I made it to a little town in Arizona. Got the cheapest hotel and went to meet the group the next morning. One of the first people I met as part of the course was a skinny dude with a long beard. He's older than me-- I was 19 at the time. I overhear him telling a woman, also on the course, that he has vowed not to cut his hair unless he can make the tools himself. He said the last time he cut his hair and beard he had to tie it off at the length he wanted and burn the remainder.
I met the author of the survival book and he seemed genuinely surprised that I was there.
The first day of the course they drove us out to a remote area and they mapped out a route. Neither of the instructors had ever been to the area before but they arranged pick up at a destination-- we just had to be there on the right day. They made us empty our pockets, we couldn't have anything. All I had was some money, a pack of Luck Strikes, and a lighter. It all went into the truck that was to meet us at the end of the course.
They gave us a can of beans or something, a tin cup, and a thin, canvas sleeping bag. I keep referring to it as a "thin, canvas sleeping bag" because when it got cold at night, you fucking froze.
On the very first day of the trip, the youngest and most athletic instructor fell and broke his ankle. They fashioned crutches from tree limbs for him and he hobbled on that for the next week. He went from being the fastest and strongest to the slowest and most cumbersome.
There were a couple families. An obese family that only complained. A God-fearing nuclear family. A few couples, a few older adults. Everyone except the instructors were painfully slow at hiking.
They really didn't teach us too much. The instructors started the fires without matches but no one paid attention. They would point out leaves and berries that were edible and I'd always eat them, but I didn't remember the names. There was one tree that was supposed to have minty leaves-- good for rubbing on your teeth and chewing to freshen breath. I tried it and didn't seem to work.
The first thing I noticed was that I really craved junk food. For the first few days I could only think about all the different foods I was going to eat when I got back to civilization. I would go through every craving and try to put them in a hierarchy. In the end I decided my first meal on my return would be a Wendy's cheeseburger. That's right.
There was a girl about 16 who was really cute, she became my best friend on the course. We would walk together and talk about anything and nothing.
One day we were sitting under a tree and she said, "So are you LDS?" I assumed she was asking if I'd ever done LSD so I answered, "Yeah, a couple times." She seemed confused. "Are you Latter Day Saints? You know... Mormon?" I didn't know anything about Mormons. The others gathered around. Apparently this was a survival course as part of a Mormon church. And I was the only heathen in the platoon. I wasn't even from Utah.