It has been quite some time since my last post. So much has happened, it’s hard to track back. The weeks have been long, the weeks have been good, and my weeks in the wilderness have just come to an end. That’s right. I just finished my last week at Anasazi. There are so many bittersweet feelings that go along with my completion at such an amazing foundation. A foundation that has truly changed my life; the way I view people, the way I view earth, the way I view myself.
But before I get into all of that, let me share my experience of my last experience on the trail. See, I was expecting my last week to be a magical, flawless, perfect week. I thought I would get an easier band, like Sinagua (the 18 and older group), and we would just have a casual hiking week so that I could soak up every last bit of that wilderness I have grown so fond of. I quickly discovered that this was wishful thinking.
I did a Rabbitstick shift (Friday to Monday) and then a normal 8 day week. For Rabbitstick I was with two new girls and drove them out to the trail for their unexpected 6 week stay in the wilderness. Both were from out of state, neither knew they would be coming until their parents pulled up to the office that Friday morning. They were under the impression that they were just having a fun getaway trip to Phoenix. Those are always interesting and tricky situations. Regardless, we did what we could to get them prepped and ready for all that was to come. In the first couple days, we teach them to make a fire set to start a fire and also a couple other skills. The second day, I was doing my best to show them how to make a Rabbitstick. Let us keep in mind, I am not a skillsy person. Yes, I can survive and thrive out in the wilderness, but when it comes to making skills, it’s just not my forte. I received a machete a couple months ago, it’s something they give to Anasazi TrailWalkers when they’re promoted to a higher TrailWalking position. I have barely touched the thing. I lend it out when someone needs to chop something, but other than that-it remains nicely wrapped up in my leather strip. That weekend, my failure of use with this machete proved to be bad for two reasons: 1. I have little practice using it properly and 2. It still held its sharp, brand new edge on the blade. These two reasons made it far too easy for me to hack straight into my pointer finger.
This is correct: machete to the finger. Without getting too graphic, it didn’t even take a second for the skin on my finger to split completely apart and pour out amounts of blood that I wasn’t even aware could even by contained in a single finger. I calmly told the two girls to not follow anything I had just told them to do and rushed to grab a bandana and wrap it around my finger. At that moment I was just grateful to still have a finger; that machete easily made its way in and nearly met the bone. Mind you, I am miles into a canyon in the middle of nowhere. There is no quick escape to the ER from there. So, my fellow TrailWalker and I went to work on this thing. I tightly held the, now red, bandana around my finger above my head for a good half hour. We pulled out some steri-strips from our little first aid kit and tried to keep my finger in one piece, literally. It was like a race; it took several tries to pull the skin together and get the strips on because it just kept splitting and pouring out more blood. After about the fifth time, we were finally able to pinch the skin together and get the strips on before the blood came. We also fashioned a nice splint from a popsicle stick that we usually keep duct tape on.
So, for the remainder of my time on the trail, I had a gimp finger that was taped together and stiff, pointing straight up at all times. You would never think that one immovable pointer finger would be much trouble, but I quickly came to learn that I rely on that finger for a lot. For example, tying knots. Each morning before we start hiking, we make our own backpacks out of a tarp and pack string. It can be a tedious project and was not any easier without the use of my finger. Also, whenever I say “hike,” you need to eliminate the image that you automatically assume in your mind: there is no trail, there is no path, there are no signs pointing which way to go. We make our own path; through trees, around cacti, and up rock walls. We are, at times, legitly rock climbing with these 40+ lbs packs on our pack. Having a useless finger made such rock climbs a lot more difficult as I often wasn’t able to create handholds in the crevices of the cliffs. It’s safe to say that I wasn’t on my A game this week. But that was due to several things…
Wednesday morning I found out that I would be with the boys for my very last week. Though I was kind of hoping for Sinagua, I thought it could be cool to end where I first started. But then I found out that I would be with eight boys. Eight is a big group. A really big group. Especially when we are talking about eight boys. I was put as the lead TrailWalker again and was matched with one new male TrailWalker as well as one girl (thank the wilderness Gods) TrailWalker. I immediately knew it would be a crazy week.
Shortly after finding out about my placement for the week, I was pulled aside by one of the field team explaining a little more about this boy band. We would be on knife restriction for the week; no knives would be taken out onto the trail. Though I’m still partly convinced that this may have been directed towards me and my macheted finger, I learned the reasoning behind the restriction as the staff member spoke to me about one of the boys. One of these eight boys was on suicide watch. He was to be watched and to be with a TrailWalker every hour of every day for the next 8 days spent with him. Knives would not be permitted in the band for his own safety. The intensity of the week was slowly setting in.
Before we left, we went over maps and were informed that this week’s hike was not the simplest of them. It was a lengthy one with various inclinations. We were told that the first day of hiking would be the worst and to be prepared; we would be going straight up a Mesa to reach a small cow tank of water to camp by for the night. I thought I was prepared for the brutality of the hike, but this mental preparation took place before I had even met the boys.
Little did I know, the suicide watch and knife restriction would be the least of my problems for the week. Turns out it was a rowdy bunch of boys; which really isn’t too surprising. See, I don’t mind rowdy. In fact, I enjoy being rowdy and crazy with the boys. What I do mind, however, is when there is disrespect being shown to each other. Disrespect was prevalent throughout the entirety of the week; to each other and even to us. I discovered this on the first day of hiking, which I now refer to as the death hike.
See, there were several boys who had been there already for a couple of weeks; for the rest, it was their first full week on the trail. Apparently hiking all day, everyday isn’t a commonality in society—am I right? So, when the kids first get out there, it takes a little time to build up strength and endurance to really power through these hikes. Some of the boys were already pros—I mean, they could almost keep up with me:) (almost being key). The new ones were struggling. What’s more is that these new boys weren’t necessarily the strongest built—they were fairly skinny and even younger than the rest. The youngest was 13 and he was really having a hard time. We would move barely a hundred yards before he would plop down on the ground, convinced he was incapable of taking another step. I’ll tell you one thing I got out of this week, and that is being a bomb motivational speaker! I really gave motivational speeches to this boy every other ten minutes the entire week. He gave up so quickly, yet if you talked him through it and showed sincere encouragement, he would always get back up and keep moving; very slowly, but moving, nonetheless.
There was instant division among the boys: the slow hikers vs. the fast hikers. I was leading the hike that day and was getting pulled between the two. I was up at the front and trying to keep a steady pace for everyone, but the faster boys were always right on my heels. They would complain when we stopped for breaks to wait on the others and had no empathy at all for the boys who were starting their first, full hiking week. It felt like the day would never end as we inched along. We had woken up at 5 o’clock that morning to get an early start; even that wasn’t early enough for the mesa we were trekking up that day. It really was brutal. Not only was it straight up, it was without water along the way. We had only the two canteens that we had filled that morning to get us through the day. By the time we were halfway up the mesa, most boys had finished both. Mind you, it is hot in Arizona right now; hot, as in 100⁰ + hot. Our mouths were sand dry. My tongue scratched against the roof of my mouth as I did my best to keep the boys moving. The boys kept asking me how much further. My response, every time, “We’re getting close!” I really thought we were getting close, we had been hiking for over 8 hours—we had to be getting close, right? I didn’t know if there was an end to this mesa. Climbing up that dry creek bed felt like an eternity; we were chasing the sunlight, trying to make it to the top before dark. The little boy was having even more frequent stops at this point. I became legitimately concerned for the group as we had been without water for several hours at this point and were still barely moving. So, it was decided that I would lead the stronger boys up and out of this creek bed to the top while another TrailWalker inched along with the younger boys. I made that final accent to the top with the faster moving boys. I had never been more thankful for flat grounds. I had the boys sit down and wait up there as I dropped my pack and ran back down into that wretched creek bed. I made it down to the other boys, spared the last bit of the water I had been rationing—enough for them to each have a small sip, and made it out of that creek bed for, what I thought, would be the very last time.
In the excitement of getting out of the dry, steep, deathly creek bed the first time, I neglected to look around. The second time out of it however, doom looked me in the eyes as I clearly noticed a huge cloud of smoke right on the other side of the mesa.
Forest fire. Not even smokey the bear could do anything at this point. It was there, it was happening, and it was spreading and moving in the direction of where our Final D was to be that week.
So, we were radioed and told that they would be changing our Final D; we weren’t about to walk straight into a fire. This meant complete re-routing. And guess what? The beginning of this re-routing would start from no other than the exact location that we had started at. Yup, the very next morning, after the death hike, we would head straight back down that wretched creek bed and go back to the very place we had begun.
I dreaded the hike back down, and I dreaded letting the boys know that, essentially, they had just hiked up that huge mesa for the sole purpose of turning back around. We decided to tell them after we were all packed up and ready to leave. For a quick second, let me tell you about our water conditions—the cow tank. Do you have any idea what drinking out of something called a ‘cow tank’ is like? It’s absolutely disgusting. We are sharing the same exact water as the cows. It’s like an oversized puddle filled with mud, cow waste, and often times, leeches.
This is a picture I found online that bears the most similarities to what I have been drinking out of lately. This is no joke. What is almost worse than drinking this water, is the process of getting it. As you can tell, it’s not the deepest pool of water; it’s shallow and muddy all along the bank. I typically try to find rocks to throw into the mud and create a path to walk along so that I am not standing in mud up to my knees as I fill up my canteens.
That morning, before hiking back down the deathly mesa, I dreadfully went to go fill up my canteens. I was already packed up at this point and was carefully making my way out to the cow tank along my lined up rock pathway. I filled up with the disgusting dirt water and pivoted around to make my way back to drier ground, when I lost my footing and planted my foot into the thick mud and crap of the bank. Such a perfect way to start such a dreaded day.
The hike that day sucked. Though, it was better than going up the thing. The rest of the week didn’t get too much better, unfortunately. The following day, we headed to our new destination from our original camp spot. We were short two days since we spent Thursday and Friday pointlessly going up and down a mesa. Needless to say, we had no resting days and were hiking every daylight hour of the week. The division among the boys persisted and worsened as the week went on.
After one of the many slow and long hiking days, I was feeling extremely beat and was just emotionally and physically drained. I decided what I needed at that point was to freshen up to my best ability. We were finally camping next to a creek instead of a cow tank, so I slipped away to find a nice pool of water and rinse off. I found an awesome spot; secluded and surrounded by beautiful rock formations. I was able to completely submerge myself and rinse off with my tea tree oil. I had brought my clean, dry, warm clothes to change into (my only other clothes that I bring out with me besides my hiking pants & shirt). I felt so good. It was as if I had washed the day away. I was now nice and clean in my long sleeve shirt and fleece pants, anxious to get back to camp and slip into my bed (aka: wool blanket on the rocks). As I headed back to our camp spot, I was maneuvering and climbing over rocks and shifting along the ledges of the creek bed when I mistakenly placed my foot too close to the edge. My foot slipped from the dirt and I completely fell into the creek. Submerged up to my head. Drenched. I frantically climbed out. Furious at the world. Now, every article of clothing that I had was soaked; not one dry piece remained. My dream of lying down on my rocky bed, nice and warm, diminished with my wetness. The remainder of my night was spent standing and wringing out my clothes; unable to even sit down because every speck of dirt would stick to my drenched body. Of course this would happen.
I wish I could say that the week got better, but it just didn’t. The boys were creating more distinct cliques and specifically targeting one sweet boy in particular; for no apparent reason. Food was being stolen repeatedly from this boy. I can’t quite emphasize how much food is idolized when you’re out on the trail. In many ways, it’s the only luxury out there. The most prized possession in the food pack is, hands down: the small snack sized zip lock of dried apricots, a 1/3 filled zip lock of brown sugar, powdered cheese, and the infamous tang. The cheese can make almost any cup of lentils edible and the rest are the sweetest items in the pack. The miniscule amount of these foods is all that is given for a full week; it is cherished above all else. So, with that in perspective, you can imagine how devastated one would be if even a spoonful of tang falls to the ground; that’s one less finger lick of tang. What is worse than losing these foods to the ground, however, is if it taken against your own knowledge or will. And that is what these punk boys did. Periodically throughout the week, the cheese, apricots, tang, and brown sugar magically disappeared from this sweet boy’s food pack.
The hiking didn’t pick up speed either. I was unsure we would make it to Final D by Monday. One of the boys got sick that day (perhaps cow tank water?). I walked with him in the back of the hiking group as he clutched his stomach and threw up what little food he had gotten in for breakfast. Impressively, he kept pushing through—yeah, it was that same sweet boy. Determined and dedicated to just getting to that final destination; the one we had been hiking all week for. Miraculously, we made it. Though not before night fall. We were practically feeling our way around with our hands and trying to find a clearing big enough for all of us to sleep. We couldn’t even find the strength to eat and passed out, happy and anxious for a day of rest—at last.
The next day was better. The anticipation of getting up early and hiking was gone and there was tension left behind on the trail. I was able to interact better with the boys; one on one. I was able to sit down with each of them, individually and just talk—for the first time all week without the stress of getting from point A to point B. I had some really good conversations and even a couple of spontaneous apologies from the boys expressing their regret of the way they handled the week.
There was one boy in particular that I learned a great lesson from; a little punk boy. He asked to sit with me that Tuesday. He told me that he felt hurt; he felt like I, and the other TrailWalkers, were avoiding him all week. He felt as if we weren’t accepting him for who he was and just looking at him as a trouble maker. And guess what? That’s exactly what I was doing. To me, he was the predominate trouble maker of the group. He was behind all the food gone ‘missing’ and even a couple death threats towards other band members. I tried to steer clear of him for the most part of the week. I figured he wanted nothing to do with me, and I wasn’t really dying to spend all of my time around him. When I heard him speak this way to me, through his quivering voice, my heart dropped.
I had let my concern of hiking and getting to our Final D get in the way of the very reason I was even out there in the first place. None of this is for me; I am out there for, and only for, these YoungWalkers. I was putting a label on him; looking at him as a troublemaker. Doing the exact thing that Anasazi tries so hardly to avoid. I felt sick. I looked him in the eyes and just apologized. I apologized for the way I had treated him. I really never even took the time to get to know him or look behind his actions to see where all this anger was coming from. I explained my concerns of the week to him and simply admitted that I didn’t handle them in the best way. I spent the majority of my time working with the slower hikers while it appeared, to him, that I was avoiding him. We did have a couple fun talks earlier that week, but once things started getting super crazy the conversations got lost in the endless footsteps of the week.
We ended things on a really good note, we were both able to explain ourselves and our actions of the week. Had we communicated this sooner, who knows how the week could have gone. It really got me thinking about the way I treat and view other people. Too often we jump to conclusions, judgments, and labels. We do this because it’s simply the easy way. It takes no effort to assume what one is like and if they are someone we like, dislike, want to be around, or want nothing to do with. However, there is so much more below the surface.
Like that little punk boy. I didn’t know the pain he was suffering with his family. I didn’t know the way his own mom had been neglecting him and I didn’t know the deep desire he had to reestablish a relationship with his family, and with God. But when I took the time to really get to know him, I saw a new light. I saw his hopes, desires, and accomplishments that were hidden beneath his tough guy act. We were able to establish a good relationship in those two days. When I left that Wednesday afternoon, I was even, quite shockingly, referred as one of his favorite TrailWalkers. A title that I, clearly, was not worthy of that week.
the last post trail pic
In all reality, I felt very ready to leave. I was disappointed by the way the week turned out, but it was a good push out and confirmed to me that I’m ready for my next step. It’s 3 am on a Thursday morning. I would be out sleeping under the stars, wrapped in my wool blanket, hours away from being woken by the sun. Instead, I am sitting here, warm and bug free, in California. I leave for a new adventure in the morning, or more likely, in several hours. I get to venture off to India. With some of my favorite people in this world.
Remember this family? Last year I was able to meet Sonny and Sharmila while I was working in Thailand. This summer, I get to be with the whole family. I am so excited and so grateful that they have invited me along for this journey. India has been a dream destination for me over the last seven years. I cannot wait to see them and I cannot wait to take a step onto foreign grounds and learn and submerge myself in an entirely different culture.
I’m really unsure where my life will take me when I return, but I feel like it will work out how it’s supposed to. And when it happens how it should, I’ll be back; ready to update on any more journeys that come my way. After all, it’s not all about the destination, right? It’s the journie. And this journie is mine.