I was online the other day and stumbled on a map of Utah and one name jumped out at me: Strawberry Reservoir. This was because that particular location was the final camping spot in my “Survival” experience when I was a teen. If this is the first post you’ve read about Survival, make sure you catch up by reading the three previous posts so that you have an understanding of why the wilderness and I will never be close friends.
After the debacle of my last hike, where every person in my group got lost and basically had to be rescued, the leaders decided to switch up the groups a bit. Perhaps they figured that putting me in a new group, with several people who had made it to the previous rendezvous point unscathed, would be helpful for my navigation skills. They were wrong – very, very wrong.
Our goal was to take a trail over a ridge, and then we would hit a dirt road, where we would walk from “Sixth Water” to “First Water” – where the next camping spot would be. Don’t ask me what the “Waters” were – I still have no idea – but the instructions sounded simple and I was thrilled when our trail DID actually lead to a dirt road. However, that was where things got dicey – because we hadn’t been told which DIRECTION to take when we found the road. After a hasty conference, we began walking again – hoping we had picked correctly and would be to our destination soon.
We walked, and walked, and walked – and soon the sun was high in the sky. We spotted a pickup truck ahead of us, parked near a group of trees and, when we got closer, we saw two couples enjoying a picnic lunch under the trees. We approached them to ask if we were headed in the right direction were told that we were at Fifth Water – so we just needed to keep following the road and eventually we would make it to First Water. We were only half listening to them at that point, as we had noticed they had soda, beer, and plenty of food spread out on their blanket – and it was well past lunch time. Perhaps the group noticed this, because one of the women asked us if we would like a drink or a sandwich.
So, here’s the deal about Survival: before you were even allowed on the bus the first day, you had to agree to all sorts of rules – no drinking, no drugs, and absolutely no accepting rides, food, or other assistance from anyone not associated with the program. If you did any of this, and you were caught, you would be expelled immediately and be escorted back to civilization. Your parents would be called to pick you up early and, since they were probably counting on a full, peaceful week without you or your attitude, things would probably not end well.
We looked longingly at the food and drinks, but before I could come up with a response of my own, a few of the “die hard” Survivalists (those who really bought into the experience), shook their heads so violently they were in danger of having their brains shoot out their ears. They proclaimed on behalf of all of us that we were not allowed to partake and they thanked the couples for both the offer and the directions and we again set off down the road, with a few of us casting yearning glances back at the cans of Pepsi that were glistening in the sun. In about an hour, just after we had passed “Forth Water,” the truck passed us as the couples returned to civilization. They honked and waved as they went around a bend and it was about that time we realized that we had neglected to ask them how far it was to First Water.
My cousin Bruce, who was a strange, quiet, anti-social sort, had also been sent on Survival and he happened to be in my group that day. As we began to complain again about our hunger and look through our pockets for leftover TVP (texturized vegetable protein) or raisins, he began to lag behind the group. I heard a rustling sound and glanced behind me – to see my cousin pulling a piece of chicken out of his jacket pocket. Now, if you’ve read my earlier stories, you probably have figured out that this chicken had been butchered and cooked more than 36 hours previously – and had not been refrigerated since. Bruce, who apparently was a bit of a hoarder, had squirreled some chicken away for emergencies and decided that now was a good time to get some nourishment. At that point, I didn’t think about the dangers of food poisoning – because I was HUNGRY dammit! I slowed down a bit so that he caught up with me.
The chicken had heated up a bit in my cousin’s pocket and I actually caught a whiff of the roasted chicken smell. My mouth started watering and I stuck my hand out surreptitiously (I had done the division and decided there was barely enough chicken for two of us). Bruce looked at me and shook his head before calmly taking another bite. I was stunned! I mean, this was my COUSIN – my own flesh and blood relative – and he seemed content to let me wither away from hunger while he gorged on a salmonella feast! Granted, I hadn’t really interacted with him until this moment – but still! I glared at him and raised my eyebrows in what I hoped was a threatening manner while I stuck out my hand again. Bruce gave me a faint smile and took another large bite, and then another, and then he sucked on the bones a bit before tossing them to the ground. I briefly considered retrieving the bones to see if any scrapes of flesh were still clinging to them, but by that point, they were covered in dirt and grit.
I can’t tell you how far we walked that day – all I remember is that we would let out a cheer each time we would pass a “water” – but they were few and far between (and the cheers got weaker and less enthusiastic as time passed). When we finally did reach First Water, it was getting dark, so we picked up the pace – eager to have a hearty meal after our day of famishment (PS, that IS a real word, I promise!) We saw the counselor’s trucks parked near a fire, but did not see any of our fellow survivalists. Could they have also taken the long road?
A counselor met us before we made it to the fire and congratulated us for being the last to arrive (and yes, that was written in my snarky voice). He informed us that we weren’t quite done walking yet, as our three-day “solo” experience was starting. Everyone else had already been escorted to their camping spots – and he was now going to take us to ours. We followed him up the canyon and, every so often he would stop, point out a clearing and send one of us there with strict instructions to STAY there and NOT interact with any other survivalist, on pain of expellation from the program (and no, apparently that is NOT a real word – but it certainly SHOULD be!) Like the others, when my turn came, I was given a flint and steel and a small bag with a couple of potatoes, carrots, and some more of that delicious TVP, and a tin can to use as a pot. As I made my way to my designated clearing to attempt to make some sort of shelter with the tarp that was in my backpack, I never felt quite so alone…but that feeling was soon to change (and that is another story).