HMI Gap: Our Last Expedition

Written by Grace, Carrin and Meg

Our first few days in the KOFA

We begin our hiking days with a familiar routine: packing our backpacks with all our belongings, making a tasty warm breakfast (usually hash browns or oatmeal),  treating our water bottles, and doing a map check. In preparation for independent student travel, we began hiking without our instructor team, navigating completely on our own through the unfamiliar and rugged terrain of the Kofa Wilderness Refuge on the borders of Arizona, California, and Mexico. One morning during the map check the student leaders of the day informed us we would have our longest day of navigation yet. We embraced the navigational challenge with enthusiasm at the beginning of the long day. We hiked through drainages and crossed over steep and rocky ridges by employing the risk management skills we learned throughout the semester. When the blazing desert sun began setting behind a western ridge, we began to worry we wouldn’t reach our chosen destination—a spot that we needed to arrive at to get more water. In the dry KOFA desert, the only reliable water sources are man-made water tanks. These tanks are filled throughout the year at various intervals and maintained for both the local human and wildlife population. With teamwork we altered our route, heading to a closer water tank, but upon arrival we found the tank to be empty! While rare, the extreme drought conditions in the Southwest this year meant that not all the tanks were as reliable as they’ve been in previous years. 

The sun almost completely disappeared from the sky, we contemplated our options: eventually, we decided to “dry camp” unexpectedly. Even though we were exhausted from a nine-hour hiking day with heavy packs our strong community still pulled together–exemplifying true “expedition behavior.” We rationed and shared the water we had left. This night brought out the best qualities of F Trek 2: compassion for each other, perseverance through adversity, and meeting challenges with positivity. We woke before dawn the next morning with the intention to essentially run to the next nearest tank–De La Osa Tank. Here, we were greeted by plenty of water. Although it was a tough and unexpectedly long day, we felt more confident in our decision-making skills, ability to navigate through the new terrain, and use teamwork to solve problems just in time for Independent Student Travel! 

Thanksgiving & Independent Student Travel

With a renewed sense of gratitude for the sweet life-giving force of water F-Trek 2 sat in a wash near De La Osa Well surrounded by the familiar sounds of chatter and laughter that have come to characterize our community.  Heading into this expedition many of us were nervous to be spending thanksgiving away from our families for the first time. We all wanted it to feel magical so we’d planned and rationed an exquisite backcountry meal for the occasion! Although it had only been 24 hours since we started Independent Student Travel (travel without instructors), it felt like forever since the group had all been together! Dehydrated foods such as mashed potatoes, gravy, and stuffing came into fruition, and after hours of toiling away over our whisper-light stoves–a gorgeous buffet of traditional Thanksgiving staples lay before us on the cold desert ground. Delicious scents of sweet potato casserole, apple pie, and cranberry sauce worked their way through the air watering everyone’s mouths as we each expressed gratitude. There was an unspoken consensus that the times spent without water, in the freezing cold, or hiking for hours on end had given us a new sense of gratitude for all that we had at that moment. Although a sense of heartache for the traditions we were missing at home blanketed the air–we felt proud of the way each of us shared home recipes and traditions. To cook a family stuffing recipe handed down for generations, while sitting in the dirt, in the dark, on a one-burner stove is an impressive feat! Spirits were as high as ever. As the evening came to an end, everyone got ready for bed and retreated to the warmth of their sleeping bags. The sound of Harry Potter being read allowed broke the quiet as F-Trek 2 drifted off to sleep underneath the starry night sky. 


The 24 Hour Solo

(The 24-hour solo is an important part of all HMI programming and a long-practiced tradition since the first semester in 1998. During solo students are encouraged to write a reflective piece called a “Full Circle” that is read out loud and shared amongst the entire group on the last night of the course).  

For the first time in 72 days, F-Trek 2 would be separated from each other. Saying goodbye before our 24-hour solo was a fairly lengthy process — we all hugged goodbye, and then hugged goodbye again, and then again; it took all of our might to tear away and begin our respective solos. 

Libbey, our instructor,  guided half of our group down a drainage and we tucked into little nooks and crannies that would be our homes for the next 24 hours. The first thing I did upon arriving at my new home was sit down on my crazy creek and close my eyes, feeling the powerful rays of the sun beating down on my cheeks, arms, and legs. I took a deep breath — how would I be able to be alone with my thoughts and no distractions for 24 hours? I decided that the best way to cope with my aloneness would be structure. I pulled out my pink journal and planned for the next 24 hours. I scheduled when I would write my full circle, our final reflection on our experience that we shared with the group on our last night, when I would brainstorm my SMART goals for the expedition, when to write our letters to our representatives (one of our environmental studies assignments), when to journal, when to eat, when to read. The prospect of sitting and doing absolutely nothing frightened me. So, I followed my schedule closely for the first night and then fell asleep as soon as it got dark.   

I woke up the next morning with the intention to follow my schedule as closely as I did the night before. The first item on the list: 9 AM, Eat Breakfast. Check. The next: 10-11 AM, Write Full Circle. When I put pen to paper, words came rushing out of me and it felt as if I wasn’t in control of what I was writing. I put my pen down after finishing my Full Circle and erupted in tears. The amount of gratitude and love I had for our community was overwhelming. Despite being apart from my new family for the first time in 72 days, I felt closer to them than ever. I had been dreading being apart from everyone, yet as I sat there in tears, alone, I realized that the solo was a gift — I knew I had changed, evolved as a person throughout the semester, but with no distractions, I was able to begin my next journey, truly understanding how I will continue to carry these people and these places with me for the rest of my life.

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