The first Class to fully embrace holistic biology: Body—Mind—Spirit.
When Melody Petersen Floyd and Terri Raymond Penington invited Christie and me to the upcoming 40-year-class reunion, my grumpy response was, I am retired and attending reunions was not in my job description. Thankfully, Christie disagreed and said, “I think we should go.” Of course! She intuitively knew that I owed a huge spiritual debt to the former Biodesign students, a debt that was noted in a passage from Biodesign Out For A Walk, chap. 4, “A Class Is Born,”
This class (’79) was able to negotiate many minefields and learned to prepare, concentrate, and communicate. In doing so, they not only created an incredible learning environment, but they built a foundation that would support nearly 20 more years of Biodesign.
In the spring of 1978, I don’t think the upcoming students were aware of the personal and professional battles I was going through. They were deeply troubling and I was seriously considering giving up my dream of establishing a class that encouraged students to explore Nature as an inner guide to their unique sense of spirituality.
The litany of errors (many of them mine) that caused 1/3 of the previous class to drop out at the end of the first semester left me lost and confused. The factors are detailed in chapter 3, titled “Firestorm,” but the title adequately described the class.
We were collectively pioneering uncharted territory for a public high school and I had no curriculum guide or backup administrative support. I might have terminated the Class, but the Class of ’79 had already enrolled and it was too late to cancel.
Evidently the word had spread that we were doing something revolutionary by adding a “spiritual” element and I should not have been surprised that 19 girls and 6 boys signed up for the ’79 Class.
I was not gender-biased, but I could foresee that legitimate gender-based differences could create some unique logistical challenges. It was widely known that climbing world-famous Half Dome was a primary goal of the Yosemite trip and the ascent proved to be highly challenging, even to better-balanced classes.
The weight any animal can carry is related to its size. A 6-lb. toy poodle might manage a 1-lb. pack while professional muleskinners calculate a mule’s carrying capacity at about 20% of its weight, or about 200 lbs. Although humans are not built like mules, the 20% rule comes pretty close. A 200 lb. human, can usually manage a 40-lb pack, while a 100-lb human can usually manage a 20-lb pack. However, this is where gender enters the equation. Girls typically weigh less than guys and they often lack the muscle mass of males, especially in the upper body area. This could become a crucial factor especially while climbing Half Dome’s cables.
In the fall of 1978, as we approached the Yosemite trip, I became more concerned about the weight differential. I highly recommended that the boys not exceed 40-lb packs and the girls not exceed 30 lbs. This posed a potential problem because the girls needed the same essentials (sleeping bag, ground mat, water bottles, and part of a tent) as the guys. While most of the boys would probably be fine with 40 lbs., 30 lbs. could overstress some of the girls. I tried to downplay the issue and said that we will go as far as we can and make camp at Little Yosemite Valley or on the Half Dome shoulder if necessary.
They started from the Valley Floor and during eight hours they powered up 10 miles, with nearly a 5,000-foot gain. By being prepared, concentrating and with soulful communication, they worked together and achieved what, for many groups would have been impossible. In past classes, the stronger boys (and some girls) willingly offered to carry a sleeping bag, tent section or rain-fly. Generally, this Class did not have that option.
For most, if not all, the climb up Half Dome was the dire-most physical, mental and spiritual challenge of their life. It demanded extreme exertion and tapping into latent energy reserves before they shared an exhausted, yet triumphal celebration on the top.
Against amazing odds, they became the third Class to earn the right to sleep on top of Half Dome. Their post-trip essays were over-the-moon and the Class set a new bar of excellence for future Classes.
They couldn’t have known it, but they would become responsible for enabling 51 more field trips including 15 trips to the incomparable Grand Canyon. Grand Canyon became Christie’s favorite trip and without her logistical expertise, they would most likely not have been possible.
The only injury occurred in the McDonald’s Restaurant restroom in Oakdale, Ca. I failed to allow enough “potty stops” for so many girls and all 19 of them tried to cram into 2 stalls. One door accidentally got slammed on one of the girl’s ring finger and resulted in a painful break. We quickly called her doctor who advised that we ice the finger and get her home where he could set it properly.
I saw her several years later and she flashed a pretty diamond at me and said, “Look Mr.Young, my finger was straight enough to slip a wedding ring on!” I laughed and said a quiet Amen; not only for her finger, but the multitude blessings we had received.
Chapter 4 in BOFAW ended with:
“The year proved to a banner year with the only major trauma coming at the very end. I had fallen in love with the whole class, and when it was time for them to graduate, I was heartbroken. I decided that it would have been much less painful dissecting pigs.”
“So the little prince tamed the fox. And when the hour of his departure drew near—
‘Ah,’ said the fox, ‘I shall cry.’
‘It is your own fault,’ said the little prince. ‘I never wished you any sort of harm; but you wanted me to tame you…’” The Little Prince, Antoine de Saint Exupery.
Of course, there are no words to describe the huge impact the class of ’79 had on my life, marriage, family and career. In a huge irony, without them, Biodesign Out For A Walk would likely never have been written with their story, along with stories of other amazing students. Suddenly, I had a burning desire to meet and thank them for their precious gift of life.
So we went to the reunion and reconnected with about a dozen ex-Biodesigners. It was strange and in a wonderfully mysterious way, after spirit-filled hugs, words somehow seemed inadequate. After all, they enabled me to achieve my dream of providing an educational environment that celebrated Holistic Biology:
Body—Mind—Spirit; perhaps our souls were co-mingling and words had become superfluous.
Lowell H. Young
Author: Biodesign Out For A Walk