At one time or another we have all been told the importance of teamwork. I am sure that we have at least heard the saying “there is no I in team”. And although everyone may understand this idea to some extent, and agree with it when asked, not everyone has truly experience what it means. I believe that working together with those around you as a team is the best way to ensure the success of a group, or an individual. I learned this lesson first hand while spending over a month in the deserts of Arizona.
I had decided to take the summer off from school, and want to do something exciting and different. I also wanted to make sure I did something outdoors because although I love all sorts of outdoor activities, I find that with a busy work and school schedule I do not always have the time. I heard about a place down in Arizona that offers survival hikes. You are given the bare minimum to survive, and as a small group you make your way across the desert for a month and a half. You have a knife, an old army surplus sleeping bag, a tin cup for cooking, and some rope. I few other basics are carried by the guide, for emergency situations. As far as food we were given rice, lentils, an apple and some salt and chicken seasoning each week (this food was dropped off by off road vehicles at predetermined points). The group was small, six people including the two guides. For water we had to find streams, or sometimes even drink from old cow tanks (large dug out areas of ground with little water, mostly mud, in which cattle will rest when being driven across the desert). The water was not safe so we had to drop bleach into it to kill off any dangerous bacteria.
Everyday or two we would hike to a new location, and everyday there were new situations and struggles we had to overcome. At the beginning, none of us knew each other, so we were all pretty quiet, and stuck to ourselves. Soon though it became apparent that we would all have to work together. To start a fire, we had to learn how to make our own fire kits from different types of wood. We learned to start fires using a bow drill, and also amazingly enough just a stick between our hands, rubbing on another piece of wood. We learned what types of plants where good to eat, or what other uses they had. We ate scorpions and even a rattlesnake. Sometimes we were near relatively large rivers or streams, and despite the hundred plus degrees of heat, these where definitely easer times. Sometimes though, we were nowhere near running water, and had to drink from mud holes. All the while though it became more and more apparent that if we were by ourselves out there, we would be unable to survive as well, if at all.
I remember one day in particular we had hiked for hours to our next campsite, only to find that the water there had dried up. The only other water was at least 4 hours away, and to get to it we would have to climb up and over a mountain plateau. We were all almost out of water, and exhausted. We knew we had to keep going though. So we struck out toward the mountain. One of the guys in our group had always been falling behind, and often complaining about everything, from the lack of flavorful food, to starting a fire. He often did not do his part, and everyone in the group resented him a little. Well today was no different, and with the circumstances as they were he was complaining even more then usual, and lagging behind. We had to keep stopping for him, and we were all getting pretty irritated. Well we were about halfway up the plateau, when he said that that was it, and he couldn’t go any further. We all rolled our eyes, because even though we could see he was exhausted, we also knew that he was no more tired than any of us. We were all starting to get upset, and we even started yelling at him, and calling him names. Then I realized how ridiculous we were being. Even though we new where the water was, I realized that there was a possibility that it wouldn’t be there. We were in a serious situation, and we were sitting here on the side of the mountain yelling at each other.
I tried to calm everyone down, and get there attention off him. I got them double-checking our position and direction on the map. I then went over to the guy that had been holding us up this whole way. “you know you are holding us up when we need to go, right?” I asked. “Whatever, I am dying, I can’t go any further. Just go ahead and come back for me with water.” He replied. I fought the urge to start yelling at him, and told him to drink the water he had now so that he could at least make it to next water spot. Evidently when we had left this morning, he had not filled up his canteens all the way, and had been out of water when we reached the dried up creek. It was then I realized it was serious, as all of us were almost out of water too. I went the guide, who was getting everyone ready to go, and told him how the guy we all thought was just complaining for nothing had no water. The guide immediately went into action, and had everyone check their water. We were all at the bottom of our canteens, with only a few gulps left each. He had us each poor some of our water into a canteen, and then gave it to the guy who had no water. He drank some, and rested for a minute, and drank some more. It was so hot out (112 f) that just sitting in the sun was dangerous, and we knew we had to move. So I walked over and grabbed his backpack, and reached out my hand. He grabbed it, and got up. Without his pack he was able to get up the mountain, but with the extra weight I was getting dangerously exhausted. But as soon as I thought I couldn’t go on, an without saying anything, one of the other people in the group came over and took his pack from me, and carried it for a while. Then someone else switched off. We did this until finally, as it was getting dark we reached a small spring. We threw down our packs and slowly drank our fill, until we were all hydrated enough to set out our sleeping bags and start a fire.
That situation was extreme, and we were actually in danger. Had we not worked as a team, someone could have died, or had to be airlifted out. And although I don’t normally face situations like this in my daily life, I remember how we worked together, not just that day, but throughout the whole trip. The better we worked together, the easier it was to survive. This is true in everything, and I always remember this whether I am at work, or school, or just going camping for the weekend.
If you enjoyed this essay, please consider making a tax-deductible contribution to This I Believe, Inc.