ON MY TERMS - Epic Survival: Extreme Adventure, Stone Age Wisdom, and Lessons in Living from a Modern Hunter-Gatherer (2017)

Epic Survival: Extreme Adventure, Stone Age Wisdom, and Lessons in Living from a Modern Hunter-Gatherer (2017)

Chapter Three




I found myself torn. I had set myself on an unusual path in life. But I was still young, and I felt as if I needed to reground myself in the real world. It wasn’t about making money. In my life, money was for wants; it wasn’t for needs. It was more a sense of trying to feel like I belonged to something concrete, so to speak.

During my walk through the Sierras, I admit that I felt lonely at times. I loved what I was learning in the wilderness, and how the wilds responded to me and I to them. But I also missed the ease of the city and being with my friends. I didn’t want to be forced to choose one life or the other. I wanted to take the best of both worlds, but I wasn’t really sure how to, or even if it was possible.

I ended up staying in the Huntington Beach area that winter and working for my dad. He owned a construction company that had a contract with the aerospace manufacturing company McDonnell Douglas. Life there wasn’t all steel and concrete. I was near the ocean, where I could surf again. I was also back where I had grown up.

The working life wasn’t completely foreign to me. I never had any trouble finding a job. People liked me, and I had a determination and dedication that showed. Employers were attracted to that, but I wanted to push away from normal jobs.

As I tried to relate to the people I had grown up with who had gotten married and had full-time jobs, I recognized that everybody’s life is different. The phases are what allow someone to be a loner and not be alone. At that age, I was still developing and maturing as a person. I wanted to interact in a community and have friends, which made it harder to be alone.

Being alone is rewarding if you connect to the land, because what you get out of it is amazing. The plants and animals don’t literally talk to you, but they almost do. There is nothing you can do to replace those experiences. When you are alone in the wilderness, you are struggling hard to understand something deeper, but nobody is there to help you. Ultimately, even the strongest people are going to feel a sense of loneliness.

The mental fortitude and patience it takes to be alone are way beyond what most people are capable of. Though I knew I was able to live alone, I didn’t have the patience or mental strength at that age to be alone for significant periods of time.

I found that when I talked about being alone, most people could only conceptualize that as sitting on their couch watching TV and eating food. That has nothing to do with being alone. Even reading a book is not being alone because you inhabit someone else’s illusionary world.

But being alone in the wilderness is something else entirely. There is no escape. You must be immersed and present with everything that is going on around you. Being back in society, I saw that people had created the ability to escape from the moment in different ways. While that makes life easier for that moment because it allows people to check out of reality, it also destroys our ability to be patient and present.

It helped that I didn’t own anything, so I had nothing to come back to. All my belongings could fit in a backpack or tote bag. If it did not fit into my backpack, I gave it away. My only real connections were with friends or directly with the land, so for me to wander off on my own was easy. Yet I was still conflicted.

My experiences in the wilderness were giving me some deeper perspectives that others could not understand, nor could I fully. I appreciated the newfound and profound wisdom I was gaining, but I also began to feel a distance from people. To those around me, it seemed that I wanted to be a “hermit rather than a cool guy,” as one guy put it. I also noticed that I had fewer close friendships and a harder time relating to people on everyday issues.

I found that for some, the phrase living off the land meant living “simple” and “lacking intelligence.” I had discovered that this could not be farther from the truth. There is nothing simple about living off the land. It requires innate and learned intelligence to adjust to the natural changes around you—otherwise you will not survive. There is also evidence that the hunter-gatherer lifestyle stimulates psychological and physical well-being by returning us to the land, making it one of the most complex and invigorating ways to live.

It has been suggested that the cures to many modern ills can be found in natural living. The renowned naturalist and ecologist Paul Shepard conducted some of the definitive studies on early nature-based cultures. He concluded that humans, who over the millennia have spent nearly all of their social history in hunting-and-gathering environments, must be close to nature to properly grow emotionally and psychologically.

Shepard determined that the shift over our hundreds of thousands of years from hunter-gatherers to settled agriculturalists destroyed not only our surroundings but also us. Bucking our innate desire for the wilderness has taken us out of our natural element and as a result created many of the psychological and physical problems that exist today.

The one thing I knew was that I did not want to give up my enriching experiences in the wild just to be more relatable at a party. It was at that point that I decided I should not turn my back on the wisdom that nature was offering that could help others; rather I should further explore this call at whatever personal cost. I reached the conclusion that I would have to become a better communicator with the forest in order to explain and teach others the language of the earth. I made it a goal to figure out a way to bring friends and others to terms with the wilderness.


Before returning to Huntington Beach, I had walked virtually everywhere I went. I covered not just the length of California but also many of its nooks and crannies. I would meet people everywhere I went. But when I looked at them, I felt that they were boxed in and had lost their freedom. I didn’t want to be like that. I didn’t want to lose my freedom. I regarded these people as unhealthy, because they were trapped in a system that degraded their minds and their health. It scared me. I promised myself I would never fall into that trap.

For me, a large part of living off the land alone in the wilderness was not destroying or taking anything from the earth. Growing up, Christianity had taught me about being kind to people. But I had concluded that it wasn’t enough to be kind to people while beating up the earth. To avoid falling into that trap, I kept my possessions to a minimum. I had seen friends in my field with ties to material things, and I could see it was pulling them away from the wilderness. That aspect scared me as well.

The other struggle I had was trying to share what I had learned. I felt that I was getting to a point where I could live off the land and not destroy the earth. But being back in society, it looked like everybody else was destroying the earth. I began to question what good I, as one person, could do if I slipped away and back into that lifestyle. Asking these questions resulted in me acknowledging that there was more to my life than just my relationship with the wilderness. I had to include other people’s relationships with the wilderness.

One of the most important things I had learned from living off the land is to be more observant. I saw that my friends would drive home or walk around Huntington Beach and not even recall what they saw. Living off the land made me aware of everything. In addition to helping me know myself better, it also led me to pay closer attention to people.

I was careful not to be preachy. I tried to live by example. If asked, I would gladly share my love for the wilderness and my stories with people who wanted to hear them. But I focused on living by example. I knew that I could never convince somebody in a dialogue. I never dictated to others. Even though I was searching for answers, I never judged anyone else’s life. I was arriving at my own conclusion on what was a kinder way to live. It was working for me. I was hopeful it would work for others if they chose to look for it. But at the same time, I felt a certain amount of confusion that so few people chose to live that way. Because more people weren’t pursuing my chosen lifestyle, it made me constantly question what was wrong with it.

At some point, as I was rounding out my skills and filling out the full picture, I started leaning harder on the life of a survivalist. I was constantly pushing myself and riding a fine line. I would run sixty-five miles in a day from Death Valley to the Sierras. Every few months, I would sit on a mountaintop and fast for one full cycle of a day and two nights. I would run barefoot in the snow. Instead of sleeping on a bed when I was in civilization, I chose to sleep on a wooden board to harden my bones and my body. I would purposefully bathe under icy water in the wintertime.

Ultimately, that is what created the deeper connection for me and made me come to the realization that the wilderness would be my life’s path. My intentions were pure. I believed in what I was doing so strongly that I was willing to die for it. But at the same time, I believed that the wilderness saw my intentions and therefore wasn’t going to kill me.



Because I don’t own a car, I am going to focus on three physical elements to cover the landscape: running, climbing, and swimming. I believe that if I can master those three natural modes of transportation, I can travel anywhere I want go.

Swimming is important to me because I grew up near the ocean, and I love to go on long-distance ocean swims. I use swimming as a relief from the heat. I also know that there will be times when crossing to safety requires me to swim across a body of water.

Climbing is critical because the earth is not flat. If I do not learn to scale a steep rock properly, I am putting myself in danger every time I move across the land. I will need to climb to cross mountain ranges. I will also need to climb to find a perch where I can avoid animals coming after my food at night.

Running is the most important means of transporting myself from one place to the next. It is my primary means of exploring new areas. It also allows me to speed up the basic tasks of living in the wild, like hunting for food or seeking shelter in threatening weather.

At the same time that I need to be strong in these areas, I am also starting to realize that no matter how physically developed I become, I cannot compete against nature. The wild will destroy me if I try to compete against it. I can’t throw myself off a cliff and expect to pop up like a rubber ball, nor can I jump into a flash flood and survive.

I also see that it is futile to compete against the wild. Why would I want to go out and do battle with something that is so real, so beautiful, and so much a part of me? That defeats the point of being out in the wild.

However, the dilemma remains that at the same time nature is beautiful, it is fierce. That scares people. That ferocity keeps our awareness intact. I know that if I use my fitness to exist in that fierceness rather than fighting against it, I will be protected.