Estimated Reading Time: 12 minutes
During the summer of 1992 when I was 11 years old I had an experience that altered the course of my life in ways I am still coming to understand. I was a shy, overweight, introverted and somewhat awkward young man. My family lived in a nice neighborhood on the edge of BYU campus in Provo Utah. In fact it was a much nicer neighborhood than we could afford.
After my Grandma had died of cancer some months before, we moved to Provo from a tiny little home in Miamisburg Ohio. My Mom wanted to be closer to her Dad so we installed ourselves in the large basement apartment of his even larger house on a hill overlooking the city.
I was a fairly lazy and self centered child in the way that most 11 year old American kids were in the early 1990s. I was actively naive and I was in every respect completely and utterly average, and I was happy to remain average. As an adult, I am still somewhat shy, still overweight, still introverted and still awkward, but I try not to be self centered and I have not been average in a long while.
This is going to be really hard
That summer before my 12th birthday, some of the older boys from our neighborhood were invited by the youth leaders at our church to participate in a wilderness survival high adventure camping trip in the mountains and canyons of southern Utah. It was supposed to build character. I knew enough by then that "build character," was adult speak for "this is going to be really hard." My older brother was so excited to go, and I was equally excited for him to go.
I loved to read as a kid. Still do in fact, and my reading combined with chronic insomnia meant that if I were left to my own devices I would keep my bedside lamp on until 2:00 or 3:00 in the morning. In our family of 10 I was not often left to my own devices. My older brother loved to sleep, and since all four of us boys shared a room, the reading light was a constant source of argument.
I was elated when I learned that I would be the oldest boy in the room for an entire week and as the date of my brothers camping trip approached, I made an optimistic trip to the public library and picked up a stack of sci-fi and fantasy novels that were suitably unsuitable for an 11 year old boy. I was not what one would consider the outdoorsy type. Participating in their camping excursion never even crossed my mind.
Happily it was for boys 12 years old and older, and I would not be turning 12 years old until several weeks after the campout was done. I didn't even have to make up an excuse as to why I couldn't go, or pretend to be sick at the last minute. My friend Bridger from down the street was desperate to go on the trip, but he was even younger than me, and he was shot down immediately when he floated the idea to the youth leaders of the older boys.
From all accounts it sounded like it was going to be a lot of hiking with little food and no access to air conditioning or video games or books. They didn't want to have to babysit or entertain us younger kids the whole week. Fine by me. I was entirely content not to be going, and to be able to read my hoard of almost inappropriate stories late into the summer nights in peace.
All my plans changed
All my plans changed the morning before the campout. The bishop, the man who was the leader of our congregation and coincidentally our neighbor from a few doors down stopped by to talk with my parents. I didn't hear the conversation as I was busy beating the level 8 castle on the original Super Mario Brothers. When he let himself out, he left a small pile of survival gear on the chair next to the front door. I knew what it was because my brother had an identical pile of gear in our room.
The meaning of the extra pile of gear didn't dawn on me until my Father called me into the kitchen and told me that the bishop and my soon to be youth leaders and my parents had all talked and they all agreed that I shouldn't be denied this fantastic opportunity for adventure simply because I happened to be born a few days too late.
My father, a quiet man of few words, pronounced all of this with such finality and gravitas that I knew I had already been sentenced. There was nothing I could do to change my fate. I was absolutely and without argument going on that camping trip. Fear began to gnaw on me in the pit of my stomach and I thought for a moment that I was going to throw up. I had one day to prepare myself for what I my mind was to be a forced march of deprivation and discomfort. I felt sick.
I went lethargically back into the living room and gathered the impossibly small bundle of gear and took it to my room to take stock. A scratchy woolen blanket, a little metal cup, some ziplock bags with about 5 pounds of various powdered and dried foods. An apple, an onion, two potatoes and an old army style canteen rounded out the gear.
I felt like crying
My Dad and my brother came into the room and while my brother enthusiastically showed me how to stuff all of the gear into my old backpack, and explained the merits of how lightweight and streamlined the gear was that the older boys had elected to take, my Dad handed me a small Swiss Army knife and told me to be extra careful not to cut myself with it. I felt like crying.
That night I couldn't sleep, and I couldn't read either because my brother had stolen the bulb out of my reading lamp. I thought about turning the lamp on anyway and sticking my finger in it, but I was worried it would hurt too much, and it might not injure me enough to get me out of going in the morning, or it might kill me, and that seemed like it would be almost as bad as going on the trip.
In the morning, tired and scared and not a little panicky I shouldered my backpack which was surprisingly heavy for something that contained next to nothing, and reluctantly walked with my brother down the street to the designated meeting point in the front yard of one of the youth leaders.