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August/September 2009How to Survive Almost Anything '09
Andrew Mccarthy

Going Back In

When someone you know dies in the wilderness, it's not always the end.

Text by Andrew McCarthy
Portrait by Chris Buck / Illustration by Alicia Buelow

I can still picture Katy. A petite, brown-eyed, 16-year-old Texan sitting cross-legged on a large rock on the far bank of the river, her elbows propped on her knees, her chin resting in her hands, pouting.

“Don’t worry, Katy,” I shouted over the rushing water. “It’s just walking.” She smiled wanly and waved.

It was our personal joke.

Katy Brain and I were in the heart of the Absaroka Range in northwest Wyoming, in the fourth week of a monthlong course run by the National Outdoor Leadership School, the premier outfit in wilderness education. Katy had struggled almost from the start, clinging to an unhappiness that had tried my patience at times. A few days earlier we’d been making dinner, and she was crying. I finally said to her in frustration, “Katy, we’re just walking here, okay? We get up and we walk to the next place, and then we do it again the next day. It’s just walking. And in a week it will be over.” She settled into a sullen silence for the remainder of the night. But the next evening when Katy was returning from the bear hang, I overheard her say to another student, in a disarmingly confident tone, “It’s just walking, that’s all we’re doing here. We’re just walking.” I smiled to myself and felt a paternal satisfaction.

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