All my uncles motion and tell me to, “Come in, sit down, and shut up.” My aunt is not the biggest person. She’s probably five-four, not big at all. But she has the voice of a giant, especially for my mom’s side of the family. my dad’s side of the family, my dad was six foot and he was the runt of the litter. Not the uncle I was living with during middle school. He was my aunt’s husband. He was little, he’s smaller than I am. All the other Uncles in town were over big.
I had no choice but to sit down and listen. My aunt proceeded to explain to me what was going on. She said, “Your life is out of control. We’re going to put it back in control.” she told me they thought I was misleading my life and then they explained to me that I would be leaving and I would be going with, (enter three enormous people). And they said, “you will be going with them to Aspen.” I’m like, “Okay.” Seems like pretty cool people. One was a Jamaican and he had a whole bunch of reggae music.
Their job was to transport me from point A to point B. They’re not stupid when they do this. I’ve heard stories where they handcuff the kids, and take their laces from their shoes to walk them through airports. Did you know that this happens? Yes, it happens, I don’t know if it still happens. But in my world it was common.
I had no idea at the time. I was like, “Who the fuck are these people? But whatever. I decided to go with them, one, at my uncle’s house, there’s a gate. So I’m not running anywhere. We were in Atherton, California where everything’s gated. So I went with them. Two, they didn’t explain to me what Aspen was.
The only Aspen I knew, I didn’t know it was in Colorado. I thought, Aspen, the ski place. Now, this is February 2nd. My birthday is February 21st. It’s a funny thing how our mind can play tricks on us. I’m thinking they’re taking me skiing for my birthday because it was ski week at school, the upcoming weekend. All the freshmen were going on some ski trip.
My stupid naive mind thought my family was taking me on a ski trip. The other thing that went through my mind was they were just tired of me and they were sending me back to my biological family. I really had no idea what was going to happen, but I was down for the adventure. I was okay. Let’s go. We fly to Utah. That should have been the first indication that we were not going to Aspen, Colorado. But again, at that point in time, I did not know where Aspen was. It could have been in Utah for all I knew. “I’ve been to Utah before we used to go skiing close to Park City, Utah.” So I’ve been to this airport. Not that bad. It’s freezing. It’s February. It’s freezing, but whatever. I’m trying to tell you, whatever I wanted, they were like, “Yeah, sure. No problem. You want some pizza? You sure you don’t want a hamburger too?” I’m like, Matter of fact, I didn’t even think about it. “Yes, I want a cheeseburger too. Can we get some french fries? Man, can I get a milkshake?” They’re like, “Whatever you want. Oh, you want to listen to this song? Man, here. Here, listen to track number 13. It’s even better.” I mean, they’re making everything great. I’m having fun with these guys. We’re laughing, joking, having a grand old time.
The next day, they take me back to the airport and I’m like, “Why are we going back to the airport? We just got here yesterday.” And they’re like, “Oh no, we got to drop you off to somebody.” “Wait, what?” “Yeah, yeah, yeah. Our job was just to get you here.” “Where am I going?” “Aspen. That’s all we know. I’m sure it’s going to be alright, man. Yeah, it’s going to be fine, man. This is when the, “Where the fuck am I going?” It starts to set in, right?
“You’re dropping me off to somebody else. What the fuck?” the happy-go-lucky is not quite there anymore. It’s kind of a concerned smile like, “What the fuck is going on? we get to the airport and there’s these two ladies. And they’re just the sweetest, nicest people that you can think of. Kind of corny, but not. So I’m like, “All right. I can deal with this. I can get on these people’s good side.” You know what I’m saying? we also pick up somebody else.
Now, this person was a little different, He was 14, I was 15. I’m about to be 16 in 19 days or 18 days now. But there was something about him that wasn’t all the way there. One, he was a heroin addict at 14. So I had smoked weed, at the time, I think I only drank one of Boone’s daiquiri or whatever.
We get in the van. Now, this other person was very different. He had been down this road before and he was trying to warn me like, “Man, you’re about to go to hell, man.” And then all of a sudden his eye goes to the side of his head. I’m like, “What the fuck?” And then he starts hitting his head boom, boom, boom. He’s like, “Oh, man. It’s normal. It’s normal. It does that.” I’m starting to think, “What the fuck? They’re sending me to a loony bin.” But I’m still trying to be positive.
The two ladies have music on, singing. I’m singing along, trying to stay as positive as possible. I don’t know what’s going to happen. Then about an hour down the road, it could have been two hours. We arrive at a cabin on the outskirts of a small town. We get dropped off again. This time we’re getting dropped off to men. Because real shit is about to set in like, “We ain’t in Kansas anymore Dorothy.”
They bring you into this room. Now, they have men now. So you’re not going to fight. Well, you can fight if you want to. Good luck. And then they proceed to tell you to change. Well, first, before you can change, you have to be strip-searched. So they know that you’re not bringing anything in. this would be my first time being strip-searched. However, for me the strip-search wasn’t a big deal because years before when I was in boarding school grown men watched us shower it was a normal thing, they would literally have conversations with you while you’re taking a shower.
So being strip-searched that’s never really been a big issue for me because I’ve had grown men look at me naked since I was a kid. Once they strip-search you, everything becomes very real. You have no idea where you are. They don’t tell you anything. They keep you as ignorant and naive to the situation as possible. They give you, mind you, we’re in Utah and it’s February. “We’re going to freeze our little asses off.” They give you a pair of underpants like long johns. They give you wool pants. If you ever had wool next to you, it itches. It’s miserable, right? But it’s warm. On the top, they gave us a T-shirt. They gave us a green sweater and then they gave us a hoodie. They also gave us a little satchel that could fit two quart water bottles, and a little field study guide.
Your survival pack consisted of two tarps, you’d form them together as a backpack with all your necessities. Your clothes because they gave you extra clothes. I’m trying to think your sleeping bag, your mat, everything of your existence, basically went into these tarps and then you would fold them, and trust me you needed to fold them and have your weight perfect, you were not going to be adjusting, So if you did not have your weight measured perfectly, you one could be lopsided all day long. So you’re walking lopsided because it’s heavier on one side than the other, which is not fun. Or you could have something stabbing you all day while you’re walking. So the importance of packing your pack was vital. The first few times of packing your pack going to mess up. when you add more stuff, you’re going to mess up so it’s almost impossible not to be uncomfortable, at least a few times. So they show you briefly how to make a survival pack.
They purposely let it get dark, So you have no idea where you are. They give you two cans of peaches and a bag of gorp, which is basically trail mix. But it’s gorp at Aspen. Then once it’s dark, they got a guy, I forgot what his name was, but he was impossible to understand. His tongue was attached to the bottom part of his mouth. It was very hard to understand what he was saying most of the time, so you’d be like, “What?” He also had his dogs. So he would tell you straight up, “Bow you run. Me and my dog come after you.” So unless you want dogs and him coming after you dont run. It’s like, “All right. I get the point. I don’t even know where I am.” So they drive you around. It’s at least an hour. They do this on purpose. The longer they drive you around, I mean, they literally could be driving around in circles, but it’s dark, so you can’t see outside. It all looks the same they’re trying to disorient you, so you lose your sense of direction. if they drove you from point A to point B, you could get yourself back out. But the more directions they would take you, the more they would scramble your mind, the harder it would be for you to remember how to get out. So after about an hour of driving you around. They’re on walkie-talkies the entire time like beep, beep, blah, blah, blah, blah, blah. Beep, beep. You know what I mean?
Once they get you to the point where they want you to go, then he stops the car, some people appear out of what seems nowhere. Again, it’s all dark. And he’s like, “Yeah, you’re going with them.” “What the fuck you mean I’m going with them?” End of the road. You’re going with them. you could think in your head, “Well, Erik, why didn’t you fight?” And do what? I don’t know where I am. I have two cans of peaches and a bag of trail mix. And it’s February in Utah. I’m freezing. The last thing I want to do is fight. The only thing I want to do is get somewhere warm, and now, you’re telling me I got to get out and go into the freezing cold, and is there a fire? Yeah, it has fire.” “I’m out, let’s go.” But then when they get you up there, you learn that you’re not allowed to hike and talk at the same time.
The first night, they’re really nice. But you’re also a run risk. So their niceness isn’t genuine. They’re trying their hardest to feel you out to see what kind of personality you had mentaly. When you first get there, there’s no fire for you. You’re a mouse, mice don’t get access to fires. You have to be a coyote to enjoy a fire.
The first night is one of the most miserable nights you can imagine. Not just because it’s freezing cold. Not because you’re in an environment you don’t know where you are. Not because you have to sleep outside, because the other people in your group know how scared you are. I used to do this after. It was hilarious. Terrible for the first person, hilarious for the people in the group.
What we would do… Mind you, this is your first night. Man, you are scared shitless. You don’t know where you are. They bring you in at night time, so you have no idea what’s going on. You’re freezing and the fire’s over there and you’re not allowed to go to the fire. You’re not allowed to do anything, so you’re basically like this.”Oh my god. I’m freezing. What the fuck is this?” And the people around the fire, they’re like, “Man, how long have you been here?” “Man, I’ve been here for six months, man. They took me from my family and I ain’t seen anyone since.” Mind games. Playing with your mind. So you’re hearing these people a hundred something days, six months. Just straight horror stories. And the staff tells the kids to shut up and they start laughing. But the damage is already done, right? Because in your mind, now you’re preparing yourself, “Man, I’m going to be here for a hundred days, man. What the fuck, dude?” They’re eating, but it’s not like they’re eating anything good. They look like savages around a fire.
They’re dirty. They have different rules, farting and laughing. It’s just a different world. Just imagine, they’ve been out here for quite some time. Normalness is just thrown out the window. So that first night, scary. It was scary. I mean, the staff comforts you like, “You have to sleep between us in your sleeping bag.” so they know if you get up and run.
I don’t like the cold. “You put me in the sleeping bag. I’m not getting out of here. I’m freezing.” So the next morning, I made a choice. So again, you’re not able to do shit, but I was able to read the paperwork. I was able to understand what it was. Okay, I got to read this stupid little thing and do this paperwork and then I can graduate to become a coyote. I think it was two days, all you were allowed to eat was the gorp. It was basically detoxing. It might be part of the reason today I can starve myself because I was trained to be able to starve myself starting at age 15.
So day number two, my mind changes. There was this thing called eagle with honors. I was like, “You know what, if I’m here for however long I am, I’m going to try to achieve the greatest thing that you can, it’s amazing what your mind can do once you accept where you are. So if I had just denied the fact that I’m there, denied it, denied it, denied it then the next day it would have been miserable and the whole time I would be miserable, but I was like, “I’m going to make the best out of my situation.”
Okay. So I’m a mouse now. What do I have to do to get to an eagle with honors? So I just looked, and I was like, “Oh, wow. If you get to buffalo, you get a knife. At eagle, you can eat food that’s hot in the morning.” So my mind just switched from, “Oh, how miserable and how scared I am,” into motivation like, “Let me make my life as easy as possible.” So that’s what I did.
The program was very different. The next morning, when I woke up, I’m still a mouse. So I’m not allowed to talk to anybody, but you can observe. You’re off by yourself. So I’m observing everything that’s going around. Who’s the leader? Who’s the lackey? All that kind of stuff, right? And I’m paying attention to what’s going on.
What they would do is at night time before we go to sleep, we’d have to have our cow patties which is basically cow shit. We would burn our wood, but then when we’re going to bed, we put the cow patties on top of the fire. The reason why we would do this is because cow patties burn at a higher temperature than wood. So then the next morning you have more ash than you have charcoal like low coals. What we would do after that is we would take the… Our whole mission was we had to leave the place better than when we got there. So we had to basically make it seem like we had never been there. everything that we used. we even had to sweep our own steps. So like the fire, since the cow patties would melt, we’d burn it all down into a finer grain. Then we would take buckets and go shift it around to make it look like we were never there. In the morning, the very first thing that they have you do, which is one of the most miserable things to do, when you wake up in the morning, you have to drink a quart of water. Very first thing you do.
It was so cold when we were there that your water would be frozen or there’d be chunks of ice in it. This is how cold it was. I mean, it’d be so cold I’d be trying to move my fingers and I would not be able to move my fingers. To this day, I still have problems with my toes. I don’t have a full feeling in my big toes and sometimes they just ache and they tingle. I got a little bit of frostbite. My feet were basically dying from frostbite. I didn’t get like a full-fledged frostbite, so I still have everything, but it was that cold where you shouldn’t have kids out in those environments.
I learned some valid tactics on how to survive. What we would do at night, when we’re having our campfire… Let me explain the whole campfire. Before you go to sleep, there are two arteries in your legs, your thighs, your main arteries are there. If you need to keep yourself warm, there are two things that you can do. One is if you have to go to the bathroom. Go to the bathroom immediately, your body will shut all your organs down to warm your pee or poop. If you ever notice, it could be snow on the ground, but then you pee and your pee is nice and steamy, right? It’s because your body will not allow the pee to freeze, so it will send all of its energy to warm your bowel movements, which is great, but if you’re cold or if it’s cold outside, then it’s focusing so much energy on your bowels that it’s not warming the rest of your body.
If you get those bowels out of your system, then your body can spread the energy around and almost immediately, your body will raise temperature and you’ll feel a little bit better. You learn that fast. But let’s get before you even go to bed. Remember, they’re making you drink a lot of water like throughout the day. Well, I haven’t told you the amount of water yet. But before you go to sleep, to combat frozen water like.
You would take an MRI or MRE, something like that bottle. It’d be a red canister like about a foot long that is a screw top. It’ll be metal. So what you would do is you’d fill it up with water and then you’d stick it onto the fire until it was basically boiling. And then you tighten it up, put it in two wool socks and then you’d put it in between your legs before you’d go to sleep, that would keep your body warm. It wouldn’t keep you hot for the entire night, but it would keep your system warm. You were insulating your body. Then in the morning you had cold water, but not freezing water, huge difference.
Part of the reason I discussed going to the bathroom is when you were sleeping… So throughout the day, we would have to drink eight quarts of water. you had to go to the bathroom a lot. In the night time, you wake up, you have to go to the bathroom. Remember, I was telling you that all of your energy goes to your bowels. So when you wake up in the middle of the night and have to use the bathroom, you’re freezing because your body is extending all of its energy to keep your pee from freezing. So the rest of your body is absolutely frigid. So what do you do? You have to get out of your little cocoon, use the restroom, and try not to pee on yourself. You have to creep out of your little cocoon you made yourself, use the restroom as close to you as possible because the wind would be freezing, freezing cold. I’m talking about icicles. Never been so cold in my life.
So finding and putting your shoes on, leaving the sleeping bag and going to go find a tree somewhere, yeah, that’s not going to happen. Maybe for the girls, but for me it was, let me lift this bottom tarp up a little and as long as I don’t pee on myself, I’m all right. I didn’t really care too much. It was too cold to care. So now we figured out how to keep the water warm so we don’t have to drink freezing cold water in the morning. We figured out how we don’t freeze to death and how we can warm our body temperature up.
So sleeping. Remember, I was explaining to you about the two tarps. Well, those two tarps weren’t just your survival pack, they would be your shelter, one tarp on the ground for rain water so that you wouldn’t get wet and the second one would be to give you shelter. I’ve learned how to make so many different shelters. Everywhere we went was a different environment, you had to look around and be like, “Hmm. Where do I want to put up my mansion tonight?” Well, what about trash? Trash and then how do you cook your food?
Once a week when the food people would come, we had to tote around our trash every piece of trash. Remember, every day, we had to clean the campsite to where it looked better than when we got there. So we had to dust our footprints and make it look pretty and pristine. They wouldn’t let us burn it so we had to carry it. You wouldn’t think that you’d have a lot of trash. We’re out in the middle of nowhere. How do we have trash? I’m not sure, but every week, we’d accumulate it.
So every day, the day consisted of wake up, break down camp, hike, break, hike, set up camp, go to bed, do it again. So the person… Carrying trash on the first few days. Easy peasy. They came once a week. So the first couple of days, there’s no trash. But by the sixth day, the trash would be just about as heavy as your own bag. So all day long, you’re having to carry your bag, and then the trash you’re like Santa Claus, all day long. That used to be the absolute worst.
Now, the more responsibility that you have, the more in charge you become the more decisions you were allowed to make like who was unlucky and had to carry the heavy trash. You learn fast the dynamics of groups. So group duce is what we called ourselves. Now, you were either with group duce or you were against group duce. There was no in between. Now, we were a band of brothers until you pissed one of us off and or you said something or you did something and then you’re going to be blackballed from us, our band of brothers. So our band of brothers
Once a week, they take the trash out and then bring you food supply. Now, your personal food was the tortillas, a little piece of cheese, a little bit of butter, a little bit of brown sugar, and bacon. But they gave you a tiny little bit. Now, the group food was beans and rice. Basically beans and rice, survival food. Let’s say they came on Wednesday. If you just try to survive on personal food, you’d be out of food by Friday, they didn’t give a lot of personal food.
For a week you got a half a pack of bacon. you didn’t get much. So it wasn’t like, “Yeah, personal food.” They kind of force you to eat the group food, but what they also told us is… After I got there, the group figured this out really fast that if we work together, we could eat more. We all like to eat, And the longer we cook the longer we are allowed to stay by the fire and enjoy ourselves. We would, and this is absolutely gross, but we would cook. They would never resupply us on personal food, but group food was infinite.
if we ate all the group food, they would have to bring us more food. So we’re like, “All right. Well, that’s cool. We’ll save our personal food, the good stuff for personal use, We will not use any of our personal food so we can stack our personal food. then we could barter it. We liked making stuff, so we would make peach cobbler, donuts and other creative ideas. It was crazy. There’s another black person in my group for a couple of weeks and then he went on a vision quest and I never got to see him again. I mean, that happens a lot, I have lost more friends than i can count, here today disappear in the night and never seen them again.
We had fun, we had a kitchen. This is what I mean by we were group duce. Group duce worked amazing. We all worked together. Not one of us… We were a unit. We weren’t a team, we were a unit. We were like a high functioning unit. If somebody was tired carrying the trash and it was their trash, then another person would pick it up. In the day, we knew we had to hike in silence, but we also knew if we got to the destination faster, then we could have fun, and just relax for the rest of the day.
Group duce worked together and we got places extremely fast. So we would basically be running every single day so then we could have fun. I enjoyed every single person there. Not all the time, but each person in group duce was friends.
you couldn’t throw any food away. But we also knew in the morning, there was no way to cook beans and rice. So it would force you to eat your personal food for breakfast and lunch and then group food at dinner. We had a novel idea because we didn’t want to waste our personal food, because like I said, we had a kitchen and we’d make big concoctions for the family. We had these great tortillas, we’d smother them with butter, and brown sugar, amazing. I would never eat it now. I would probably throw up, but when you’re out there, it was amazing. The butter, and the sugar, and the fat it was great. We had fat too because we had bacon grease. we would save our grease. We were some innovative kids and we worked together so that’s what made it work. So we literally would save our bacon and grease and throughout the time, each of us would have it and contribute to our concoctions. The only way we were able to do that is we had to cook as much food as we could every night. And one of the big sandwich bags, I’m talking about huge sandwich bags, we would have that much food every morning.
You’re not allowed to eat any other food until dinner food was gone. So the next morning. I mean, there’s probably like 10 of us. We would take our little sticks, our eating device, because they didn’t give you anything. I mean, grab a stick off the ground and clean it up a little bit and hey, you got a fork. I’m not joking either. I’ll explain bathroom in just a minute. And we dig in.
You’d have one metal cup and you’d use this cup for everything and you learned how to clean with dirt. I mean you were allowed to use a little bit of water, but if they saw that you were dumping your water so you didn’t have to drink it then that wouldn’t work. Each of us would have to get an entire cup of freezing cold beans. No flavor, no hot sauce, nothing. Each of us would have to just suffer it down. If you’ve ever had just literally almost frozen beans with no flavor, they’re not the greatest, but we would do it. Every morning, I always talk about how I was trained to do things differently.
That point right there, I was training myself to not think of food as desire, think of it as its only purpose is to fill me up, because there is not a thing that was good about eating those beans, but we did it every single day. it wasn’t just one, it was all. Remember, I told you, we were group duce. So if you thought that you were not going to partake, then the whole group would turn on you. It wasn’t just one. If you thought you were having an attitude with this shit, then you’re not dealing with one of us, you’re dealing with the entire group.
We could be very mean and ugly there was no supervision. We had staff but sociology always wins out. So that brings us to cooking. How did y’all have a fire? Okay. Here’s the other thing. If you were slowing us down throughout the day, you had an attitude with a group duce member. In order to be a group duce member, we had to test you we basically turned it into a gang. We didn’t have any real initiation. We couldn’t beat the shit out of you or anything like that. the only thing we could think was the hardest thing to do was they had cloves of garlic so you had to eat the whole clove of garlic without drinking any water or something. I mean, it was really gross.
Today you know I see people popping garlic like it’s candy. I’m like, “Well, that’s nasty.” But that was our initiation. If you’re a group duce, you were group duce. Just because you were in the group, didn’t mean we accepted you as group duce. You had to earn your way into it. I’m thinking of it man. What a fucked up hierarchy. It’s a good example of life. In this small little group, we had a hierarchy and we created a completely dominant environment. As I proceed with this Aspen, I’ll explain where I became the ringleader.
What happens when you cook. So you have to make a fire to cook. What? Yes. If you wanted to eat hot, if you wanted to be around the circle by the fire, you had to make a fire. So sticks. The bow and our cup. you’d have a glove on your hand because they’d get really hot. You put it down, and this is your bow and then you’d go like this with your spindle and block. And then you’d make enough friction to where there’d be an ember. And then you take that ember and you put it into a nest of wood and leaves and things, and then you’d blow it into a fire.
Each one of us had to do this. Now, we had a group fire to where everyone could work together. But in order to eat hot you had to make a fire. Remember, I told you we were group duce. So group duce took care of group duce. So if you were a part of us and you’re having trouble with your fire, then we would send people to help you cover it. Blow the fire. Make sure that you got to eat hot.
if you were being an asshole that day, and it could be raining outside and it’s really difficult to make a fire in the rain. We wouldn’t help you, there were ways to punish people. If you complained about walking so fast, if you were lazy, if you slowed us down, then you were blackballed and we literally did everything that we possibly could to make your life a miserable fucking hell. Because in our eyes you were making our life hard, we’re going to make your life hard. that’s when the scheduling of who has to carry the heavy bag of trash, who has to do everything. Came into play.
What we would do is put the slow person in front. When a slow person is in front, you have a way to speed that fucker up. So we were not the nicest of kids. I mean all of us, we were great, but if you went against us, we were ugly as fuc. And you’re middle of nowhere, and being in the middle of nowhere with a whole group of kids that are basically ganging up on you… I don’t think about it, because it never came up on me. I was more a ringleader. It wasn’t the best of things. I say the ringleader. If you remember me telling you about space camp, there’s been a consistent thing of Erik being the ringleader, everyone following Erik’s direction.
Where do we get the water? You had to drink eight quarts a day, so where did you get the water? Anywhere we could find it. What does that mean? So if there’s a stream then we’d have to fill our water bottle there. If there was a puddle, we could fill our water bottles there. Well, isn’t it kind of bad for you to drink water out of a stream because then you can get giardia. “Well, what’s giardia, Erik?” Giardia is explosive diarrhea. And yes, you can. You can get giardia from drinking creek water and spring water and river water. That’s why they tell you not to drink it. But we would have iodine, little iodine tablets. So you plop, plop, put your iodine in your water. Wait 15 minutes and your water is now safe to drink. It didn’t matter if it was muddy water. It didn’t matter whatever flavor. It was like Baskin-Robbins. We had 31 flavors of different tasting water.
You might think I’m lying, but I’m not. Every time we got water, it tasted different. I mean, it had the same general iodine taste, but sometimes we get really dirty water. Some really muddy water. So when it’s going down, it’s really grainy. Sometimes we got a little fresher water. Literally, I’ve seen cow patties floating down river while you’re filling your water up. Sometimes you get a little cow patty flavored water.
I mean you got all different types of flavored water. Then for a while we were pushing Mormon carts. I don’t want to ever do that again. That was miserable. Talk about, ugh. What a Mormon cart is, you can Google it. There’s one person in the front, that’s kind of the ox their job is to maintain the level of the cart, because if he goes up, the back goes down. And we’re pushing back here. if he lifts us up, then we’re going down. And that’s really bad on your back, it hurts. If he pushes it down too far, then it’s really difficult for him in the front. It’s easier for us, but it’s not an easy thing. In the beginning, you always like, “Well, that job’s easier.” No, no. I’ll stay in the back, because the back you got two other people you’re pushing all day long. That’s all you’re doing is bent over and pushing a stupid cart day in, day out, all fucking day long. And that’s it. You do that for two weeks. Two weeks you’re pushing carts. And all day long, up down.
The person in the front, I was like, “Yeah, no. Fuck this. This is easier in the front.” So I went in front. 30 minutes later I’m back in the back. Because the front, you’re guiding so you’re literally bouncing all over the place, take into consideration when someone’s pushing on the back, they could be pushing down or they could be pushing up. So it’s not like you’re just holding, you also have to maintain us pushing up and pushing down. Us in the back, we had people, I could talk to this person on my left or I could talk to this person on my right. But the person in front, nothing. There was no iPad, iPods. No music. We’re in complete silence. Well, supposed to be in complete silence. So during that time, we carried our water, which was fun. We had good water the entire time. We had fresher water. You know what I’m saying? I mean, you still had to put your iodine in there, but it didn’t taste like mud. IT didn’t taste like cow patties. It didn’t taste like dirt or grass. It tasted like water.
Explained the carts. Explained the food. Explain school. So while we’re out there because they took me during school. You did get school credit, they taught about rock formation. They taught about the stars. So you got like a crash course on geology and astrology. That was interesting. It was actually pretty helpful. I don’t remember too much now.
What is a solo? Kind of what it sounds like. At that program, I had three solos. Nine days in the middle of nowhere by yourself with no human interaction. The first solo was eventful, I had visitors every time. I mean, I had friends.They were the small furry kind that jump and run, and they would not leave me alone.
However, I had lots of them. I’m talking about mice, right? The first place they stuck me was a mouse colony. So everywhere, you had to put your food in the air because the mice would try to eat it. So my birthday is February 21st. My first solo ended on my birthday. That was my sweet 16 being on a solo, not being able to talk to anybody really. So that was that birthday. We did however get off that day and then staff found out it was my birthday. Everyone in my family forgot it was my birthday. Staff had to tell them it was my birthday. So I didn’t get anything for my birthday.
When we got off the solo, it started thundering and raining really bad, so my birthday present was we had to go to bed early and couldn’t even eat hot food. Literally, it was just storming. So you couldn’t do anything just basically stuck in your tent, because it was storming that bad. So that was my 16th birthday. One of the staff members, he could make wooden spoons. So he made me a wooden spoon, which to me at that time was awesome. Now, if you were to give me a wooden spoon, I’d look at you like you’re fucking crazy. But at that point in time getting anything was great, but then a spoon was even better, I wasn’t lying when I said you’d have to pick up a stick and that would be your utensil.
So the winter storm. Now, we go to bed. A week before, I looked up in the sky and I was like, you know what, a week from today, there’s going to be a winter storm. Everyone laughed. Well, a week later. They were fucking with me the night before. They’re like, “Oh, Erik, I thought there was going to be a winter storm.” Blah, blah, blah, blah. Blah, blah, blah, blah, blah. I’m like, “Just wait, just wait.” Now, I’m being arrogant.
Well, we went to bed. When we woke up, I ended up losing my spoon because my shit was everywhere. Well, when we went to bed, one of my friends, we had made ourselves a mansion that night. So we had put our tarps together. As long as you could whisper, if you created a tent with somebody else, you guys could whisper all night and just chit chat and hang out. Well, when we woke up, I was wondering, I was like, why the fuck are we so close together? I’m talking about we were mushed together. We look outside and I swear to you, there had to have been a foot of snow that just out of nowhere appeared. And mind you, none of us were prepared for it. Of course, my little arrogant ass was like, “I told everybody. I told you.” I mean, it was a massive snowstorm and none of us knew. We literally went to bed, there was no snow on the ground. We woke up, there was snow everywhere. So what do they tell us? They tell us we have to hike to a yurt because it’s unsafe. There was too much snow on the ground for us to find somewhere to sleep.
A yurt is just like a big army tent. In the yurt, there’s no snow on the ground. We get to the yurt. We hiked all day to get to this yurt, which is not fun or easy hiking in snow. It takes a lot of energy to walk in snow. When we get there, we’re great. Do not, I repeat this, do not take off your clothes because it gets hot in the yurt. It gets hot. We had it raging hot. We were sitting there taking our clothes off. Staff kind of told us like, “Be careful. Taking your clothes off is going to get a little cold at nighttime.”
We’re like, “Yeah, whatever, man. It’s hot as hell in here.” We’re really relaxed. Well, when the fire went out, about 2:00 in the morning… It’s dark we can’t see anything. Whoa, it went from like hot where we had our shirts off and having a grand old time to below freezing to where all of us woke up. we went to bed hot so we weren’t paying attention. Staff was looking at us like “be careful”. And in the middle of the night the temperature dropped on us from 60 degrees to 20 degrees. And it froze every last one of us. One of the worst freezing nights I’ve ever had.
In today’s world, we have toilet paper. When I was out there, mind you, I was there for eight weeks, there was no toilet paper. What did you do to wipe your ass? I got creative. What does that mean? Well, you find out that wet leaves are amazing to wipe your butt. They are the closest thing to toilet paper. Sage worked pretty well, a rock works very well too, but you have to be very careful. Make sure it’s a smooth one because you can poke the shit out of yourself. No pun intended. You can poke yourself with a sharp rock. Sticks work pretty well. They do, but bark tends to come off. So it would not be the prettiest sight. Let’s just say that. So what did you do to wipe your butt? You got creative. That’s what you did. Now, all of us smelled terrible. So sage was kind of like the deodorant. The bath too. I forgot about that. Some of us would have a little sage around our necks.
The worst days were shower days. None of us wanted to take a shower. It wasn’t really a shower. Shower day was this. Now, it’s 30 degrees Fahrenheit outside. So it’s already freezing. Your job is to boil some water, put some soap in there, your everyday biodegradable soap, take a rag like handkerchief, take your bucket of water, go out to the bushes. Mind you, you have to count out loud for staff to hear you. the entire time that you’re doing this and wash yourself. You mean get naked when it’s 30 degrees and take water and clean yourself? Yes.
What did most of us do? We just cleaned our ass. Clean your ass and then you’re done. That’s why some of us had sage we smelled absolutely horrendous. It smelled like a campfire and straight up Body Odor. If you don’t clean your butt, you could get serious problems. I can handle being smelly, but being cold was miserable. I mean, those are some of the most miserable showers I’ve ever taken because it was freezing cold and then you had to count.
I think I’ve covered the basis of Aspen. So let me tell a couple quick stories. I ended up making it into an eagle. I didn’t make it to Eagle with honors like I wanted to
My second solo was fun. I actually had an encounter with an owl. It was one of the most terrifying surreal experiences I’ve ever been through. The first night, it was terrifying. Second night, third night not at all. It was like he was my protector. First night, I had to have picked my sleeping spot under his house or whatever, his perch. Because would I hear, “Woo, woo.” Then I’d hear a boom. He would fly down and it seemed like he was right next to me. If you’ve ever seen owl’s talons, they’re huge. The first couple of times I’m like, “Oh my god. He’s going to get me.” I mean, he was right next to me. But what he was doing, he was eating. He was swooping down, grabbing the mice, and getting them. So the first night, like I said it was as scary as you can imagine. Second night, once I knew I was going to be alright and I was going to wake up the next morning, it wasn’t scary at all. It was just kind of like, “All right, whatever. He’s my protector.” At least, I know I got somebody watching me, watching my back. He’s keeping the mice away from me. So that was a fun experience.
As the time progressed and I became more of a senior member of group duce, more of the leadership came to me. One person graduated then I became more senior. And just my personality, I guess inspired people to follow me more than others. I had done everything I needed to do to move up from buffalo to eagle, but the counselors wouldn’t let me.
My best friend, when you have someone that will go through the nitty-gritty with you, that’s what you need. My friend and I went through the nitty-gritty together. In the end, we were supposed to graduate together. Well, they told me that I would be extended one more week. Not because I did anything wrong, because no one in my family had time. Which crushed me, I had worked my ass off. I had done everything well, and the only reason I was extended because no one had time for me. You heard of people being extended, but it was because of behavioral issues.
It was never because your family just stuck you there a little bit longer because they couldn’t schedule the time to come see you. I mean, they did have seven weeks to schedule it. So I was there for 56 days. So one more week. when they told me, they really wanted to see what type of character I had. Was I going to fold or was I still going to lead the group? For a little bit of time, I self-sabotaged. Fuck this, fuck that. But when you’re in a leadership responsibility or in a leadership role, your attitude is very important to the group. So if I were to be fuck this and fuck that, well, all of group duce, now I’m the senior member and everybody looked to me, would be fuck this, fuck that and it would be very toxic.
The staff took me to the side and they said, “Erik, you’ve done everything that you need to be an eagle, but you’re not acting like one.” what they meant is like just because you accomplished everything that you’re supposed to be, it doesn’t mean that you’re being a leader. There’s two different types of leaders. There’s appointed leaders and then there’s actual leaders.
They could have appointed me as a leader and gave me the eagle, but what they were trying to explain to me is I was already an eagle. I was already in charge of the group. I was already leading the group. It didn’t matter whether they gave me a title or not. I was already an eagle, but I wasn’t acting like one. I already had everyone’s ear. If I said, “Do this,” they’d do it. I was already in control of the group, but I didn’t have the title so I didn’t act like I was. But when they told me that, I started to switch. And I started to act like an eagle. And I started telling everybody, “Don’t worry about it. Don’t get on the staff.”
I reigned in my suicide squad, and I told them all, “Just don’t worry about it. Don’t worry about me being an eagle. It’s fine. We still have to do this. We still have to do that.” no longer was I trying for the title, I was just going to lead this group because I knew that this group needed me. So when I started doing that, then they saw the switch and they took me outside and they did a whole ceremony and said, “Soar like an eagle.” Later on in life, especially the older I get, I kind of see it like I can convince people to do a lot. But at a point in time, you have to make sure that you’re able to persuade or sway people in a positive manner, opposed to a negative matter.
Just that story comes back to me a lot sometimes when I’m trying so hard for something, if I look back, and I step back, I realize I already have it. If that makes any sense. I didn’t get to graduate with my friends, but what the staff didn’t tell me is that it wasn’t just one person that was trying to come to my graduation, it was my uncle who I’m named after. It was him. It was my aunt and it was my other aunt.
The other two females, yes, my family, but they’re my mom’s brother’s wives. So the entire time I was gone, my mom’s brothers, my actual uncles refused to talk to me. Tough love. They would not talk to me, would not write a letter, wouldn’t do anything. I guess they were preparing me for later in life when later no one would talk to me.
This is the time that they told me I would not be going home. That crushed me, I was under the assumption that if I worked as hard as I could, then I would get to go home, but they were like, “No. You’re going somewhere else.” My aunt drove me to the airport.The longest and one of the last conversations the two of us had was after I took a shower. I didn’t get to see anything. I didn’t get to say hi to anyone in my family, anything. Just transported to the next Gulag.
Then when I got to the airport, the same people who brought me to this experience. Were there again. It was good to see familiar faces, and at least it was the same people that escorted me the first time. So I got in the truck with them. We flew to California, and then we rented a car, and we were on our way north.