I hadn’t eaten in four days.
It was the first week of my 28 day survival course when I started to ask myself what I was doing in the Utah backcountry. I’d never experienced such intense hunger: no food whatsoever, couples with 12-15 mile daily hikes. Today was one of the toughest: we had battled uphill for seven hours in the striking heat of the desert sun. When we passed by a handful of discarded peanuts and M&Ms in the middle of the road, I asked myself, “Maneesh, has it really gotten so bad that you would stoop to eating sandy food from the ground?” At that point, it certainly had.
I asked myself over and over what I was doing here. “Why am I subjecting myself to such torture? My mom already offered me unlimited freshly cooked Indian food, just a day away. Other students have already quit. Why am I subjecting myself to such horror?”
When we finally reached camp, I sprawled on the ground and my small versacloth unraveled, revealing the only book I had brought along—Letters from a Stoic, by Seneca. I briefly glanced at the cover and leafed through it until my eyes fell upon an underlined passage.
“This is why we need to envisage every possibility and to strengthen the spirit to deal with the things which may conceivably come about. Rehearse them in your mind… Misfortune may banish you into some wilderness.’ (179)
Then I read another:
“Set aside now and then a number of days during which you will be content with the plainest of food, and very little of it, with rought rough coarse clothing, and ask yourself: Is this what one used to dread?’” (67)
I asked myself again, why am I here? It finally made sense–if I could survive this intense hunger, then I could survive anything.
Our instructor ordered us to get up and follow him, not allowing even ten minutes of rest. As he led us into the backwoods, far from camp, all thoughts of quitting and confusion and fear had disappeared. I was finally present and in the moment.
Our instructor led us to a bush. He ordered us to dig, telling us a story about the wandering willow, with edible tubules. We pulled out these ‘tubules’ and realized they were simply bananas: the signal that the Impact, no-eating phase was complete. I took a bit of that banana and had a sudden realization—no fruit had ever tasted sweeter.