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Twenty-Six Days Away, Part I: Alexander Lam Shares His Thoughts About Athenian Wilderness Course

Athenian student Alexander Lam says the experience helped him appreciate friends and home.

Forty-four Athenian School students recently headed to Death Valley to participate in the Athenian Wilderness Experience, a physically and mentally challenging 26-day course and graduation requirement. Alexander Lam of Danville shared his thoughts before the trip and the challenges he faced in the desert.

How are you preparing for the trip, both physically and mentally?

Physically I haven't prepared much but I play sports. I swim at Athenian every day, Monday to Friday. I know this day would come but it doesn't scare you. I've heard it's a very positive experience. I think it will be a great experience for me.

Do you feel you were well prepared?

Nothing I could have done would physically prepare me. The physical challenges were pretty tough. Mentally you don't know how 26 days away would feel.

My advice is to bring things you like such as gum and contraband (a package of ketchup or soy sauce). We had to take our contraband out and the group decided what you could bring. The small stuff really helps on a long trip. It's like having a little bit of the comforts of home with you.

What are you most looking forward to?

I want to go on solo (a three-day and three-night individual experience within a defined campsite boundary) because I spoke to all my friends who already went on AWE. A lot of my friends fasted on solo and I'm curious how solo will affect me. I am planning to fast.

AWE is a chance to not think about school. That's what I'm most looking forward to.

Did you enjoy solo?

I wrote in my journal every night and took a lot of pictures and videos. I did a lot of meditating and it helped get my mind off food.

A friend told me fasting was awesome. When solo came, he told me that we should both leave our food and group gear at solo base camp, which we did. I fasted and meditated during solo. It rained and the wind blew my tarp away. I found it very hard to sleep on an empty stomach.

After solo we talked about our experience. Fasting was an awful experience for me. I don't recommend it.

What concerns you most about going on AWE?

A friend of mine went to the High Sierras and drank some bad water. She got some type of infection and had to be evacuated by helicopter.

How did you do in the wilderness?

Water was not a concern for me on the trip. The water was fine. We got it from a natural source and purified it.

Our highest elevation was about 6,500 feet and it snowed on us a couple times. It was surprisingly cold for a desert.

What can't you bring on AWE that you would like to have?

I would like to bring my iPod. It seems like 25 days is not that long without music but it's a long time for me.

How did you do without your iPod?

Music wasn't much of a concern to me because I sang a lot and my group did too.

How do you think you'll do on AWE?

I think I'll make it through. AWE is just another one of those things I have to do to graduate. I'm not really excited for it but I'm not scared of it.

How did you do on AWE?

I think I did very well. My only goal was to get through it without being evacuated. I also wanted to have a good experience from it. All the bonding with my group was good. Some of them I've never spoken to since ninth grade and I found they're amazing people.

As for solo, the fasting gave me a good appreciation for all we have here in civilization -- the food and the comforts. It made it so much nicer to come back to.

Going through solo and fasting made everything at the end so much better for me. All the good coming out of a bad solo experience was worth it.

What would you like people to know about AWE?

People should know that if you want to graduate from Athenian you need to go thorough this. There's no way around it.

Also, you don't need toilet paper in the wilderness. I used rocks and snow.

How has AWE changed you as a person?

I've definitely become more appreciative of everything. I'm closer to my AWE friends, those who were there for send off and run-in, those who wrote the letters I got. That was really nice. My friends and I are a lot closer now.

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