Main piece: If you turned 18 and wanted to sign out of your Wilderness Therapy program, the running conspiracy was that you had to walk from deep in the mountains all the way down to Main Base Camp in downtown Salt Lake City. That’s about a 2 week walk, but you weren’t allowed to hitchhike or receive any assistance or supplies, because a staff member would escort you to ensure you completed the whole walk independently.
Context: The informant (WB) is originally from Atlanta, Georgia, but moved to Orem, Utah when he was 17 four years ago to receive addiction and mental health treatment. He ended up falling in love with the state and staying. WB’s father had Irish lineage and his mother was a first generation immigrant from Germany. Although he was raised Christian, he does not consider himself religious. Our conversation took place in our shared hotel room while smoking together on a family ski trip in Utah. The informant originally heard this rumor from the other boys in his Wilderness Therapy group (all of whom were minors or young adults) – it had been passed down from individuals with had been there longer to those who were newer to the program, who would then pass it onto the next batch of new kids. WB clarified that this urban legend did not end up actually being true, as when he reached the end of his stay in Wilderness, he got finally clarification from a staff member he was friendly with over whether this was true; it would’ve been “outlandish” if it were true. WB thinks this “treatment tale” came into existence because the majority of the boys in his group were there against their wills, and “when you’re in the middle of nowhere doing nothing but hiking and eating nothing but rice and beans, it’s more fun to buy into crazy stories like that rather than think about why your family sent you away.”
Personal thoughts: It’s important to note that the Wilderness Therapy program the informant attended involved spending months on end out in the wilderness, a lifestyle reminiscent of what many would consider “simpler times,” where the hustle and bustle of modern life and technology did not dictate life. Just as individuals of the past were prolific in their creation of myths and legends and tales when faced with bleak realities of mortality and suffering, WB and his group manufactured stories of their own to distract from the anguish and confusion they had to deal with without the escape of modern technology. In terms of the actual content of the tale, the outlandish idea of a difficult two week walk without help is reflective of the independence and perseverance the boys had to develop through months of hard living and involuntary treatment in the middle of nowhere. It makes sense that their form of “initiation” once you become a legal adult who is able to leave the program involves such a grueling task.