Shadows lie to me as I walk through the Southern Utah desert at night, creating fake creatures whose eyes follow each step, all the while letting me know I am the stranger in their world. I am no longer in the safety of the forest, but not yet back in civilization. The desert is the in-between, purgatory, the edge of the page as it turns from one chapter to the next. A wasteland.
Earlier this morning, Team Fukawi set out on the last day of our 28-day ordeal. We packed our belongings, making impromptu backpacks out of our blankets for the last time. We spread the ashes of our fire, hid our tracks, and trekked out in what would be the last leg of our adventure together, starting the day with a celebratory huddle and a cheer.
After the solo portion of our journey, we had four days of traveling sans instructors. Each day’s destination was marked with a crude X on our map, which we poured over mile after mile hoping we were on course but never sure due to the lack of any tangible markers. Four straight days of finding our campsite, making a fire, building shelters, and dealing with the adversity of being alone in the wild all on our own.
On this, our final day, river crossings happened every ten minutes, hour after hour, soaking us from the waist down in the freezing free-flowing waters. Without food, shivering from the constant wetness, and with aching blistered feet, we walked out of the wildness of the backcountry and into the wild-less-ness of civilization.
Seeing another human being on the trail was a shock. I could tell we were getting closer to our destination as the trail we were on went from nonexistent to “I can kind of make something out here” to a standard Park Service groomed trail with set markers and boot-trodden dirt. To one side of me were the breathtaking rock arches Utah is famous for; to the other were stunning color combinations created by the sun beating down on the mountains.
After two straight hours of hiking, I lay on my back as the group took a ten-minute break. A couple I would later find out was visiting from Florida stumbled upon us. They were as shocked at the appearance of our group as we were of them. We all stared at each other for an awkward second.
I looked at the couple and couldn’t help but think, “Jesus, they look clean. And soft. I wonder if they have food? If I had to, I could eat them.”
They were a direct contrast to our group in every conceivable way. Where they were freshly pressed and new, we were ragged and old. Their shoes looked freshly purchased from REI. The soles of my boots had fallen off a few days back and now had duct tape holding the toes together. Their bodies smelled of perfume, most likely applied after a hot shower they’d taken that morning. I hadn’t bathed in a month and still had dirt, soot, and blood in my hair. The male hiker’s face was clean shaven, adorned with a new pair of Oakley sunglasses. I hadn’t shaved in six weeks, or seen myself in a mirror for that matter, and had developed a perpetual squint from staring into the sun.
In Brazilian jiu jitsu, beginners get their asses handed to them day in and day out relentlessly for their first few months. It’s a brutal sport, with few making it past the six-month mark. I remember my sixth-month mark since I thought I sucked and hadn’t learned a single thing. How could I be learning if I lost every round of training? Then one night a new guy came in, someone fresh off the street, and I got to wrestle with him. I took him apart. Then and only then did I realize not only had I learned more than I thought, but I’d also never be the same again.
Seeing this couple was a mirror to that experience. The wilderness had been kicking my ass relentlessly for a month and I’d again mistakenly thought I’d learned nothing. Then I saw this couple and instantly knew they wouldn’t last a single night out here in the woods on their own, despite having more equipment for a day hike than we had for thirty days.
I had learned more than I thought I had—and I would never be the same again.
The couple offered to go back to their car and get us food, but on the lead of one of our team members, who was adamant he wouldn’t eat anything that wasn’t part of the course, we declined.
So instead, they left us with some of the sweetest words I’ve ever heard, “You’re all about a half mile from the parking lot at the end of the trail.”
A half mile from everything being over.
Walking Back Into The World
The parking lot at the end of the trail was our final destination. It was where the course would come to an end. It was the ultimate resting spot of our adventure. Or so we thought.
Upon arrival, we dropped the packs from our backs, kicked off our wet shoes and socks, repeatedly hugged each other, and then began the four-hour wait until our instructors would be joining us. We had walked quickly and were ahead of schedule. Not wanting to frighten the general population, we commandeered a stretch of sand to the side of the parking lot and did what we’d done for the last four weeks—tried to make ourselves comfortable.
We lay there in the sand, hung our wet belongings from trees, and stared in awe at the size of the trailers and campers pulling into the lot. I saw a man feed his dog and thought it was odd to have so much food that you’d give some to an animal without seeing if anyone else around wanted or needed some.
What a month it had been.
Finally, the M’s arrived carrying a basketball-sized steel baking pot and sat themselves in front of us. They had come with a vegetable stew and the most orgasmic loaf of banana nut bread dotted with pieces of—wait for it—chocolate chips. I imagined the baby Jesus himself cooking that loaf, and can still taste it today when I close my eyes and take myself back.
While we slurped down the stew with our homemade wooden spoons and wiped pieces of bread from our faces with the backs of our filthy hands, our instructors congratulated us. They told us how proud they were of all we’d accomplished—and that we still had one hill to climb.
“How do you want to walk back into the world?” our head instructor asked. “What do you need to leave here in the woods? For the last month, you’ve lived away from society, and whether you recognize it or not, you’re different than you were four weeks ago. Now you’ve got a decision to make—a monumental one. Who do you want to be when you reenter your life?
The last task we have for you is to figure that out. To be with yourselves, in silence and meditative contemplation. Think about everything you’ve gone through here, everything you’ve accomplished, and all that you’ve endured.
Starting at ten o’clock tonight, we’re going to take all of your gear with the exception of your water bottles and you’re going to cover the twelve miles back into society on foot, walking along the highway all the way back to our base camp.”
After losing twenty-six pounds, almost twenty percent of my bodyweight.
Twelve mile with bloody, blistered feet packed into sopping wet boots.
Twelve miles in the dark without headlamps, flashlights, or any other external light source.
Twelve miles on legs that had walked endlessly for weeks.
No problem. We headed out.
I took an early lead from the rest of my team, loving the lack of weight on my back and the glowing full moon overhead. For the first hour, I walked with an immense sense of accomplishment and pride. I walked knowing at the end of the night I had a few things waiting for me—a meal, a fire, and the sense of achievement that only comes from passing through a crucible such as this.
I laughed at how many cold nights I’d spent comforting myself, rubbing my frozen toes, pretending to run to keep warm under my blanket. I tipped my hat to the lamb we had eaten and silently thanked each of my teammates for sticking with me, for supporting me, and for being kick-ass human beings.
I thanked everyone in the outside world who was pulling for me, supporting me all along this year. I gave gratitude for the darkness and to Earnest who I felt was still alive and I would visit soon. I thanked my parents, my sisters, my friends, my Santa Barbara family, and all the new people who had come into my life on this incredible year of travel.
I was overwhelmed with gratitude for the experiences, growth opportunities, and learnings of my journey. I couldn’t believe one of the most intense month’s of my life was going to be over, that I’d made it, and I promised myself I would dedicate the rest of my life to staying warm and using what I’d learned here in the woods, to honor what was shown to me in my meditations about returning to training, continuing to travel to speak and hold workshops, and working with men.
Forgiveness, Full Moon Style
As the walk went on, the adrenaline and excitement began to wear off and fatigue set in. My feet burned, my calves cramped, requiring them to be stretched at each mile marker, and my legs railed at the idea of repeating the task when I reached the halfway point. But onward I went at full speed. I was warm and that was enough to ignore all other pains.
At the mile-eight sign post, I felt the overwhelming desire to stop and look up at the full moon. She seemed so strong and powerful. I thanked her for watching over me for the last eight miles and then felt compelled to ask, “What else do you need from me? I’ve only got a few more hours out here with you before a cell phone, internet access, and human beings make their way back into my life. What else can I do for you?”
Standing there in the middle of road—not a car, human, house, or sign of life in sight—I kept staring upward. “What else do you need from me?” I asked again.
Now, those of you who have been following my Year to Live Project know some weird shit has happened this year. After watching mental movies of my entire life in the darkness , losing a battle of wills with God in an Ayahuasca ceremony in Guatemala, and downloading my life path while meditating here in the woods, I wasn’t all that surprised when the moon answered me back with stunning clarity.
“I need all of you,” she said. “I need 100% of your energy. Every. Last. Drop. And so do you. Listen to me carefully.”
I took a deep breath, afraid to take my eyes from her glow.
“Your life is going to go one of two ways,” she continued. “There will be no in-between. You’re going to experience magic, mystery, and amazement beyond your wildest dreams. You’ll speak before thousands, write to millions, and laugh at the gifts I give you in the next forty years.
Or, you’ll fall flat on your face.
You’ll be back to getting high every day, drinking every night, sleeping with women you hate (link), and most importantly, hating yourself. You’ll curse me and your life, or you will fall to your knees in gratitude day after day at the majesty you experience.
But, there will be no in between.”
“What’s the deciding factor?” I asked.
“It’s simple,” she replied. “You need to forgive your ex-wife, here and now, one hundred percent. No ifs, no ands, no buts. One hundred percent. 99.9 percent lands you back in addiction and hell. One hundred percent propels you to heaven.
Your choice, but this is your only chance and it has to be all in or all out.”
I closed my eyes and breathed for a minute before turning my back on the moon and walking away.
I had spent a good portion of the last month seething with anger at the state of my divorce, at the negative turn it had taken, the promises broken and lies told. I had made hatred my companion when my toes were frozen and I was starving.
Ten steps later I stopped.
I turned back to the moon and said it.
“Ok. I’ll do it.
I’ll go all in. I forgive her. I forgive her for all of it. For lying to me, for betraying my trust, for trying to take our dog from me, for all of the change that her decision has forced into my life.”
“Don’t tell me,” the moon answered. “Tell her. Yell it into the vastness of this desert.”
And so I did.
I screamed into the sandy landscape, “I FORGIVE YOU! I FORGIVE YOU! I FORGIVE YOU!”
I yelled it over and over and over again.
I described to the desert every way I felt slighted, hurt, and angry. I yelled until exhaustion won and I fell to my knees by the side of the road, tears streaming down my face. There I stayed for what seemed like an eternity, until I looked back up at the moon and felt her smiling down upon me.
“Now it’s time to carry on,” she told me in a loving tone.
When I rose to my feet, it was as if my entire DNA had been rewired, my body not my own. The ache in my legs was gone, the burning in feet had vanished. My back straightened, my chest expanded, and each step I took felt as if someone was gently pushing me from behind.
I strolled for the next four miles, laughing, smiling, and feeling lighter than I had my entire life. Walking down the center of the road past increasing numbers of farm houses, then stores, then a hotel felt like returning to a place that was familiar to me—but in a body that wasn’t. It was ecstasy.
An hour later I was standing in front of the entrance to Boulder Outdoor Survival School. Tiki torches lit the final hundred yards leading to a roaring fire where our instructors sat on logs, one playing a guitar, the other two pontificating on the kinds of birds they’d seen in the backcountry.
I stopped before going in, took a knee, and said a final thank you. A thank you to the earth for letting me sleep on her and to the sky for watching over me and showering every night with candle-lit stars, awe filled sunsets, and for the wisdom of the moon. I thanked everyone in my life one more time, thanked my body, my heart, my legs, and my spirit. And then I walked in.
When I got to the fire, I was greeted with huge hugs and equally effusive congratulations. One of the M’s asked if I’d run and I replied honestly, “I hate running, so I didn’t. I found inspiration out there, though. That was the most important walk of my life.”
And it was.
The feeling of freedom I found on that walk back into society—and into my life—has stayed with me now months later. When I returned to New Mexico a few days later, the woman I whose house I was staying in commented, “I believe you’re the most content human being I’ve ever met.”
She was right.
“For the first time in my life, I want for nothing,” I told her honestly. “This is the greatest peace I’ve ever known. I hope everyone experiences this at least once in their lives.”
And I do hope that for everyone. Forgiveness that night wasn’t about my ex, it wasn’t about our story, and it wasn’t about the cosmic forces that brought us together and took us apart. It wasn’t about anything or anyone but me and who I am now that I’m back in the world.
We all have someone, that person we’d love to forgive but the thing he or she did was so awful, so deceitful, so unforgivable that to forgive that person would be an additional betrayal. Forgiving that person is the key to our freedom. These people are exactly the ones standing between us and the peace I know we each have in our hearts.
Not for them, not for the story, but for you. For your life. Your heart. Your peace.
Cheers from Big Sur,