The author, grinning and bearing it.
Great Adventure By Wendy Sachs
rapped like a burrito in a wet wool blanket, I’m draped under a suffocating rain poncho, my pink pom-pom ski hat poking out under the hood. I crouch on a garbage bag stuffed with a smorgasbord of supplies, my head slipping precariously close to a cactus. Mosquitoes swarm my face. Lightning crackles above the southern Utah desert sky. Is that a bear or a rock in front of me? I think I’m hallucinating. I take half an Ambien and two children’s chewable Benadryl and start talking to God. Please let this night end soon. More than anything, I just hate being damp. So how did I, a city/suburban mom (work in the city, live in the suburbs), wind up spending a night utterly alone in the Utah wilderness? Welcome to my tale of survival school. I am a compulsive goal setter with lots of things I hope to accomplish in this lifetime: climbing Machu Picchu, learning to tango, whipping up the perfect omelet, to name a few. But going to survival school was never on my bucket list until I started representing explorer extraordinaire Josh Bernstein. Josh, the handsome, cowboy-hat-wearing host of Discovery and History Channel fame, owns the Boulder Outdoor Survival School (BOSS)—the oldest survival school in the country. About two months ago, when a national magazine called to say that a big-time editor whom I will call H wanted to experience survival school firsthand, I seized on an opportunity. “Lose yourself in the wilderness, find yourself in the process,” the BOSS Web site promised. So survival school was going to be about me, which seemed perfect given my constant cravings for more me time ever since becoming a mommy eight years ago. Kids, work and life
can suck the sparkle right out of you. Because my former therapist always encouraged me to nourish “my authentic self” during my cyclical “Is this all there is to life?” conundrums, BOSS seemed, at least theoretically, like a brilliant escape and a whole lot less self-indulgent than a week at a spa. It’s physically daunting (an up to 15-mile-aday hike with little food or water), spiritually enlightening (after 15 miles without food or water, you become delirious) and mentally stimulating (bloody hell, I am going to be by myself for 24 hours, alone in the wilderness!). The upside … you apparently lose weight, and learn crafty skills like how to transform a blanket into a backpack, how to carve a utensil out of bark and how to start a fire without matches, which will definitely impress my son. Plus, the scenery is magnificent. Embracing the challenge, I’m ready to dig deep, tough it out, survive without moisturizer and my twice-daily double tall lattes. The BOSS course is about confidence, harmony with nature and shedding the excess. When I told my friends I was leaving civilization to go mano a mano with the wilderness without a tent, a sleeping bag, sunglasses, flashlights, toothpaste or bottled water, let alone a BlackBerry, everyone thought I was either insane or trying to kick a secret cocaine habit. My husband, Michael, was more encouraging but nervous and practical—thrusting into my hands an emergency guide from my first-aid kit and making sure that my life-insurance policy was up to date. “You’re tough, but I don’t know if you’re that tough” were Michael’s parting words to me as he kissed me goodbye at Newark airport. And so armed with my new purchases from Paragon—a pair of Tevas, some hiking shoes, an unflattering beige outdoorsy shirt and a couple of bandanas, I leave for Utah. day 1—Travel To provo, uTah
I let everyone know that I’m dropping off
the grid for four days. Being offline and off cell phone makes me both tense and ecstatic. Gloria Gaynor’s “I Will Survive” literally rings in my ears: I loop it on my iPod during my flight to Salt Lake City. day 2—Morning, provo, uTah
I meet my six fellow survival students in the motel lobby. They are neither buff nor intimidating, but they are BOSS alumni and have done this before. H and I are the newbies and begin bonding over some bad coffee, bagels and loads of anxiety. Josh pulls up in a trailer/van and we begin our four-hour drive southwest to Boulder with Mozart concertos playing in the background. day 2—afTernoon, boulder, uTah
For our first test, to make sure that we are physically able enough to endure the rigors of the wilderness and not drop dead of a heart attack, we are sent to the side of the road for a 1.5-mile run. I pass—not exactly with flying colors—but I did finish at the front of the pack. Survival is Darwinian, and even though the BOSS course isn’t, I’m already feeling strangely competitive. We collect our gear in a yurt, which is cross between a teepee and a circus tent. My survival supplies include a hunting knife sharp enough to skin a moose that will stay hooked to my belt buckle for the next four days; an enamel cup; an environmentally friendly bottle for gathering water; a bottle of drops to kill the parasites in my gathered water; and a mix of other random low-tech gadgets like cords and strings that will apparently help me survive. We turn in our valuables and turn off our technology. Game on. day 2—iMpacT phase—The course begins— poTTy TiMe
Josh enthusiastically and matter-of-factly explains the proper ways to go potty in the great outdoors. Pooping seems to require the strategic planning of a military invasion, ample time and lots of sagebrush to use as wipes. I
observer playground FALL 2009
Play's the Thing - Mary-Louse Parker on her most important role.