To the outside world, Evan Mann, 28, was already a success story. He’s the Director of Strategy, Engagement, and Innovation for Ideas Unlimited, a promotional products company. He’s also an independent coach and consultant for professionals seeking to optimize their performance, a recognizable face in local theatre, and the creator and host the podcast, Conversations With Kids — which is slated to debut in October. What those close to Evan didn’t know was he was facing an existential crisis.

Even says: “I was in a classic working world rut. All I did was wake up, go to work, come home, and prepare for work the next day. When it came to moderation in my life, I had trouble exercising any restraint. In hindsight, I can see that my excesses were a symptom of depression. I couldn’t feel anything, so I decided I might as well indulge as much as possible in an attempt to feel something. Like a lot of people, I thrived on distraction.”

One day, during one of those moments of distraction, Evan ran across an article about Boulder Outdoor Survival School in Utah. He felt compelled to enroll.

In need of a radical change, Evan was drawn to the program because it has the reputation for being the toughest of its kind in the world. Though he was already working out and eating clean, he knew he had to do more to prepare for the demanding mountain and desert expedition.

“Before I signed up, I was doing a lot of CrossFit, powerlifting, and high-intensity interval training,” he says. “After I signed up, I added yoga, started taking long power walks in all weather conditions, and fasting a day or two every week . . .  though nothing could have prepared me for spending a five-day stretch in the wilderness without food.”

Food was perpetually scarce during his three-week expedition. In his first few days, he ate five ears from a yucca plant and three ephedra needles. “That was all I could find. During our trek, we drank water from potholes in the desert, which we were allowed to treat to kill the bacteria.” Fortunately for the group, it had been raining quite a bit.

The team had to hike 10–20 miles across rugged terrain each day. Evan started at 190 pounds but emerged from the wilderness 22 days later at 170. They covered a total of 400 miles and climbed 10,000 feet.

“We crossed desserts with slick rocks and sand. We scaled mountains, and we trekked across sagebrush flats and through pine forests at an altitude so high that it still had snow in July.”

Days reached 90 degrees then dropped to below freezing at night. Each person was allowed only one heavy blanket.

“One of the toughest parts for me was hiking in the dark. We didn’t have flashlights and my night vision isn’t very good. There was lots of slick rocks and terrain.”

The challenges grew easier each passing day. He chuckles and says: “I appointed myself the attitude champion of our group. I made it my job to stay positive, with the hope that my mood would be contagious.”

As Evan had planned, this experience had changed him. “I now see things with a renewed sense of self-reliance and presence. After I got back, I deleted a lot of apps on my phone. I sold a lot of my possessions, thinking, ’Why do I have all this stuff?’ I started waking up at 5 am every day to journal, meditate, and practice yoga before work. I’ve simplified my life, and set it to a much slower pace, because I’m making space to take care of myself in a way that I wasn’t before.”

Evan continues: “If my house burned down, my car got stolen, my job went up in smoke, and I had to sleep outside with the clothes on my back, I could be just as happy. And I’d be a lot happier than the person I was before I left for the trip. I now look at the world knowing it can’t conquer me because I’m resilient.”

An intense and grueling adventure like isn’t for everyone, but ultimately Even thinks all people are capable of doing much more than they realize if they challenge themselves to become more self-reliant.

By Caroline Sposto

Photo by Jolaura Bell