know and learn from the experience. Afterwards, we had a running test to ensure that we were all in good shape and that not of us would drop dead on the first day (for insurance and lawyer reasons). They even had physicals that had to be filled out by a medical doctor prior to the trip! Already I knew that this was some serious stuff. Later on, one of the guys told me that someone had died the year before which was why they had all of these medical waiver forms needed to be filled out and signed. Dang… someone died in this school? Wow…
After the introductory orientation, we were all split up into 2 groups and then we proceeded to check our gear to ensure we had everything we needed otherwise it could be bought. We were then introduced to each other, had a safety briefing, and then both groups went their own merry-ass way. Our group of 9 (not including the 3 guides) was driven off in a van while the other group of 11 (not including the 3 guides) hiked off-site. That was the beginning of the school; no civilization for 2 weeks. No electricity, running water (except in the creeks and streams), no A/C, no heater, no cushions or mattresses for beds, and extremely minimal exposure to other people but ourselves. All nature and that was it.
The first day was not too bad as it consisted of just hiking but without any destination in mind, the weather was warm, not much wind, in fact, I was wearing shorts the entire time. We just kept walking, walking, walking… right into the night until our guides just simply stopped and said, “well, we’re here, so goodnight!” and just like that it was time to sleep. Wait a minute. No food? I guess we’re going to bed without dinner. I guess that’s why they called this session, “Impact.” It was to impact you into getting your mind and body shocked. And they did a good job of it because gosh, that was one rough night and it wasn’t about the food part. If you figure that the area would be warm during the night like it was during the day, well, you’re dead wrong. After several hours into the night, it got cold, damn cold to where I had trouble sleeping. Sure, I had a blanket but I didn’t have it then since it was going to be given along with some other gear after “Impact.” In fact, I had to walk around just to warm myself up. After a miserable night, I later found out in the following morning from the others that they had issues as well of being cold and miserable. After talking with each other for a bit, our guides found us and proceeded to tell us how well they slept last night. They showed us their way of sleeping which was retrieving pine needles and other foliage to use as cushion against the ground and then spooned each other to share warmth with each other. That’s when I realized that their way of teaching was give the test first and then the lesson afterwards. Great, I thought, fail now and then to learn the lesson. Okay, got it.
The next morning was not too bad with the exception of the growling stomach and then I realized that we were running out of water… and fast! I drank from both canteens completely dry and we had hiked for miles and it was getting sunny and hot. Then we immediately stopped at a watering point but this was a place meant for cows to drink out of. It was basically a big tub of water with bugs, algae, and bacteria in it and our guides told us that this was our source of water – scope up the water, put some iodine drops in it, shake it up, and then drink! I could sense the dread in others as they did not want to do this. I was too thirsty and I just did what the guides told us. I drank an entire canteen of that pond water with iodine drops. I know that sounds awful to drink that nasty water but you did what you had to do! Others followed and later on in the day and for the rest of the trip, none of us would have any second thoughts of scooping up any kind of muddy or standing water and drinking it with drops in it. No problems at all; just had to get over the shock of it and we did that pretty much immediately. After getting some water, we hiked some more and saw some spectacular sights that the place had to offer.
That second day was a very tiring hike. We just kept hiking all the way into the night and then our guides said the same thing the previous night, “goodnight” and just left us there in the dark. This time we were better prepared and we all immediately went to sleep snuggled up to each other with some cushion on the ground. There was an interesting event that happened when we woke up. I kept hearing a mosquito buzzing around but I couldn’t figure out where. Then one of the guys found the source of the sound – there was a mosquito flying around in a canteen! Apparently, the person scooped up some water with a mosquito larva/pupa in it and it hatched! I don’t remember what happened afterwards but I think the person just drowned the mosquito and pulled it out. The third day sucked as well as we continued to hike and hike and hike, with yet no food, and plenty of creek/pond water. Each step hurt like hell knowing that you were hungry and tired. And just as nightfall came, we came upon a camping site with a fire site and these teepees made of sticks, pines, and foliage. The good thing is that we did not have to sleep in the open but in those teepees. But guess what the best part about all of this was? There were bananas hanging by a string and as well as tea and we were allowed to consume them! Finally! Our first meal in 2 ½ days! Supposedly, we could only eat 1 banana as our stomachs have shrunk in size due to not eating. I have to say that was the best banana I ever had in my life – I still tell people about this story and how wonderful it was to have something edible in my stomach. Most people don’t know what real hunger is until they had to go through it themselves.
The fourth day was a lot better as we woke up warm and on the plus side, we got to eat something, but in a different way. Our guides told us that we had to slaughter a sheep that was tied to a tree in order to eat its meat. I was like “Hell yeah! Let’s go ahead and just do it so we can eat!” Wow, was I wrong. Everyone else was so sympathetic to it even guys were crying over its impending death. I can understand the 2 girls crying but hell, the guys? They have no excuse! Just kill da F**CKER! And GIT-R-DONE! This is why I stress the importance merits of hunting and fishing so you know where and how difficult your food comes from and it’s not just from the supermarket! Anyway, one of the guys cut its throat and everyone cried about it except me where I wanted to go ahead and eat something! I probably could have eaten it raw for that matter! Afterwards, we skinned the animal and separated the meat out from the bones and skin and made a meal with sausages and other cuts of meat and prepared to cure the excess meat for jerky which would be used for our future trips.
After a few days at camp of learning basic camp skills, we walked more miles up and down hills and mountains to where I don’t know remember too much after this as our guides taught different ways to live with nature such as start a fire, set up shelter, and a lot of hiking. I also knew that I did not get along with anyone in my group – I don’t know why. I guess it came with differences in thinking and behavior especially after that sheep slaughtering incident. I had no hesitation about it but they all did. Whatever the case may be, I could care less about how they thought of me. I did my thing and they did theirs.
There was an interesting part to this school which was being alone for 3 days in the wild with no human contact whatsoever. It wasn’t too bad being solitary in the wild to where I could pause and think and philosophize about life, my direction in life, and its priorities and so on. The only problem was because I had to use the moon to guide myself at night, I didn’t know where I was going. All I knew was that I had to camp above the creek to avoid any flashfloods. And in the process I laid down my bedding and fell asleep right there. Once I woke up the next day, I had this pain in my back wondering what the hell was that? That’s when I thought that I better look under the bedding of my blanket and poof! There was a small cactus underneath. I had slept under a spiny little cactus for a whole night! That’s when I decided, okay, I’m moving elsewhere for shelter and moved to the side of the hill looking like a small cave. Those days were some rough days as it got really, really hot and at times, it also became pretty boring. You think about how much technology has improved our lives in comparison to the past and how television, computers, video games, and other electronic device entertain us. Those 3 days made me think a lot.
Once the 3 days were over, everyone came back together and then we were off to our next challenge. We were going to be alone again but this time without any of the guides; we had to stick together as a group as there was this point where we had to hike on our own for several days, cooking our own food, navigating on our own with a map and compass, and fending on our own. I found some cool stuff out there while hiking like finding an elk antler, deer antlers, animal tracks, and various other small animal skeletons. The one thing that got me was how hungry I was during this entire time despite eating plenty at meals and at the same time pushing myself to hike more and more. I loved every downhill hike but hated every uphill hike. It was still a rough time.
After a few days of navigating, we got to the final meeting point where we were told that we had one last task at hand. One last hike, without carrying any gear, just to go back to camp. I do remember that last hike. It was in the middle of the night and they didn’t tell us how far we had to hike to get back to where we all started on the 1st day, the place where we had our introductory orientation. I could see stars in the sky while walking back. It was a rough hike going for miles up and down hills and mountains. I thought it would never end as I cursed myself out wondering why in the hell did I do this? Every step was painful. There were times where I thought was I going the right way or not? And then I saw buildings which I knew I was at the end. After all that sweat and pain, I finally made back to camp, hating every step of the way. Everyone congratulated every hiker for succeeding and accomplishing the difficult, but the only thing I wanted was some food (which I got some fruit) and to sleep off the pain and misery which I immediately fell asleep after that hike.
On the final day, they handed out these diplomas or certificates or whatever you want to call them. We packed up our gear and took the shuttle back to Provo, back to civilization again. While riding in the van, I did learn that 4 people in the other group quit, leaving only 7 to remain while all 9 of us in our group finished together. It makes you think that not everyone can do this. You have to want to do this! Upon arriving at my hotel room back in Provo, I took the longest shower I could, trying clean all the dirt and grime off my skin and in my hair. I also went out to town and ate whatever the hell I wanted. I ate a big steak to celebrate along with 3 cones of ice cream (for some odd reason, I could eat like a bottomless pit for weeks after that school). I also weighed myself to see the results of what happened to me: a loss of 15 pounds, mostly of muscle. I don’t think it was until months later that I understood what the guides said it would take. You start to appreciate the things you take for granted like light during the night for reading, watching TV, using the computer, having heater and A/C whenever available, and having a mattress to sleep on! I finally understood this after going on trip months later going to Colombia on a scuba diving trip when the electricity all of a sudden cut out and I had to sleep naked during the night because it was so hot. In the end, I guess it was worth it for I am no longer disturbed with primitive living conditions ever again like using porta-johns, no running hot water, or sleeping in crappy beds. Case in point, when I was in Peru I once saw a llama pissing in a creek only to see a girl 200 meters downstream drinking water outof it. One girl who was next to me was grossed out while I just stood there thinking, “whatever, I’ve drank bug-infested pond water before.”
If you’re up for the challenge of going to survival school, I recommend that you do it and learn more about yourself than you ever would imagine to.
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