In The Wild

When 11,200 feet above sea-level, sleeping in a tent, living like the early man, fishing, cooking over a fire, it is easy to feel uncomfortable and a little challenged.  Unless you’re this guy:

If you have been following my blog, you know that I spent the first week of August up in the Pecos Wilderness.  I’ve talked about wandering around lost and how hard the hike was, but what about what happened in the wild?

I went into the wild on a search, for fish, a fresh night sleeping on my new sleeping mat, and friendship.  What I found might have been a little different.  Heck, I shared a tent with the older version of the man pictured above, so how could my adventure turn out the way I expected?

Life in the wild is therapeutic for me.  I love backpacking because it gives me a chance to leave my normal life and leave it all behind.  Computers. Smartphones. Jobs. Stress.  I love being off the grid.

Guatemala was off the grid, or at least I was off most everyone else’s grid.  Living off the grid can be a challenge, especially not knowing the language, something unexpected could always be expected to happen.  But now that I am living in Colorado, I feel the need to get away, go backpacking, so that I can be challenged and refocus on life.

And so, up in the Pecos Wilderness, off the grid, we were attacked by a hungry heard of chipmunks.  Those little rodents were aggressive.  We had to lock away our food, even so they unzipped my backpack and chewed through three layers of plastic bagging just to eat three raisins.  They were telling me that the Stewart Lake campground was their home turf and I better show some respect.  Maybe they’d grown too used to backpackers and I could see why.  As I packed my backpack a troop of 15 teenagers hiked into our area to set up camp.

After a little fishing we packed our tent and trekked up to Lake Johnson.  If Stewart Lake my first step into the wild, albeit a little crowded, Lake Johnson was truly off the grid.

Other than the Rices, our backpacking partners, we didn’t see another human for a couple days.  It was just me, my dad, and the wild.

The fishing up at the high mountain lake was great, but then again, not great.  But maybe that was part of the challenge.  When I can’t just walk up to the closest Chipotle for a burrito to feed my hunger.  Providing food for myself isn’t meant to be easy.  Sometimes the fish just don’t bite.  And when they don’t, what’s going to calm the hunger pains?

Fortunately, I packed in enough food and really, caught plenty of fish.  I spent most of my time out by the lake, casting my line.  It was a beautiful time, but also invigorating.  Each night on the backpacking trip, we lit our stoves, boiled water so we wouldn’t get sick, and then hoped our food would turn out edible.

In the wild you can’t rely on your own strength, just ask Aaron Ralston.  He got stuck and lost an arm.

In the wild it can rain or not rain.  Too much one way or the other and you could be dead.

But in the wild you can also find life.

In the wild, up at Lake Johnson, I reconnected with my best friend.  Philip and I grew up going to church together, but because we live in two different states, hadn’t been able to talk in several years.

At night around the camp fire, with no computers or iPhones, we were able to engage in each other’s lives again.

Philip is currently stepping out into the wild in his own life.  God has called him into the full time ministry.  He has left his job, just months after becoming a father, and is placing his trust in God to provide for him.

There is nothing wilder than living on the edge for God.

On our last night around the fire, Sid, Philip’s dad, asked us to talk about what we’d experienced on the trip.

We’d talked about fishing, joked about all the deer that’d wander through our campsite (they would wander through and nibble on our leftovers knowing they were safe as it wasn’t hunting season).

But my favorite part was was talking about faith and community.  I don’t think these conversations would’ve happened if we hadn’t gone into the wild.  I felt focused on life, as each morning and night, around the the camp stove, we shared our hearts.

As I packed up my tent to hike out of the wild, I knew I didn’t want to stop sharing my life with the people around me.   It took going into the wild to see that my life needs true community.

This year, while I pursue my masters in teaching, I don’t want to forget what I learned in the wild.  I know that my studies will be challenging, but I’ll get comfortable. I know I’ll be connected to the grid.  But I hope that I stay connected to the community around me and not stop living in God’s wild creation.

How Did I End Up Here?

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Here I am stuck in the third world.  Three years pinned down with no guarantee of electricity, dry streets, or connection to the outside world.  Maybe stuck and pinned aren’t the correct words, but sometimes they’re the only way to describe how I feel.  I felt stuck at times during my first year in Xela, when I didn’t feel like I had any friends.  I felt stuck when my friends’ weddings passed me by and I couldn’t go.  I’ve missed at least two weddings and one birth; not fun.  And I felt stuck last June when tropical storm Agatha wouldn’t let me leave; all I wanted to do was be home with my family.  It was as if I had my hand pinned between a rock and I couldn’t move, just like Aaron Ralston, who’s harrowing struggle with a rock was the subject of the Oscar nominated movie “127 Hours” staring James Franco.  Fortunately over the course of two and a half years I’ve realized what a blessing it has been to be stuck in Xela.  And after watching “127 Hours,” I’m glad I didn’t have to give up an arm to realize the importance of having a community.  I’ve celebrated three birthdays away from my family and the friends I grew up with, and it’s been hard not having them around.  But it has also shown me how blessed I am here in Guatemala.  I am not alone.

I came to Guatemala as an individual, all alone.  Unlike Aaron Ralston, I didn’t come as a man who wanted solitude, dreaming of living life on my own, but as an individual who wanted to see what life outside of the states had to offer.  From the very start, when I was only 24, I knew I needed people around me to make my life worth living.  Now I am 27 and I feel like I have more of what it takes to be a man than I did when I first found myself stuck in the guat.  I know being a man doesn’t mean doing everything on my own, but having a community to share with.

Most people would say Brett Favre and Aaron Rodgers are men, despite both having played for the Greenbay Packers.   According to stats I’ve read about Brett Favre and Aaron Rodgers, both won their only Super Bowls at 27.  At 27 I have yet to win a Super Bowl.  But who knows I might move back to the states and join the Broncos and win multiple Super Bowls.  If men are judged on what they have done, then am I a man?  Sadly, I haven’t won a Super Bowl yet.  I could win multiple Super Bowls (Be better than Brett and Aaron) but that’s not what would define me.  You know what I have done though, what defines me?  I have begun to write again.  I have decided to go after my dreams, not Aaron’s or Brett’s.  Last month I applied to a creative writing program.  If I am accepted or not, at 27 I know that I am doing what it takes to be a man.  Each day I set out to love those around me in the best way that I can.  Because maybe they need to know that they need someone.  I am adding my life to the community around me and hopefully with a little love mixed in I’ll end up at age 28 stuck right where God wants me.

Here are some of the fun memories from my 27th birthday.

-On my Birthday I was showered with hugs and choruses of Happy Birthday (both in English and Spanish).  I think my favorite gift was when I walked into the elementary lunch room and the Kindergartners jumped up with excitement and started singing to me.

-That night most of my friends, most everyone on the Inter-American staff, came out to have dinner at Don Rodrigos, a little restaurant that serves beer and burgers.  I had a sandwich and an Orange Crush, ha!

-On Saturday night my students, most of the high schoolers, took me out to pizza.  Sometimes the freshmen boys, especially Skyy and Jose Pab, are a little crazy, but they know how to make someone feel appreciated.  And I am grateful for them.

-On Sunday I went ziplining with Jon, Laura, Kacey, Blake, Amy, Fernando, Stephanie, Mike, and Karen at Velo Xtremo, just a few of the people my life has been mixed with.  We all risked our lives and had a zipping good time doing it!

Life would not be worth living if I didn’t have all of you, my readers and my friends in Guatemala, around me.  Thank you for the part you have played in my past 27 years.  Here’s to many more!!