High & Dry in the Arizona Desert

Cody likes to say he grew up in the wilderness. As a teenager in Wyoming, he would shove a 12-pack of beer into his backpack and head into the mountains for a weekend to get drunk and catch brook trout. After high school, he packed a duffel bag and his acoustic guitar and hopped a Greyhound to the west coast, where he lived in a Volkswagen on the streets of San Diego and in a trailer in the Northern California woods. For a while he fell in with a black-magic commune and spent a few months doing "a bunch of weird shit," but he eventually escaped and hitchhiked back to Wyoming.

At the time, Cody says, "my goal in life was to do as many drugs as I possibly could: PCP, dope, coke, weed, of course, booze. Mushrooms, ecstasy, crystal meth. I liked hallucinogens. Acid was my drug of choice." By the time he got back to Wyoming, Cody was doing a lot of acid. He was also selling it. "As far as I was concerned, I was providing a community service," he says.

The Wyoming law-enforcement agencies didn't see it that way. One day he sold to an old friend from junior high, who was an informant wearing a wire. That friend later brought over another friend, who was actually an undercover cop. "And that's when the guns came out," Cody says.

He was charged with three felony counts, which he plea-bargained down to a suspended sentence. He spent six months in county jail and was supposed to serve several more in court-mandated rehab, but the rehab was at a state mental institution, or as Cody says, "a fucking crazy house."

"Guys would smear shit on the walls," he says. "So my mom and dad made a deal to send me to rehab in Arizona."

Cody's facility was in Sedona, home of the famous red rock canyons. "Part of your therapy was to go on these day hikes," he recalls. "At that point, I'd spent the last half a year in a gray cell and an orange jumpsuit. So to go on this day hike in Sedona, I was just blown away. I distinctly remember going to Boynton Canyon and realizing I wanted to dedicate my life to nature. I had this really intense experience of just wanting to never leave nature again."

Cody Lundin

Cody stayed in Arizona, spending a couple of years living outside of Prescott, in a wickiup, a cone-shaped brush shelter made from ponderosa-pine needles. "Obviously, I was single," he says. "You don't take a chick back to the brush shelter." (When the wickiup burned down in a forest fire, investigators initially flagged the remains as an archaeological site, until they found Cody's tuna fish cans.)

Cody was studying psychology, holistic therapies, and expressive art at Prescott College, and after graduation he spent the next few years living in friends' backyards, scraping together enough money to get his wilderness school off the ground. He charged $35 a class and advertised with flyers taped to telephone poles; on two separate occasions, he went on food stamps. "After each course, I'd go to Taco Bell and get two seven-layer burritos – that was my reward," he says. "I'd spend three bucks on myself, and the rest would go to the school."

Cody, who has been sober for going on three decades, doesn't broadcast his past, but he doesn't hide it, either. The way he sees it, his struggles only make him a better teacher. "Living on the streets, living in the woods, the food stamps, the jail, the rehab – those are all survival experiences," he says. "I believe I went through them so I could be more effective in the field. Because I've done that – no one can scare me with it. Just like after this course, you will have done it. That's the difference between fear and no fear."