I’m alive.

A few things have changed since my last post. You know, that post back in June 2012? How does one do an update to make up for the last 2 years? Well, you can’t really. But let me just start by sharing an experience that happened almost two years ago. On the other side of the world, in India. Which, surprisingly, serves as a good introduction to my current new beginning.


July 11, 2012
I sat on a small plastic chair in Gujarat, India as an old man I that I had barely known for even a minute charted the coordinates of my birthplace, along with the date on a grid-like paper as he identified the corresponding alignment of the stars and planets at that time and place: Westlake Village, CA. February 26, 1990, 8:26 am. It wasn’t a place you would see, walking down the street, that advertised for an astrologist reading. It was in the man’s home. He didn’t even define it as a job, it was more of a talent that he feels he owes to share with others. He never did charge us a fee. A little girl played outside the room I sat in. Occasionally, she would peek in to stare at the girl with light colored skin. It was hot and sticky as usual, and I tried to nudge my chair in the direction of the narrow path of wind from the tiny fan sitting in the corner of the room. I smelt the incense burning outside the room from where the shrine rested gracefully, filled with offerings of fresh food, flowers, and coins for the Gods. I loved that about India. About the culture. Each home had one, each varying in size and grandeur–but each shrine unique and spectacular as I would envision the daily routine of one setting it up so delicately and then, going through their daily prayers, often for hours on end. I wanted that dedication, that faith.

I had never been to an astrologist or anything of the sort before. The family I was staying with in India told me of a friend, Kumal, an astrologist, that has offered advice and guided them through monumental decisions over the years. I told Sonny I wanted to go. And so, there I was. Watching him map out my life by the patterns of the universe. After writing and drawing for several minutes without even speaking or asking a single question, he began to talk. In Gujarati, of course. Sonny sat and translated with both Neil and Jay sitting by my side. He told me of a job opportunity that awaits me when I return, but it was farther away–not immediately upon my arrival. It pertained to psychology he said. Strange…how does he know that? And why wouldn’t I get a job when I returned home? That couldn’t be right. I needed a job soon after my arrival to the states and I didn’t anticipate having a difficult time finding one. I’ll overlook that one mistake.

He, then, started talking about school. He said he saw a break in my schooling. That I wouldn’t be starting Fall 2013 like I told him I was planning on. Mistake number 2. Of course I would be starting my graduate studies the following fall. I had already prolonged starting school an entire year and I was anxious to get back. I knew right when I got home I would begin studying for the dreaded GRE and have my applications in that fall (2012). But, he’s human, I won’t hold these mistakes against him. Besides, this trip wasn’t for me to learn of my future or help me make some major life decision–it was merely out of curiosity and for my own personal knowledge and understanding of what an astrologist does. However, the topics discussed quickly made my mind start spinning. They all pertained directly, and specifically, to me, my life, my struggles, my happiness. Sonny didn’t communicate anything about me to him beforehand, nor did I ask any specific questions. He initiated and brought up areas and characteristics that defined my life. If he had addressed these areas with either Jay or Neil…it just wouldn’t have made sense. And vice versa.

He then asked Jay and Neil to leave the room. Something he didn’t do to either of them when he was calculating their lives. He asked about my health. Was I in good health? Well, I did just spend 6 months living in the wilderness, eating rice and lentils and hiking 30+ miles a week. I have never had any serious health issues. I hadn’t even broken a bone, shockingly. Yes, I was in good health, I confidently replied (to Sonny, as this was all still being translated). Kumal then solemnly mentioned something about my kapha…what is a kapha and why is he talking about my kapha? Should I feel uncomfortable? Whatever kapha is, I’m sure it is just fine like the rest of me. He said to be cautious of the kapha. He projected some kind of illness pertaining to it. Okayyyy…? I asked Sonny to explain kapha to me…he had some trouble putting it into English words, but he said that on of the main sites of the kapha chakra rests in the lungs, influencing breathing. After a little research, I learned that the seat of kapha is the throat, stomach, and liquid secretions of the body, such as mucus. Um, yuck. I’m fine, sir, but thank you for asking about my kapha.

Not too long after this conversation, the topic of religion was brought up. He said that he could see that I was a very religious person. But he saw that I wasn’t staunch in one specific religion. That I am open to learning from others, that I question and take from different religions and teachings. Yet, he also sensed some trial and stress to this trait while encouraging me to continue seeking and learning. And then came the topic of a significant other…he told me that it appeared like I hadn’t been in a relationship for awhile. Uh, yeahh, I was well aware. He even gave the exact month and year that my previous relationship had dwindled.I was awestruck. How do the stars know? How does he know? He then told me that he saw a beginning to a relationship in the near future.There were other things that were spoken in that room. Things that only Kumal, Sonny, and I know. For now, at least.

In my journal, I wrote that this day became very thought-provoking. How could this man, who lives on the opposite side of the world , talk to me with such specificity? I’m not preaching astrology nor am I saying that I am now a full believer and check my horoscope daily (I only take a glance at it when it pops up on the screen at Coffee Bean). But, I am saying, only, that it was extremely thought provoking. Are there really external forces that guide our destiny? Our health? Our relationships? How can the mere aligning of stars and planets tell some random Indian man about when I will go back to school or work, my previous relationships, my religion?

And two years later, I am even more astounded. He was right. Or, the stars and planets were right. I never got a job when I came home. I never started school the following fall. My lungs, apparently, weren’t as resilient as I had thought. Religion and faith continues to be both a vital part of me which provides comfort and peace, yet at the same time, will leave me with confusion, guilt, and stress. That significant other came in the very near future. And that kapha thing? I understood it a little more as I woke from a coma, with a trach in my throat, as my respiratory therapist suctioned the mucus from the hole in my neck that lead down to my lungs.

Like I said, a few things have changed since my last post. But things always change, right? But these changes, they’re the ones that have changed my entire life. The kind of changes that make me look at others differently, the ones that have given me more gratitude than I ever knew the world was even filled with, they have changed the way I love, the way I believe, they strengthened relationships, and these changes made me into the new, and constantly progressing, me.

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Journeying on

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.

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Just Around the Riverbend

This past week was one of my very longest. Not only in distance, but time seemed to move by especially slowly. It was about a 30-40 miler. We were along the Verde River all but one day. We crossed the river a total of 26 times; my lucky number, ironically. I was with the girls; two sweet girls who I immediately fell in love with. It was also another week of training a potentially new TrailWalker.

The week started out normal and quickly escalated into chaos. I don’t think the trainee knew what he was in for. He was a nice guy and did really well interacting with the girls right from the start; but then we started hiking. He mentioned he was a little out of shape but felt he would be fine. To put it simply, he wasn’t fine. The extra 30-40 pounds fashioned into a backpack didn’t help him much either, he was struggling. Breaks were frequent and they were long. By the end of the first hiking day he felt sick and said that food was completely unappetizing to him, so he didn’t eat. I reminded him of the importance of eating while we were out there-without it, hiking will be even more difficult. He said he couldn’t do it, he was sure that he would throw it up. So, we took off hiking the following day with him and his empty stomach leading the hike.

Somehow we managed to be up scaling a cliff within the first hour. The girls were scared out of their mind and convinced they would die. We had to keep taking breaks because he was having a hard time moving along, especially in the heat of the day. He asked if I would take over the leading. I maneuvered around them and got to the front to try and find a way down the cliff onto some flat ground. I finally saw a somewhat manageable route and called for them to follow. With each step, those girls were shaking with fear as they peered down the steep drop. I stood there telling them where to place each foot. Some of the rocks were loose and would break when stepped on, so the game was to avoid those; I lost that game. As I was standing on, what seemed to be, a big and stable ledge and guiding the girls behind me, that big and not so stable ledge immediately crumbled below my feet and I went down. Luckily, I slid along the face of the cliff instead of a complete free fall. I was able to stop my fall about 15 feet down by wedging my foot into a small bush below me. During my fall, my only concern was how concerned and scared the girls must have been seeing me take a 15 foot fall. They informed me after that as I was falling down, I was yelling, “I’m good! I’m good!” And, thank the cliff god, I was good. I only came out with several bruises and a good battle scar on my forearm. So, I climbed back up and helped them avoid making a similar mistake.

We were finally nearing flat ground when we got to a steep spot where you could barely squeeze down with your pack on. I managed to do it, but the girls and trainee were having a more difficult time. So, I told them to take off their packs and toss it down the cliff. They happily agreed and rolled those packs off the ledge and watched it tumble and roll to the bottom. They were then able to slip down that steep slope and, essentially, rock slide the rest of their way down on their butts. It ended up taking about 3 hours to go about a quarter mile.

We only went about 2-3 miles that day, regardless of the seven hours of hiking. The next day we really had to make up for lost miles. We did just that and hiked all the hours of the sun. It was a long day, but we freakin kicked butt. The girls rocked it and were ready to just keep powering on. The guy, however, was having a little more difficult time. It wasn’t an easy hike to say the least. We crossed the river a total of 17 times in just that day. Our boots were soaked the entire week with the constant crossing, but we had a gorgeous hike all along the Verde River. Towards the end of the day, however, the hike turned into a race with the sunlight. The sun was setting and we weren’t near anywhere that we could set up camp for the night so I began to stress. I quickly picked up my pace in hopes to find some kind of clearing where we could lie down for the night. As I tried to may our way away from the cliffy hills and to some lower ground, we encountered two rattlesnakes. Considering that the girls were deathly afraid of snakes, this slowed down our progress on both occasions. The trainee was also very, very worn down at this point and asked for some break time which raised my stress level even more. The light was diminishing and I still couldn’t find a good place to stop, the riverbed was covered with river rocks. I thought the other side of the river might be less rocky so I told them that I would try to cross and give it a look. I began to cross and immediately dropped into the deepness of the river just as a saw a large skunk wandering around on the other side. I quickly turned around and came back to tell them this was as good as we could get for the time being. So, soaking wet, I began clearing the ground. I was pulling out dead bushes and pushing rocks aside to make enough room for my body to lie that night. It was getting darker. We had to get a fire going and I still had to radio in our coordinates for the night. I asked the girls to start busting and get a fire, and they began to work at it. In all my panic and rush, I failed to notice our trainee sitting silently on the ground, not moving at all. I quickly asked him if he wanted to get firewood or check-in. He opted to get wood, so I ran off to try and get signal to check-in. When I returned, the girls were still trying to get a fire going and he was still sitting there, not moving. Two small pieces of wood sat by our potential fire. He then let me know that he believed to be going into shock. He couldn’t move, he said. Getting darker, I rushed off to gather firewood. One of my beloved girls was able to bust and start a fire within a couple minutes once she tried using a different fireboard. Its days like that when I simply praise those flames. I huddled near to try and get somewhat warm and dry; for a moment, at least. The trainee wasn’t feeling any better and still hadn’t moved. So, I began clearing an area for him to lay that night; pulling out plants and heaving rocks left and right. I got his pack, moved it over there and unpacked it. Rolled out his blanket and set up his bed. He trudged on over and I didn’t hear any more from him that night.

He told me he knew this wasn’t an easy job, but he also had no idea the physical and emotional toll that it has. He also never improved on the whole eating aspect and, thus, had minimal energy. He mostly lied around the entirety of the week because he lacked the energy to do anything else. We had to wait an extra day to get to Final D because he said he couldn’t hike on Sunday. Regardless, we made it. Both girls left the band on Tuesday, though. One turned 18 and was moved to the Sinagua band and the other finished her 6 weeks and was off to be reunited with her parents at family camp. We were lucky enough to get one new girl by the time they left.

Did I mention a new friend that I made this week? I’m sorry, I can’t even joke and call it a friend. It is officially my least favorite thing in the desert; jumping teddybear cholla.  Do not be deceived by its harmless name. Now, hiking throughout the desert all the time, you are bound to run into cacti. And I do, literally and quite frequently, I accidently hit my leg against them or brush them the wrong way. It is not a pleasant experience, but I am typically able to pull out the spike fairly easily. Until this week when I encountered the cholla. I was walking up a small slope one evening after a day’s hike to go check in, when I slipped on some lose rock (you would think I would learn). Unfortunately I had already changed out of my boots and was wearing my chacos. There were the chollas scattered on the ground which quickly attached themselves to my feet and my hand as I tried to catch myself. Two on my right foot, one on my left, and one on my left hand and fingers. I wanted to die. They were beneath my toes and I couldn’t walk; I couldn’t sit because there were more about me. I took a stick to one on my foot in hopes to pry it from underneath and get the whole thing off of me. This is when I discovered the evil of the species. It was like playing tug-of-war with my skin. My skin lifted as I tried to remove the spikes. When I was finally full force pulling these spikes out, the whole cactus rolled over and just got stuck to a new area of my foot. I later learned that this species of cactus has microscopic barbs on the spines which make removal extremely painful and, henceforth, extremely difficult. I had to call the girls and bring the first aid kit with the tweezers. The tweezers really didn’t make it easier. I stood there for quite some time, balancing on my heels and prying out these pesky spines as my body began to convulse with each extraction. The skin on my hands and feet lifted and blood began to seep out with each removal. If this tells you anything, the radio comm kit that I dropped when I fell had the spines stuck deep within the hard, waterproof, non breakable, casing.

Oh, and did I mention my boots? You know, the brand new pair I upgraded to after I returned the ones I had got for Christmas? Yeah, well, they officially got demolished. Not even three full weeks on the trail and the traction was beginning to rip to shreds. Who gets a third pair of boots within four months? REI is not going to like me…

I was so, so ready to leave that week. It really was a great one, and I really did love and adore the girls I was able to be with—but I was so exhausted on so many different levels. I began to really think I am ready to leave and start pursuing other things; preparing for the GRE which I have been neglecting, finding a job with decent pay and a normal schedule, traveling for the summer, etc. But then Thursday came. I was able to be in the office when five YoungWalkers who I have had the opportunity to walk with for at least one week on their stay returned from the trail. I was able to see their smiling faces and the joyous faces of their parents. I was able to go out with a couple other TrailWalkers to see them gorge on their first real meal back in civilization. I saw them salivate at the sight of those burgers. The best part was just seeing them interact with their parents. The parents that they told me their first week that they would never talk to, never write, and want nothing to do with. I was seeing them stand close to their parents, at all times; even the boys. They excitedly introduced them to me and shared how amazing family camp had been; I was seeing these families begin their new beginning together. More trusting and more loving.

Guess who was one of the YoungWalkers to get off the trail that week? Pearly white. He had been extended for an additional two weeks, but he made it out—and he made it out with the right heart. I was greeted with that pearly white smile and an encompassing hug when he saw me at the office. I could literally feel his happiness; its as though it was seeping out of him.

I went up to his mom at lunch. I wanted to let her know what an amazing son she had. I went up to her, introduced myself, and before I could say anything, her mouth dropped. “Jamie?! Jamie! I know you! He told us all about you in his letters. You had that sitting with him, by a cave. He told us how much that meant to him, how much you taught him, how you helped him understand things better. He loved you…Jamie, Thank you so much. Thank you so much. You did amazing.”

My heart melted. I didn’t deserve any of those kind words; I didn’t do anything, it was all him. I didn’t do amazing, he did amazing. She did amazing; raising such a remarkable boy. Sacrificing her money, 8 weeks away from her son, aspiring for a better relationship; a better future. They made it happen. That’s the beauty about Anasazi, the change and success of it all take place from within these amazing YoungWalkers and their families.

I’m reaching a point right now where I really don’t know what’s around the corner. I can feel that my time at Anasazi is reaching its end, I just don’t know what will be next. It makes me think about my hike this week. Constantly crossing back and forth because you simply cannot see what really is around the riverbend. Just when we would hit flat grounds along the bank, the river would bend and we were faced with cliffs. So, we crossed the river to move to flatter grounds once more to keep trekking on. I think the we all experience this in our lives. Once we’re on a good track and feel like we’re doing well progressing, changes take place in the same way the river bends and winds. But if we really want to keep moving forward to get to our Final D in life, we’re willing to make the crossings  to the other side in order to keep moving forward. I don’t know what is around my riverbend right now, but I’m willing to take those 26+ crossings to keep moving in the direction that I feel I need to go; after all, when have I ever been afraid of a little water?

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Boys, Bugs, Blessed

ImageSomehow it’s already nearing the end of April–well, it was at the time I started this post. Now its mid-May! How does this happen? My life has been on fastforward the past several months being back and forth between the wilderness and civilization. It’s like when I’m out there, time pauses—it’s like limbo. And then when I get off, the six days fly by. And out of nowhere it’s almost May? Since my last post, I have done full two weeks on the trail and then a five day week. Each time I was placed with the boys.

The weeks were awesome. I say that in every post, but it’s always true. It’s always crazy, always hard, always exhausting, but always awesome. I have been with the boys band for three weeks straight now. I love those boys. My first week back in the boys band I experienced something that I had no yet experienced before. A young walker hated me. And for seriously, I am not kidding. The little punk hated me! The week started out fine and the first day I was in the band I pulled him aside to have a sitting and we hit it off. He opened up to me right from the start and shot me his genuine pearly white smile (something about being out in the woods and being all dirty really makes your smile shine). I took an initial liking to him. He seemed so positive and happy—even after just being taken from his home, in the middle of the night, by two big figures who came into his room at 3am and told him to come with them. One could imagine that one would be slightly upset with that kind of admittance into the program. He, at first, decided to run. When he arrived at the ANASAZI office, he bailed out and walked the unfamiliar streets of Mesa. He later told me that it was the TrailWalkers that made him decide to accept his fate and come out to do the program. He told me how he couldn’t believe how happy and how nice we all were, even when he treated us like a jerk. It was the happiness that he saw in those TrailWalkers that made him wonder if he could ever have that kind of happiness. So he made the plunge; he came out to the wilderness to give it a shot.

The week started off great and we had a fun little group of four. Saturday morning, however, one of the boys was to leave the band to go on a “Walkabout.” This is where it is only one YoungWalker with TrailWalkers. This is not a punishment of any sort; some YoungWalker even request this. For this situation, the therapists and parents thought that it would be a beneficial experience for this YoungWalker. However, the boy and the rest of the band wasn’t as excited. They didn’t want to be split apart. Immediately a bad vibe spread to the group. As the boy was getting ready to split off from the band he expressed his anger to the other boys, including my pearly white smile boy. Little did they all know that this boy would soon be ecstatic once he left the group, only to find out that it was his last week out there after being extended for an extra week. Unfortunately, pearly white didn’t see any good to him leaving the group. Pearly white was angry that we were splitting them up (even though we have absolutely NO say over what happens to the bands!). That Saturday morning he stopped talking. He wouldn’t respond to me, nor would he even make eye contact with me. The boy is a great hiker. But Saturday he began to drag his feet and inch slowly in front of me. I think he was hoping that I would pass him. However, as TrailWalkers, we always have one leading the hike and one at the very back to bring up the rear. I could sense his desire to break away from the group and not be trapped between us; he wanted nothing to do with us. He kept trudging along until he finally stopped and turned around to me and angrily asked, “Could you please get in front of me? I really don’t want to be around you right now and need some space.” I told him that, unfortunately, I couldn’t go in front of him—but I could hang back for a little to let him get ahead and give him some space. He rolled his eyes and walked ahead as I waited several moments before carrying on.

I didn’t try talking to him really at all the rest of the night. I was hoping he would cool off. It did seem like he started to relax towards the end of the day as he began to interact a little more with the other boys. The next day I asked if I could have a sitting with him. He quietly agreed and we headed to a cool little spot by a cave opening to sit and talk. I didn’t really know what to say; I just wanted to get back on good terms. So, I apologized. I apologized that he was so upset with us and that the boy was taken from the group. I explained that it was something I had no control over and that it wasn’t any form of punishment. I told him how impressed I was with him from the beginning and how strong I thought he was for taking the chance to come out here in hopes to improve his life. He sat there and listened to me rant. He explained to me why he was so upset. He had thought it was some kind of punishment and he didn’t think it was fair. He didn’t think it was fair to split them up when they had all got along so well. He was frustrated with the “system” and the “rules.” What is crazy is that ANASAZI has so few “rules”—the only ones I can even think of on the top of my head is to not jump off of cliffs and keep your clothes on. Those are pretty straight forward, are they not? Regardless, he just felt frustrated with things. I empathized with him and tried to help him understand. He told me that he had felt betrayed by us because we didn’t warn them that the boy would be leaving the group. I explained how it wasn’t our place to tell them because it wasn’t even for sure going to happen—things at ANASAZI are never set in stone and always change. However, I told him that if he ever has any questions or concerns about anything going on—I will always be straightforward with him and tell him everything I know. Trust is the most important thing to me with these kids when I’m out there and I don’t want them to ever think otherwise. We ended up talking for awhile; over an hour, actually. He told me about what was going on at home and what he wanted to change. He told me about his parents and the way things were with his family. I told him about myself. I opened up to him about some of my past experiences, some similar to his own. By the end of our talk, he was much more receptive and his anger had diminished.

The rest of the week went fine, and at the end of the week I got to do something which I had never done before. Tuesday is the day where the therapists come out and meet with the kids. Before they have their session, they talk with us to get caught up on how the week went and how the kids were. This time, however, I was asked by one of the boy’s therapist if I would sit in and be a part of it. Of course I would! It was such an awesome experience for me. I was able to sit in and listen to them talk while also giving my own input and asking him how he thought he handled different situations and how the week went for him. This particular boy likes to move around a lot. So, for his session we decided to walk and talk. We made it to the top of a nearby cliff and were just talking and discussing anything and everything with him. Even though I do this on a daily basis with the YoungWalkers, it was fun doing it with an actual therapist. After the session was over, the therapist thanked me for being a part of that and expressed that it was really helpful. He then went on to ask me if I would be willing to join the conference call with the boy’s parents when I got off the trail. I happily accepted.

The next week I found out, not only, that I would be with the boys again, but that I would also be the lead TrailWalker. Meaning that I would be, like, the leader of leaders; I was very much intimidated by the title. Also, to add to that—I discovered that I would also be training a new employee. How did this happen? Did I not just go through my own training and trial week? Needless to say, I felt a little extra stress added to me as I went out to the trail.

The boy band had grown since my last week out there—there were six of them. Because we had the staff, it was decided that it would be best to split the boys group in half. I was assigned to three boys and the other three were with other TrailWalkers. We got out there Wednesday, and Thursday morning we were going to begin our hike towards Final D and split the boys for the week. Wednesday when I arrived, I was greeted by none other than my dear mr. pearly white. He came right up to me and said “Look who it is! My favorite TrailWalker!” and gave me a big hug. Soon thereafter, the boys discovered that the band would be splitting. An hour or so later, pearly white asked me to have a sitting with him. He remembered how I had told him that I would always be honest with him and always let him know what was going on, so long as he asked. And so, he asked. “What’s going on with the band?” He wanted to know why they were splitting and what the two groups would be like. We hadn’t planned to tell the boys this information until the next morning when the group was actually to split. But, I kept to my word and told him everything that he asked. Again, I explained that we had no say over the dynamics of the band or who goes with who—we were just doing as we were asked. Unfortunately, my honesty didn’t prevent him from again becoming upset. He expressed the same anger that he had the previous week and there was nothing more I could say or do to make the situation any better for him. So, once again, the hating returned.

Pearly white had become the natural leader of the group. His discontentment with the band splitting soon spread to others. Thursday morning they informed us that they wouldn’t be hiking because they all wanted to stay together. So, we didn’t hike. ANASAZI is all about the YoungWalkers. And that is what I love. We allow them to make their own decisions and we don’t force anything on them, we merely let it happen and experience it all with them. I told them that was fine, but also reminded them of the natural consequences of their choice. If they don’t hike, they might not make it to Final D in time. Meaning, they may not make it to meet with their Shadows. Which means their Shadows will not deliver their family letters to them, nor send any letters out. This also means that they might not make it to Final D to receive their new food pack. Suddenly, they were all very interested to know what would really happen and questions came firing at us: “They can’t just let us starve! …right?” “Well, they have to give us our letters at some point…right?” “If we hike in late, will we be able to get letters out?” I could tell there was some concern, but it didn’t make them decide to hike. Not yet, at least.

So, instead of hiking Thursday—we sat around. The boys fashioned a gym out of our natural surroundings: doing pull ups on branch limbs and lifting heavy rocks as weights. They also wanted to try fishing, convinced that they would need to get some kind of food if they really never did get a new food pack. We fashioned a fish hook out of a cactus barrel spine. However, we didn’t have much luck. All the boys were trying to create division between them and us TrailWalkers. You could tell they really wanted to start some of fight or power struggle. Unfortunately to them, we happily did whatever they wanted. Most of the boys remained fairly respectful to us, though. All except pearly white, that is. He hadn’t talked to me since our last sitting. He wouldn’t reply to my remarks either. Later in the day I playfully asked him, “Why do you just not like responding to me anymore?!” Without even looking at me he walked forward and said, “Maybe because you’re not very fun to respond to.” I don’t know why I was so affected by his attitude and that remark, but I was. I literally just wanted to cry. Even though he was being such a punk, and such a jerk—I loved that boy; he really had become one of my favorites. The previous week that I was out, we had our struggles but we both came out changed and stronger. And now he couldn’t care less. He wanted me to do what he wanted—he wanted me to keep the band together. But that wasn’t in the best interest of the band, or himself. He just couldn’t see that.

Its amazing to me how often I think about parenting when I am out there. I constantly reflect back to my teenage years and think about my parents and their rules set for me. I hated  them. I hated being monitored all the time and I hated the rules and the curfews. Now when I look back, I can see my parents’ points of view. I see how every rule and every guideline had purpose. I just never saw it at the time. One thing that has come to my mind frequently as I have worked at ANASAZI is something my mom would always say. “Parenting is not a popularity contest.” That always seemed stupid to me. I never really understood it. Until being a TrailWalker. The first time it hit me was when I was walking with the girl band—remember the band who couldn’t bust and start a fire? And remember how I wouldn’t start it for them? Not starting a fire for them scored me zero popularity points. In fact, they were very upset with me and the other TrailWalker because they wanted warmth and they wanted food. But, without making them try it themselves and without that temporary discomfort, they would have never had the desire or determination to learn and become more self-sufficient.

As pearly white continued giving me the cold shoulder, my heart began to sink even lower. Not only because of how terrible he made me feel, but because it reminded me of me. I was brought back to the times that my parents tried to reach out to me, only to receive that same cold shoulder. To this day, I get sick to my stomach when I think of how I used to make my mom pick me up from school a block away because I was too embarrassed to be seen in that turquoise Astro van. I would act upset when I got into the car…as if she purposely got that van to ruin my life or something. As much love as my parents would pour out to me, I typically responded with silence or just being plain rude. I was getting a glimpse of how it felt, and it made me sick.

I didn’t know what would happen the rest of the week. I didn’t know if I would be sitting in that same camp spot all week or if they would finally decide to hike. I didn’t know what to do and was just taking it by the moment. (Let’s also remember that I was supposed to be training a new TrailWalker.) I was hoping we could get moving because I was already getting a little stir crazy. However, my biggest concern was how much the boys were fighting against us, even though we weren’t fighting even a little bit. As TrailWalkers, we meet each morning and “pow-wow” to go over maps and discuss anything else that needs to be addressed; its just our time to be away from the YoungWalkers and talk about whatever is on our minds. The boys would mock us by holding their own “pow-wows,” just to purposely exclude us. It was that which I hated. I just hated the division that was being created and hated that pearly white was the leader of it all. I could tell none of the other boys were sincerely upset with us the same way that pearly white was—they just all looked up to him so much that they went along with it.

The next morning we decided that we would try to get any of the boys to hike by telling them that another TrailWalker and I would be leaving towards Final D and those who wanted to come were welcome. There was a lot of talk throughout the morning between the boys, contemplating what to do. I could identify three who were really considering it. One wanted his letters from his parents, another needed to make it to Final D for family camp, and the other just didn’t want all those miles hanging over his head; he wanted to get moving. Sure enough, the three agreed and we were finally able to get on our way. However, it was an extremely long morning as the others would say things to try and sway them to stay. Regardless, they all finally packed up. Before we took off, however, pearly white came to me and asked to have a sitting.

My heart dropped and I wondered what he was going to say to me now. We walked a little away from the group and sat down. He hesitated before speaking, but slowly began telling me that before I left he really felt like he needed to apologize to me. He apologized for being so rude to me. He told me that it was just displaced anger. He said he really felt like he owed it to me to apologize because I had really helped him the last week. He told me how he still remembered that long sitting we had near the cave and how I helped him through some stuff by an experience that I shared with him. Tears began to fill his eyes. He told me that he just wanted to go home, he was just tired of being here, he wanted to go home and he wanted to start making the changes in his life that he wanted. It’s times like this and YoungWalkers like him that keep me loving this job and make the dirt, smell, and bugs all worth it.

We headed out with the three boys and left the others with two other TrailWalkers. The rest of the week was amazing. Immediately after we split the group, the tension was gone and everyone was in a good mood; thus, confirming why the band was to be split in the first place. The weather is getting warmer which is both good and bad. Good, for the obvious reason, I don’t freeze my face off at night as frequently as earlier this year. Bad, because with warm weather comes more bugs and wildlife. That week I saw three, yes three, rattlesnakes. And when I say “see,” I mean within a few feet away from me. I also saw a ginormous centipede. Yeah, you know those really poisonous ones? Also, there were silk worm nests all in the trees. Like, alllllllll in the trees. One night, I was sleeping under some trees, obviously, and kept hearing things falling down. I was so confused because it surely is not fall and leaves shouldn’t be falling right now. And then I look around me and I realize, it is raining caterpillars! Legitly, caterpillars. You know when you’re walking along and you see one little fluffy caterpillar and you think, “ohh, cute! Look at that little caterpillar!” Well, I can assure you that cuteness is lost when a billion are raining from the tree down on your head! All week long I had caterpillars falling on my head, finding them crawling up my back, all over my boots—the list is really endless.

The boys made fun of me. Asking me why I even work there. All because I didn’t like caterpillars raining on my head. Oh I’m sorry, do most people enjoy that? Do most people leap for joy when they find a spider in their sleeping bag? Or when a group of boys catch a frog and put it up your pants?! Yes, it happened. Those punks. One day, after finding a beetle roaming around in my stuff and maybe letting out a little squeal, the youngest boy comes over to me, pats me on the head and softly says, “Ohhh, Jamie. I would shoot for an office job.”

I got to spend my Easter on the trail; it was one that I will always remember. We made it to Final D the Monday after and at our campsite was three decorated hard boiled eggs for each of us. The boys went crazy. They were raving about how it was the best Easter ever! After the long hike, we all dropped our gear and just sat around eating our eggs. Little did they know, there were also individual Ziploc bags filled with candy hidden in a tree. When that was finally revealed, their joy was almost unbearable. We all considered saving and rationing the candy for about .26 seconds and then devoured it all while lying on the ground. Never had skittles and boiled eggs tasted so good.


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The Plunge

So, my blogging has been lagging lately. But only because I have been selfishly indulging myself with a trip home to California and then a getaway with friends to Mexico on my off weeks. I had the best week home and got to spend time with my amazing family and some close friends. Time always flies whenever I go home to those pretty hills in Southern California. I was surprised that when I looked out of the plane below, the first thing I thought when I saw those rolling hill and mountains was that it looked like a fun place to hike around and explore. My job is clearly taking over my mind.


Time goes by unbelievably fast with this lifestyle. Working and living in the wild for eight days and recouping with six days between. I feel like the world is on pause when I’m away and I feel like my off weeks are fastforwarded. I remember getting off the trail the other week and thinking, “Wow, I can’t believe it’s already February.” And now its nearing the end of March. So, forgive me for my inability to accurately refer to weeks and times.

The other week, I was placed as a TrailWalker for the Sinagua group. This means that the individuals in this group are 18 or older. There were only two boys, or more precisely, two men. One was 25 and the other was 30. I was with two male TrailWalkers as well. So being the only girl I felt slightly out of the loop with nightly discussions about what gun we would use to protect ourselves from bears or where we would go if there were a zombie apocalypse. Regardless, my week was amazing. It was a completely different feel from the adolescent groups. It felt like I was on a backpacking trip with friends. Not only were they older and more mature, they sincerely wanted to be there. They weren’t sent by parents or tricked into coming; they were making their own sacrifices to enter this treatment with the hope to better their lives. I was touched by their desires, goals, and continuous achievements with each passing day.

The week was great. We decided to take a completely different route to summit Turret Peak, the tallest peak in our hiking area. This added a good detour onto our hike for the week, but it was well worth it. The view was incredible. After hiking straight up the mountain, when we finally neared the top, we came to the face of a cliff  that we got to free climb up. It was incredible. One of the guys didn’t really want to do this hike at the beginning of the week to save him from additional miles of hiking, but when we reached the top he was nothing but grateful for the journey we chose.

Though there are always endless things to say about each week, I’m going to skip to my most recent week on the trail—because its fresh in my mind! This past week I was placed as a TrailWalker for the girls group along with one other male TrailWalker. I was excited to not be the only girl this time. I was also lucky enough to be with the girl from a couple weeks back who I took out to the trail for her first week. When I hiked into their group Wednesday afternoon, I was greeted with her smiling face as she rushed up to me and wrapped her arms around me and yelled out my name.

This week was to be the longest hiking week, by far. We had more distance to cover than any week prior. I was excited. I love the hiking part—I love spending the day hiking on new terrain, seeing different scenery, and having endless discussions with the YoungWalkers. Little did I know that it would also be the wettest week that I would have; our journey was along the Verde River.

I was excited when I found out that we would be hiking along the Verde, I imagined it would be beautiful scenery and a good change from straight up desert and cacti. I was not disappointed, it was incredible. The river and creek beds were gorgeous, the towering cliffs on each side were breathtaking, and the sun was happily shining. However, the thing about hiking along the Verde is that it turns and zig-zags and paves its way through canyons every which way. This requires crossing the river in order to stay on track. Multiple times. I could not even count how many times we crossed back and forth. Sometimes we were lucky enough and could hop across rocks, or only be up to our ankles in water. Other times we were wading through the water with it up to my chest. And of course, there were those times where I had no idea how deep it was beneath me as my feet never reached the bottom. Regardless of depth, my feet and boots were sufficiently soaked all week long.

Now, I mentioned that this was a long hike. Typically, we can hike well enough to have a layover day on Sunday and still make it to our final destination on Monday. Monday is the day that we are expected to reach our Final D each week because Tuesday is when the YoungWalkers’ therapists come out to meet with them. Upon entering this group, I was unaware that one of the girls was a slow hiker. I quickly discovered this about 26 seconds into the hike. It was my first time being with a slowwwww hiker. It was a great experience; my patience was put to the test. As a group, we never split up. So, we hike the pace of the slowest hiker. This meant that we were moving very, very slowly. She didn’t like climbing rock formations. Out there in the creek bed, there are many rock formations. It’s a lot of rock hoping, rock climbing, and hiking all over rocks—everywhere. Me and the other TrailWalker switched off each day either leading the group at the front, or having one of us in the back with her. She really was a good hiker, she was just still angry about a lot of different things with stuff from back home. She tended to drag herself and never push and hike like she was clearly capable of doing. When we came across rock formations, she would stop and stand there, staring. She always said “I cant do this.” But she always could. And after about a minute of moving around and trying to find another way around, she would eventually try to start climbing over the formation.

There were times when I became frustrated, knowing that she was fully capable of moving across this terrain, at a much faster pace. I had to remind myself that this wasn’t a race. (I can’t help but want to be the first group to reach Final D and, certainly, I did not want to be the last!) I constantly had to put myself in the right perspective; this wasn’t about me. This is about her. It’s about showing her all that she is truly capable of—physically, emotionally, mentally. There was one point where we were hiking up the side of a mountain, a very steep and rocky one. She began to complain, again saying that she couldn’t do it. Her complaining quickly escalated to crying and yelling. She was moving barely a foot with each passing minute. I simply stood beside her with each step and encouraged her to keep going. The two other sweet girls waited at the top, as they were always doing that week—waiting for her. Yet, they never complained. This was a lesson to me. How selfish of me to feel frustrated with this girl who was sent out there, placed in this foreign environment, never having hiked a day in her life prior. She was trying. The other two girls could see that–but I was blinded by my impatience to see this. As the two girls sat up there they were also encouraging her. My heart quickly softened and all I wanted was for this struggling girl to be aware of how amazing she truly was–for even coming this far. Yes, she was slow–but she was constantly moving, she was walking forward in her steps and in her life. As she continued screaming that she couldn’t do it, I assured her each time that she could. The other two girls yelled from above, “We believe in you!” She continued crying and continued yelling, but received nothing but kind words in return. The tears continued rolling down her face. She made it. We all knew she could. She remained quiet after  that and gently walked besides me. I was hiking in the back with her. She turned to me about an hour later and apologized for her behavior. She told me that it was hard for her to hear all the positive comments being made. No one had told her that they believed in her before. She wasn’t used to others having such faith in her, she told me. Her father had never even told her that he was proud of her or loved her until the first letter she received from him once she arrived out there. She looked down as she walked. She continued walking forward as she then said, “This is a great place.”

On another note, I had several unfortunate events that occurred during the week. First off, my face started drying out like crazy and was peeling and gross. I told the girls that I was a dragon face. Because, clearly, I was. Secondly, the bugs in the area had a terrible sense of humor. I was being bitten like crazy. One morning I woke up and my forearms were itching like crazy. When I looked down, I kid you not, I looked like Popeye. Legitly, like Popeye. My forearms were swollen to an immense size. Everyone else found it humorous; I did not. The next morning my left hand got the beating or, more precisely, the biting. It was also swollen and acquired the name of ‘balloon hand.’ With a clenched fist, you would never know that I had knuckles. The following morning my right arm above my elbow was swollen. Apparently two swollen forearms were not enough. As I was hiking one day with my Popeye arms, swollen upper arm, balloon hand, and dragon face, my canteen that hangs over my pack swung in front of me and smacked me right on my upper lip. I tasted the blood and felt it immediately swell up. It was the perfect addition to my already disproportionate body. The group couldn’t help but mock me at this point. Also, the dryness was not only affecting my face. Throughout the day my lips became more chapped. It began to be very painful and there is no such thing as chapstick in the desert. I could feel that the dryness was evident on the outside as well. I looked to one of the girls and asked her how bad my lips were. She plainly looked at me and replied, “I really wouldn’t work here if I were you.”

Sometimes I really do wonder why I work here. Away from normal life for eight days at a time, in the middle of no where, likely freezing, while serving as an open buffet to bugs all around. One of the girls told me that when she first met me weeks ago her first thought was “Why does this girl work here?” She described how she remembered me, “You, with your eyelash extensions, your hair neatly braided down the side, and your bandana tied up to the side like a bow.” Now, I’ve never considered myself a girly-girl of any sort. But I guess I am a little different than the rest of the workers out there. And to them, I am classified to be of the sort. But I promise you, people in, what we like to call RL (real life), would not think the same—am I right? Yeah, living in the woods has a hefty toll on my body with all the bites, cuts, bruises, and rough skin—but it all becomes worth it with each encounter I have with these YoungWalkers.

When we entered into the girls band that week, the girls told us that they had not been busting (starting fire). They told us that the TrailWalkers from the previous week busted all week long for them. Me and the other TrailWalker were taken aback as the YoungWalkers are responsible for starting their own fire. So, we made it clear to them that we would not be busting for them this week. At all. So, the first night came and none of them were able to get a coal. They begged and pleaded that we would start a fire. We happily said that we would gladly help them start a fire; they didn’t care for that response. They became upset and frustrated and eventually gave up and went to bed early. Now, remember that no fire means: no light for the night, no warmth, and no food. I promise you that as TrailWalkers we want that fire just as badly as the YoungWalkers. But, we stuck to our word and went the night without light, warmth, or dinner. With no fire that night, it means there is no fire in the morning—also meaning no warmth and no breakfast. The next day we gathered new wood for their fire sets so that the probability of fire for the night would increase. Success. The girls were so proud of themselves for finally busting and starting a fire. It truly is a priceless thing to see their reaction after finally getting those flames. The next night, however, was not as lucky. One of the girls gave up quickly and stormed off to bed. The other two tried their best to feel around in the dark and continue their effort to start a fire. Again, they begged for us to start one. I hated it. I hated seeing them try so hard and have no success and I hated not being able to do it for them. But we still stuck to our word. After a couple hours in the pitch black and freezing cold, the other two gave up. They were upset with us, but they were kind enough to be playfully upset so as to not hurt our feelings too bad about not starting a fire for them. They climbed in their sleeping bag and started yelling at us as we sat in the darkness reminding them that we were still there to help them if they changed their minds. “You two are the worst TrailWalkers ever!” We happily replied, “We love you!” One of them then yelled out, “I hope a bear comes and eats you both! And then busts for us!” They continued yelling back from their bags only to receive loving remarks in return which undoubtedly annoyed them even more. One girl directed her next criticism at me, “Guess what, Jamie?! One day, Justin Bieber will walk right by you—and he won’t even notice you!” The other girl chimed in to say, “Yes, huh! He will notice you! Want to know why?! Because you are a Popeye dragon face!” I was dying at this point—the comments were getting out of control and more humorous with each remark. They finally got tired and sunk off to sleep. Only to have us all wake up hungry, without another breakfast, and a day of hiking ahead of us.

Now, lets shift back to the Verde River. It was insane! And it was cold. There was one day when I was leading that as I was hiking along the river bank, I saw the river lead into a canyon lined with cliffs. I first tried to make a climb up and over on one side. I quickly discovered that the cliff dropped off and couldn’t even be scaled. To my dismay, I knew the only way to keep going was to cross the river. I could tell that the water was deep as the color became a darker shade through the middle. There was no avoiding it; I had to take the plunge. It took everything I had to act positive and act like this was going to be fun and not painfully freezing. So, I turned to the girls behind me as they fearfully looked at me and said “We’re going for a swim!” Before I could think about it for too long, I pulled off my huge pack and plunged into the river while holding the maps and first aid kit above my head. My breath was immediately taken from me. It was ice cold. And, have you ever tried to swim in boots? I do not recommend it to anyone. It felt as if someone was pulling on my feet from below, trying to sink me. I propelled my feet as fast and swift as I could and barely inched along. It felt like hours before I finally reached a small bank on the other side. I grabbed onto the little vegetation there and pulled myself up, struggling with my pack and gear. I felt like there was no breath left in me. I finally looked behind me to see how the girls were doing. As I stood shivering and panting, I discovered that they had not even gotten into the water yet. I urged them to get in, and get in quickkk. I then reassured them that if I can do it, they surely can do it! It took a little while, but they finally all decided to take the plunge. I stood there, shaking, waiting for them to get to me so I could help lift up their gear and get them onto land. Unfortunately, they never got to me—they began shouting my name halfway across the river, begging me to come help them. I had no time to filter my thoughts, “Are you kidding?! I don’t want to get back in there!” All I hear in reply is, “Jamie! Pleaseeeee!” And so, I got back in that icy river and did my best to swim to them and help get their packs across. After what felt like days, we were finally all to the other side of the river with miles and miles ahead of us waiting to be hiked.

The week was long. We spent every single day hiking, for at least six straight hours. We had no layover day and we didn’t make it to Final D on Monday. We were the last group to make it there, but we made it—Tuesday afternoon. We barely got there in time for the girls to meet with their therapists and receive letters from their family. It was a successful week. The girls pushed themselves farther then they knew possible. Each of them expressed how they never knew they were capable of doing such things—climbing mountains, crossing rivers, starting their own fire with materials gathered from the wild. They compared it to various obstacles that they had in their own lives. If they were capable of all of this, surely they could conquer those things in their lives. We talked about the day we took the plunge into the river. How scary it was to make that plunge and just go for it. What are those things in your life where you just have to have faith in yourself and go for it? Sometimes our fears shadow our capabilities and we never make that plunge, afraid of what may happen and fearful that we won’t be able to overcome it. Too often, we don’t take the plunge. Too often, we guard ourselves from really discovering those capabilities and talents that we have. That week, each girl told me that they realized they are much stronger than they ever gave themselves credit for. We all have more strength then we give ourselves credit for. Do everything in your power to discover that strength. What are you waiting for? Take the plunge.

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Each week is completely different. A new experience; a new beginning. Wednesday morning I woke up early to get to the office for the weekly training we do prior to heading out to the trail. It isn’t until the morning of that we find out which group we will be with for the week. That morning, geared up and ready to go, I found out I would be doing “Rabbitstick.” Rabbitstick is what they call the new group of YoungWalkers. I’m talking the fresh new kids who say goodbye to family, friends, and civilization to go out to do their minimum of six weeks in the wilderness. This meant I wasn’t to leave until Friday morning. I was a little disappointed to find this out as I had come with the expectation that I would be leaving that day. In retrospect, though, I realize that it was where I was meant to be for that week. Not only did I have a different and humbling experience, but I don’t think I was ready to go out that Wednesday morning. The previous day had been a rough one, and my mind wasn’t in the right place. I was having a hard time with some things and with someone and my heart wasn’t completely at peace. The extra day and a half was just what I needed. I was able to take that time to be with some really great people from work and become a little closer with those awesome individuals. It really put into perspective the people that I should choose to surround myself with and prepared me to be the best I could be for the YoungWalker I would spend my week with.

I started with two other TrailWalkers Friday morning. We were paired with one girl. I greeted her in the early morning air as the cab pulled up to the office. I watched her tearfully step out of the cab and, with sadness and anger, say goodbye to her parents. From there, I helped her get all her gear together for the next six weeks. She was anything but happy to be there. She didn’t understand why she was there and angrily voiced her frustration by yelling to me that she doesn’t need to change and just wants to go home to her friends. Despite her frustration, she quickly opened up and we were able to establish a relationship early on which I think made the day a little easier on her. That is, until we actually got to the trail.

“What?! You want me to eat with a STICK?! Are you freakin’ kidding me?!” “No toilet paper?! Leaves?! A rock?!” One can imagine there is much to adapt to when you move out to the wilderness leaving all modern conveniences behind. Turns out, it’s an extremely hard adjustment for teenagers, especially. It wasn’t an easy week for her. Nor was it for me. Saturday morning one of the TrailWalkers had to suddenly leave, leaving me and one other TrailWalker with the girl. He was the experienced TrailWalker, neither of us had ever done a Rabbitstick before so we both felt the pressure. In order to move on and join the groups that are already out there, a number of things must be completed. The YoungWalker is supposed to gather different materials to make a number of items for their time on the trail, including a fire set to bust on (to “bust” means to create enough friction between woods in order to create a coal and then blow and ignite into a fire). Mind you, I barely learned how to bust and teaching a teenage girl who didn’t even want to be there wasn’t the easiest thing to do. We worked on it Saturday; no luck. On Sunday produced the same results. Monday morning I woke up to stoke the fire but the windstorms in the night had put it completely out. This meant that unless we started another fire, we wouldn’t be eating breakfast. We really wanted to stress the importance of being able to be self-sufficient and turned the responsibility over to our YoungWalker. She was still unable to bust. So, we packed up and moved to our next campsite with empty stomachs.

The other TrailWalker left me that Monday morning, leaving only me and the girl. We were close to the other groups, but she was unable to join the girl band until she started her own fire. I worked on it with her all day. Allllll dayyyy. All day I sat by her and taught and critiqued the way she was handling her fire set. Each time she started to produce a lot of smoke, getting closer to producing a coal, she got tired and stopped. This became extremely frustrating. We went through three different fireboards and spindles as she wore out the wood with each try. This also meant that we went all day without food. No fire; no food. However, the no food part served as great motivation for this YoungWalker to keep trying. Regardless, she never busted. That night, another TrailWalker joined us. He was actually the TrailWalker who trained me. I was so relieved and happy to see him. He was kind enough to stay the night with us and keep us company. We also decided that, at that point, it would be fine to start a fire as the YoungWalker and I had a day of hiking and endless busting with no food. My lentils never tasted so good.

That night, we were told there was a 30% chance of rain. 30% chance barely means anything, right? I looked up and saw a clear night’s sky with the stars shining as bright as ever; not a cloud in sight. I figured I didn’t need to put up a shelter, and the other TrailWalker was on the same page as me. Plus, I am still the owner of two very crappy and no-so-waterproof tarps. So, I just rolled out my sleeping bag and threw my useless tarp over me as a blanket. Not an hour went by before I woke up to the rain dropping down on me. I heard my companion TrailWalker yell “It’s raining!” However, it was fairly light and when I looked up, the sky still looked clear. It was strange. But I really felt like it would just stop so I curled the tarp over my head and prayed to myself, “please stop, please stop, pleaseeeee stoppp!” And it did; it stopped. The other TrailWalker threw the YoungWalker’s tarp (a good and waterproof one) over her and we both slipped back into sleep. Again, not an hour went by before I woke up once more to the rain coming down. This time, quicker and harder. And, this time, it didn’t stop. I jumped out of my bag, only in my thermals (my crazy striped New Zealand poly props to be precise), and the TrailWalker and I ran to the fire. We also yelled at the YoungWalker and told her it was raining and to set up shelter but she was out of it! I still do not know how she slept through it all, but she did. She seemed safe under her tarp so we left her and saved the fire. We threw on all the firewood we had to build it up while we could before all the wood got soaked. At this point, the rain turned to heavy hail and all our stuff was on the ground, exposed and vulnerable to the wet. We were torn between saving ourselves and our stuff or saving the fire. We quickly threw the rest of the wood on the fire and rushed to our gear. Thank goodness he was there; he literally saved my life. He took his two good tarps and put together a shelter that would have taken me a good 20 minutes to make in less than 3 minutes. It was big enough for us to fit all our stuff underneath. We were even going to have our YoungWalker join us under the shelter but she remained in her deep sleep, apparently dry under her tarp, so we left her. Thanks to my TrailWalker, I was only partially soaked and was able to get an almost decent amount of sleep the remainder of the night.

I was nervous when I woke up the next day. All I wanted was for her to bust so we could move on and join the girl band. We started early that morning and she continued trying the remainder of the day; no luck. She had it. I knew she could do it, I knew she was capable of it, but something was stopping her. Each time she got close, she would stop because she got tired or the spindle would slip out from the fireboard preventing the coal to ever form. She was just as frustrated as I was. She wanted to move on just as badly and she hated that this one thing was holding her back. Tuesdays are special days on the trail, however. It’s the day that YoungWalkers get letters from their family. It would be the first time that this YoungWalker received any letter. That afternoon, the letters were delivered from the therapists that come out to the trail to meet with the walkers each week. When my YoungWalker received her letters, she angrily threw her fire set aside and slumped down by the fire to read what her parents wrote. I can’t really explain it but, as I watched her, I watched the anger slip away from her and something come over her; she looked peaceful. Once she had finished, she quietly set down her letters. I looked at her, smiled, and asked her if she could try busting once more for me. She got down on her knees by her fire set as she had been doing for the past three straight days, and gave it another shot. And guess what? She busted. I can’t even describe the smile that came across her face. Before she got too excited though, I reminded her that she still needed to blow it into her tinder bundle and ignite the coal to a flame. It isn’t rare for the coal to die out once it’s placed into the bundle and the last thing I wanted was for that coal to die. I carefully talked her through the process and tried to calm her excitement in order to carry out the process without dropping it, blowing too hard, or suffocating the coal. She gently placed it into the bundle, softly blew, kept blowing, and…it ignited. I don’t think I have ever screamed so loud. I became a 16 year old girl as I screamed and jumped around with her in excitement.

That day, I experienced something that I never hoped, nor expected, to experience in the desert of Arizona. Snow. Yes, snow. That Tuesday evening it started to snow. In the desert. In Arizona. I was not thrilled about it. Luckily, this time, I had prepared myself and set up a shelter. The good thing about snow is that it is a little less wet than rain. I only got a little wet but remained sufficiently freezing. For some reason, when I envisioned moving to Arizona and working in the wilderness, snow and being so unbearably cold was not the first of my concerns. However, it has now made it to the top of the list of my concerns.

The rest of the day was great. We were able to finally join the girl band and my YoungWalker was ecstatic. I got to have my first “Fire Stepping” with her. I was able to sit down with her and ask her how she felt after she started that fire for her first time. She told me that she couldn’t explain the feeling, it was surreal and she felt so, so happy. She had never imagined she was capable of starting a fire with wood that she had simply gathered from the wilderness. We discussed how carefully it all had to be carried out and how much work goes into producing the coal and igniting that flame. I likened it to her seeds of greatness. I identified all the seeds of greatness that I see in her. I told her that she has the capability of growing those seeds to produce fruits; just as she successfully worked to produce that flame. I asked her about fire. We talked about how even when the flame is lit, you still have to work to keep the flame going by adding wood, stirring the coals, blowing to ignite—it is an endless process; just as it is in our lives. I had an awakening of my own. I thought about some things that I have worked to ignite in my life, only to walk away from that flame and let it die. It reminded me that I can’t just expect those things to always be burning bright when I haven’t taken the time and effort to keep them going. It’s something I need to constantly tend to, just like I need to constantly tend the fire in order to keep it burning. If I simply started a fire and did nothing to keep it going, I would never receive the warmth and light that it brings me. I want that warmth and light in my life and I realize that it’s not fair to expect it when I don’t do my part to keep those flames inside of me going.

Keep that fire burning bright; I know that you can.

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Navigating the destination


Tonto National Forest; my home away from home

This week was the opposite of the last. I went from being the only girl with eight boys to being with only one other girl TrailWalker and a 16 year old girl; girls week. The week was awesome. I was paired with the best TrailWalker who helped me out with just about everything. I am slowly becoming more comfortable out there with each additional mistake that I make. And trust me, there are countless mistakes to be made, and that have been made.

The 16 year old girl was nothing but sweet. She had a past that made your heart sink. I immediately fell in love with this YoungWalker and the way that she carried herself. She was strong and she was determined. The hike didn’t seem too bad this week. It seemed fairly short and we thought we could get to final D (our final destination) in no time. This week I was also ‘privileged’ to be the leader several times; something I wasn’t looking forward to. Navigating the wilderness with a topographic map and GPS may sound fairly simple. Let me assure you, it is not. Needless to say, I got us lost my first day as the leader. What appears to be a decently sized creek/river bed on the map doesn’t necessarily mean that there is even any water in that creek bed. Which, I discovered, was the case on this hike. I’m still not sure how it all happened, but I do know that I missed that turnoff into the creek bed that seemed to be the best route to our final D. So, what looked like about mile distance on the map turned into a good 5 miles as I lead us through the wrong creek bed, up and over a couple mountains, and led us to jump over and crawl under three different barbed wire fences. After several hours, we finally made it to that creek bed I should have followed from the start. Now, if I were a YoungWalker and my TrailWalker was leading me every which way, clearly not knowing where they were going, I am pretty sure I would be more than slightly upset with them. However, this girl didn’t voice one complaint the whole day. And you could tell she was struggling. The day before she had been sick. I assure you, this was not the way she wanted to spend the following day as she recovered from whatever illness it was that she had. She remained patient and silent the whole day. Towards the end of the hike she twisted her knee as we climbed over one of the many fallen trees we encountered. This girl is tough. She is the kind of person where, if she says she is in pain, she really is in pain. She was unable to continue hiking so I scouted out some kind of camping spot near any source of water. The best thing I could find was the slope of a rocky mountain with a pocket of water below in the dried out creek bed. The next morning we all found ourselves several feet lower than where we had initially put our sleeping bags as we slowly slipped down the mountain side through the night.

Where is Siri when you need her?

The next day wasn’t much easier. As helpful as those topographic maps may seem, they do not account for all the brush, trees, boulders, and cat claw that become obstacles to our destination. “Bush whacking” is what we call it. And that is exactly what we did, all day. We were not on an open pathway for more than two minutes at a time. Our day was spent climbing over trees, making our way through bushes, pulling off the cat claw that latches onto you with each step, and walking through endless bushes and brush. Let’s also not forget the cacti that are everywhere. Dodging it with every step became nearly impossible. I, unfortunately, had more than a couple encounters with it. I was amazed at how those spikes could go straight through my pants and deep into my legs. I had to pull down my pants multiple times to remove each spike that made its way into the flesh of my legs. It even went straight through the sides of my boots into my feet. I was not a fan. Halfway through the day, however, after making our way through the thick of the wild we noticed a lot of piled rocks around us in a clearing. It took us a moment to realize that we had come across a huge area of ancient Indian ruins. It was incredible. There were pottery shards everywhere. There were rooms that had been dug into the earth with rock walls built on all four sides. The TrailWalker I was with said she had never seen anything like it. There were no signs that marked the grounds like typical ruin sites; it appeared untouched and was apparent that very few people had ever come across it. It was incredible to think that a whole little village once occupied that territory right there, in the middle of nowhere. We spent a while walking around and discovering many different artifacts left behind by the Indians. We had to continue on our hiking soon after in order to get as far as possible before the sun set. Because the terrain of brush and trees significantly slowed us down that day, we didn’t make it to the area we hoped to make it to. After reaching the last summit of the day and practically falling down the other side from its steepness, we made it into the canyon that would eventually take us to final D. We quickly found a ledge on one side of the canyon big enough for the three of us to lay out our sleeping bags near another pocket of water.

That hike was easily the most intense one of the week. It became one of those days where every trip, every fall, and every branch that hit you in the face, added onto the frustration of the journey. I could tell that our YoungWalker was at that point where her patience was at its max. Regardless, she kept her mouth shut and didn’t complain. The only thing that came from her mouth was the groans and sighs of frustration as she continuously tripped over loose rocks or slipped down the steep mountainside. In the end, however, that hike strengthened all of us. That night by the fire, the girl told me how hard the day had been for her. But she also told me that she realized something, she had an awakening. She said that sometimes when she tripped or fell, she would grab onto a small branch from a bush or shrub. These small limbs did nothing to prevent her from falling. It was only when she held on and grabbed at those things with a strong foundation that saved her from another fall. She realized that she needed those things in her life that would prevent her from slipping and falling and hurting herself. She realized that some friends, places, and substances in her life were those weak branches that only led her to fall and stumble. She identified several things in her life, like her family, which could serve as those strong foundations to keep her on her feet and allow her to continue walking forward as she embarks on a new beginning once she returns home.


the making of my first dream catcher

As my first official, official week on the trail, I was finally given an Anasazi trail name. This naming is very sacred to the walking you do on the trail and every individual, both YoungWalkers and TrailWalkers receives an individualized name. I was privileged to be named by my awesome co-TrailWalker, Brittany. Trail names are given as a physical representation of the seed of greatness that lies within each of us. The person that you are and the person you are becoming are represented in the name. Along with the naming, I was given a naming speech to explain why that name was given. Names come from the elements of nature that surround us as they can represent so many characteristics, personalities, and aspirations. I’ve discovered that every element in nature can serve as an incredible metaphor to our lives. The name I was given is ‘Rolling Waters.’ I love the name. First because “water” was in it. I love water. ‘Rolling Waters’ reminded me of the waves of the ocean, and I love the ocean. But I loved the name even more after Brittany explained its meaning. For having known me for only a matter of days, I feel like Brittany really chose a name that I felt just fit me. Here’s a little from naming speech given to me:

“ ‘How long can rolling waters remain impure?’ As you move forward and push towards your goals the process can do nothing but refine you. In your journeys you have picked up many lessons and concepts and you allowed those things to shape you and have influence on the path you choose to take. As the water moves through the land it creates a path; even in the absence of the water it invites others to follow its lead. You invite others to do the same…Follow the lessons of the water and allow yourself to be nourished as well. As you learn more about the waters you will learn more about yourself; the talents you now have and the ones you can develop.”

Brittany told me she was surprised by how quickly the name came to her. She told me that she immediately knew water would be part of my name but was searching for a descriptive adjective. She said she envisioned me as water journeying and moving through hills, canyons, and different lands. She said once she recalled that question, originally from a song, stated at the beginning of my naming speech, she knew Rolling Waters was the perfect fit.

The week was good and the week was exhausting. I came off the trail with over 48 gnat bites on my arms alone. Scratches and cuts from the cat claw all over my arms and legs—even when I wore long pants all the time? I was craving a bed to sleep on and I was craving a warm night’s sleep. However, I was sad to leave the girl. We became close that week and I had an incredible experience by simply watching her transform and continue to make decisions and choices that will put her back on that right path. It gave me a new perspective to that first day when I lead and got us all lost. I missed the turnoff to that creek bed which could have spared us a day of hiking. But I eventually found it again. Doesn’t that happen to all of us in our lives, though? We may miss the turnoff for different reasons, but it happens to everyone. Sometimes we miss that direct path to where we are supposed to go; that doesn’t mean that we can’t find our way back. We always have the opportunity to get back on the right track; it’s just not always easy. It wasn’t easy when I tried to navigate over the mountains, barbed wire fences, and all the brush. With the right determination and willpower, though, it’s possible. It’s always possible to make those changes in our life, and it’s never too late.


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trial week

First of all, I can’t thank all of you who expressed words and encouragement to me before I left last week enough. You guys are honestly the greatest and your remarks literally helped me to power through the week. Which brings me to my post, my trial week.

the before

8 days; no shower-#greasyhair

This past week was the last step of training. It was Anasazi’s way of seeing if I am a right fit for them and if I am capable of being a TrailWalker. The week was crazy. It was intense, awesome, cold, rough, exhausting, and completely eye opening. Wednesday morning I gathered with the other TrailWalkers for a brief training before we set out to the trail for the week. That morning I found which group, referred to as a “band,” that I would be placed with. I was hoping I would be with the girls because I felt that it would be easier for me to connect with them. Apparently the girl band was not where I was meant to be, however. I was placed as a TrailWalker for the boy band. Not only that, but I was also the only girl TrailWalker of the boy band; making me the only girl out of nine. I immediately knew I was in for a serious adventure.

We had five teenage boys in our group. The youngest being 12 and the oldest, 17. I really couldn’t have asked for a better group. I was so impressed by their personalities and as shocking as it may seem, their maturity. These boys had some extremely rough pasts, but they were clearly there for the right reasons and each aimed for improvement. The entire week there was no conflict between any of them. They never picked on each other and were always positive and cooperative. They were also awesome hikers and we never had to wait on any of them, regardless of the intensity of the hikes. This week’s hike wasn’t too long. From our start to final destination, we probably did about 25 miles. We passed through a beautiful creek canyon and hiked up and down several mountains. I was misled by the job title of “TrailWalker” that I would be hiking on a trail. This was not the case. It was simply a matter of getting from point A to point B, navigating and making our own trail through the cacti and brush along the way.

So let’s back up a bit, though. When I finally got to the trail Wednesday afternoon, I was greeted by these five boys circling the campfire, hidden behind several layers of dirt on their skin, waiting for their new food packs. Each week when the TrailWalkers switch out, the new ones bring in the food packs for those on the trail. I quickly found out that those boys fly through those food packs and deplete their most precious items early on in the week; thus, very anxious for the new pack to arrive. The food pack consists of pretty basic items, all of which are to be cooked directly on the fire throughout the week. My favorite items were sunflower seeds, lentils, raisins, and oatmeal. The pack contains several different grain products like whole wheat flour and noodles, brown rice, and cornmeal. I pretty much ate lentils every night and plain oatmeal every morning. By the end of the week I was really craving something less mushy. The boys taught me how to be creative with the packs and actually taught me a lot of cool recipes with the items. The boys also taught me a lot of other stuff, far more than I taught them.

you would never know these were brand new; thank you cat claw for tearing up my gear and myself

The first night I was there, one boy taught me how to build my shelter. Let’s remember that I have no tent. Rather, I have a poncho/tarp that I use with some packing string and bandannas to make a “shelter.” The poncho that was given to me and the other trainees was actually the wrong shipment of the kind. I found out halfway through the week that this specific poncho is far from waterproof when the weather decided to turn on me and it rained. That night, the water came straight through that tarp and soaked about everything that I had. It even managed to come into my sleeping bag through the zipper on the side. My worst fear had occurred: being cold and being wet. Things could have been worse. It could have kept raining and it could have rained harder. It was lucky that the raining ceased the next day and I was able to dry out most of my stuff; however, the cold decided to stick around. It wasn’t as cold as the 16 degrees at my training last week, but it was cold enough to wake up to my sleeping bag covered in ice each morning. The nights and mornings really got the best of me. In order to make a shelter, you needed to be by trees to tie the tarp to. This often meant sacrificing decent sleeping group to be close to a tree. Thus, many nights were spent sleeping on a 50 degree angle, sliding down the hill through the night, and one night was even spent with a boulder, the size of two bowling balls, directly under my legs. I would take five boulders over the cold, however. During the nights, I would wake up periodically from my body shaking and shivering. Each night from 1am-3am I also had to brave the cold to go outside as I sat and took my night shift, making sure all the boys were there and safe. However, I think the most frustrating thing of all was due to my bladder. I am truly incapable of going a whole night without waking up having to go to the bathroom, even when I go right before bed! Every night I had a war with myself deciding if it was worse to be extremely uncomfortable and hold it till the morning or brave the chilly cold air and wander through the dark away from the boys to go to the bathroom. I still don’t know which is worst.

Now I just feel like I am complaining, so let me switch gears. The week was awesome. As I said before, I had an amazing group. I learned so much and became so humbled by my experience. How is it that whenever I am on the pursuit to help others, I always come out getting so much more than I gave? It happened again. I blame it on those five sweet boys. The boys who taught me how to turn my sleeping bag into my backpack for our  hikes. The boys who attempted to keep me safe from the rain. The boys who taught me how to make my lentils taste like teriyaki. The boys who taught me that there really is such a thing as a new beginning.

Each night we had a fire circle. For each fire circle, we come up with something to talk about. We set aside all our joking and movie quoting that take place all throughout the day, and we take things seriously. We talked about what we’ve learned from being out on the trail, what we want to improve, how we can be better, what our family means to us, and anything and everything that seems important to talk about. It was at those fire circles where the cold seemed to go away. I stopped being so concerned about my chattering jaw and shaking knees as I was in awe by the words and profound thoughts coming from these young boys. They all have rough backgrounds, regrets and mistakes, and a past that they want to leave behind. Drug addictions, alcohol abuse, attempted suicides, conflicts, the list was long and the list was heartbreaking. But their hope was promising. All five of them were there, in the middle of who knows where, together with the same goal; to have a new beginning. They expressed realizations, in Anasazi terms called “awakenings.” They expressed how their time out there away from friends, television, internet, phone, and all the other modern day distractions has allowed them to see where they took a wrong turn. The actions and words of their parents that they had always fought so hard against transformed into actions and words of love; they realized how much their family means to them. One boy expressed a simple and profound thought for a 16 year old boy, “I realized how much my family means to me. I realized that my parents really do care about me, and they really do know what is best for me.

This week was the first week for two of the boys, a middle point for one, and the last week for the other two. It was amazing to see the differences of the boys who just got there and the ones who were on their sixth, and last, week. It’s amazing what time away from our daily life can do, what realizations can occur without the many distractions that overwhelm us on a daily basis. These boys are finding themselves. They’re learning things about themselves that I really don’t think they would find or discover without leaving those distractions behind. Something about nature brings us closer to truth. It gets us down to the basics and essentials of life and allows us to evaluate our thoughts, actions, beliefs, and goals with a clearer mind and with a greater purpose.

Leaving the trail on Wednesday I felt exhausted, physically and emotionally exhausted. But I felt good. My concerns were still there, however. Will I really be able to handle this? Spending more time in the wilderness than actual civilization for the next few months? I thought about the cold, about my inability to start a fire with sticks quite yet, my difficulty transforming my sleeping bag into a backpack, and I felt the bruises on both my hips from the rough nights’ sleep that week. I began talking to another TrailWalker on the ride home who had been working with Anasazi for awhile, voicing my concerns. He’s from southern Louisiana; great guy, rough past, funny accent. He told me things will get easier with time, that those skills are the least of my worries. The only thing I need to worry about is if my heart is in the right place. “Ima call things like they are, if you suck, then hells yeah, don’t do this. But, Girl, you don’t suck; you tough, you got this. If you quit now, Ima call you a quitter like you are.” I laughed and thought about it for a little. I realized that I really didn’t want to quit, I really do want to pursue this journey. I was just still so worried about my capabilities and if I really can help these brave YoungWalkers out here ready to change and move forward in their life.

I kept running the week through my head, thinking what I could have done better, thinking about the cold nights, and wondering why it was that I was even doing this. It was as if he read my mind… “Girl, why you here? I know you ain’t here for the money. You got straight teeth, a Bachelor degree, and you’re twenty-one; the world is in your hands. You lookin for something here, and Girl, you gonna find it. You just wait.”

Thursday afternoon I had my followup interview. They offered me the job; I accepted.

I go back to another week on the trail this Wednesday. Wish me luck and wish me warmth.


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a new beginning

The last little while has been really, very much, crazy. For a quick recap, here’s what has been going on: I finished up my very last semester at BYU. That’s right, I’m an official graduate. My Bachelors of Science is in Psychology. I feel so official. Crazy, right? I packed up my little Honda Civic, as I’ve done far too many times in the last 3 & a half years, and left that town called Provo. I went home to be with my family and friends for my absolute favorite time of the year. I had an amazing Christmas. My family is incredible and I enjoyed every minute spent with them. Even if it included playing games, which I despise:) and then I packed up that Honda Civic once more and set out to start another little adventure. And here I am, in Mesa, Arizona.

Not the place you would picture me, right? With my love of Christmas snow, pretty beaches, and traveling to exotic places…why Arizona, you may ask? It’s all because of this foundation called Anasazi. For the past several months I have been going through the application process to get a job with this organization. It’s a nonprofit and is a treatment program for adolescents (as well as 18 & older) who are struggling with different issues. This could include behavioral problems, learning disorders, social disorders, depression, anxiety, eating disorders, substance abuse, etc. Anasazi uses wilderness therapy as a means to help these individuals with these problems. Anasazi believes in new beginnings and believes there is a seed of greatness in every individual. There is no force involved, no punishment and it’s not a boot camp. Anasazi approaches these issues differently and, instead, provides constant love and support to these individuals as they walk the trail in the wilderness of Arizona while learning survival skills, working with others, and discovering themselves in a pure, natural, and primitive way. I was privileged with the opportunity to be invited to the training for the position of a TrailWalker.

As a TrailWalker I will have the responsibility of being with the adolescents, known as YoungWalkers, all the time. And by all the time, I really mean all the time. 24/7. I will be out in the field with them for eight days straight and will have six days off in between. This means that I will even trade off night shifts with my other TrailWalkers to ensure that they are safe. At all times. Before arriving at the training, I was cautioned that this will, without doubt, be the hardest job I will ever have. I believed them when they told me this, but I never expected how much I would be challenged and pushed until now. And to be quite honest, I still cannot even comprehend the challenges that I will undoubtedly encounter; I have barely even had the full experience yet.

Training started the 3rd and has been going each day with the last one today. The very first day of training they took us straight to the wilderness. Now, not to be prideful in any way, but I’ve kind of seen myself as slightly hardcore. I mean, I traveled all over the south pacific with nothing but a backpack and tent, I lived in Thailand over the summer sleeping on the floor and using squatter toilets, kayaked islands in Fiji, etc. But I can honestly say that my ‘hardcoreness’ was severely challenged this past week. None of my previous experiences could have prepared me for this. For those of you who know me, you know that one of my biggest fears is being cold. Coldness brings out the worst in me. So, when they told me that I came at a great time and it would probably be 50 degrees that night, I gave a slight shutter at that not-so-california-temp but sucked it up because I figured I could deal with 50. That night, I don’t think I slept for more than three minutes at a time. I don’t even know if I slept. I was freezing. FREEZING, I say! There was no possible way that it was 50! My feet were numb and in severe pain. I kept spinning in circles in my mummy sleeping bag to get some warmth but nothing helped. In the morning, when I finally decided to wake get up, I zipped out of my bag only to find ice encompassed over the top of my sleeping bag. I pick up my two canteens that were beside me in the night and noticed that they are ROCK HARD. No swish when you shake it back and forth; indeed, they were frozen solid. 50 degrees? I think not. One of the guys in our group had a thermometer on his watch and informed me that during the night he stuck it outside of his bag to check the temperature, also convinced it was colder than 50. Turns out it was 50. Minus 34. 16 degrees, people!

The days were fine, but the nights got the best of me. Even with my double layering of wool socks and standing pretty much on top of the campfire flames, my feet never warmed up. I began to really doubt my capabilities in the night. How could I look out for a group of YoungWalkers if I was miserably cold? How could I stay positive and put them before myself? My confidence in my abilities began to diminish. On top of the cold, the reality of living a primitive lifestyle in the wilderness continued to sink in with my discovery, or lack thereof, of a few things: no toilet paper—use leaves…or a rock? ; no toothpaste—here’s some baking soda…or water. ; no spoon—find a stick and brush off the dirt ; no matches—gather some sticks and create some really good friction ; no sleeping pads—push a pile of leaves underneath you ; no waterbottles—find a creek and make sure you use chlorine to purify it ; this list would be too long if I even tried to finish it…

I survived the three days. Tomorrow I go out to do the real thing, though. Eight days on the trail with the YoungWalkers. Above is a picture of my gear for those eight days. Yup, that’s about it. I can honestly say that I don’t think I have been as nervous and anxious for something as I am now. I really am excited, I’m just so concerned if I’ll be able to do this! I imagine that the dynamics will drastically change when I am surrounded by those YoungWalkers and hoping that some kind of ability and mentality will emerge from myself that I couldn’t find those three nights when I was freezing out there in the wilderness. I really am excited, though. The more I have learned about Anasazi, the more I want to be a part of it and that has continued to push me along. I have also received so much love and support from close friends and family. I don’t think they realize how much it has meant to me, especially this past week. The past little while has had its ups and downs but has truly shown me those people in my life that I can always, and undoubtedly, count on. I can’t thank you enough for that support, you believing in me gives me a little more hope for myself. I only hope I can be as good of support to the YoungWalkers on the trail as my family and friends are to me in my life.  Though there is plenty more left to say, I better wrap this one up. Because now I’m on a search to find a thicker and fleece-ier jacket to keep me warm the next eight days. Goodbye civilization; Jamie vs. Wild time. Wish me luck.



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