The class of FMA-XII has just returned from the final challenge of the FMA outdoor program – our solo expedition. For almost four days we took to the woods with only what we were wearing; we lived alone in shelters we built ourselves and ate what edible plants we could find and fish we could catch from the creek.

On the first day, we followed our usual morning schedule and enjoyed our last traditional expedition breakfast of scrambled eggs with potatoes and bacon served with a delicious coffee cake. After morning chores, we put on as many clothes as possible, because we would not be carrying backpacks, and climbed into the old Ford pickup for a short ride to the Gentry Creek trailhead. After Mr. Mike gave us a brief talk, we began our hike up the trail. One by one we dropped off the trail to our assigned campsites where we would begin to build shelters and start fires. My camp was high up the trail near the falls.

As soon as I arrived, I set to work building the shelter that would protect me from the oncoming weather. After I had finished a decent shelter, I rushed to build a fire while I still had a window of opportunity before the wet weather set in again. I warmed myself by the red glow of its friendly heat, and at 2:30 p.m., I left to meet Ralph, my assigned check-in partner, to make sure he was still alive and well. The night was long, wet, and cold, and I woke up every hour or so to check my fire and keep it going.

As daylight approached, I slowly began to wake up from the little sleep I had actually managed, get and set out to search for food; something, anything, that would delay the dreaded hunger pangs. The day was long and uneventful, leaving much time for introspection and plenty of time to occupy my mind with finishing my chapter summaries for The Fountainhead. As night once again approached, I began to prepare for bed and an attempt to steal back a few hours of the rest I had lost the previous night. My hopes were disappointed, however, as that night was a repeat of the night before.

I was constantly wet until the afternoon of the third day when the sun finally peeked out from behind the clouds for a much-needed visit to warm me up. After a brief check-in with Ralph, as we had been doing every day at 9:00 a.m., I went out foraging for anything and everything edible and nutritious. The darkness once again fell over the mountains, as the sun crept away to hide behind the walls of the canyon. I made ready for my last and final night, and, although a dry shelter awaited me, the sleep was no better.

On the morning of departure, I destroyed the wretched shelter, because at 10:50 a.m. I would be heading back to FMA for a hearty meal, a warm bed, and supportive staff members.

The last expedition of FMA-XII was most likely the best, because it taught me that I do not always need to be around people. It also taught me that I could actually survive without eating for a few days by myself in the middle of the woods.

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