From dust to tribe . . .

Dust and Tribe (D&T) is the experience of growth through adventure.

Our quarterly excursions are opportunities for men and women to push through the boundaries of supposed mental and physical limits into a new awareness of what we can be when we support one another.

It is where we discover what we are (dust) and what we become together (tribe).

Winter 2019: D&T Grind

On January 24th, 2019, nine men and nine women will head into
the mountains of Santa Cruz for three days and thirty miles of cold and grit. This is their story.

Sunday, January 6, 2019

Training Hike #2: Black Star Canyon

Yesterday was a good day that almost wasn't such a good day. But God is Most Generous.

This is always true, by the way. I'm talking about God being generous. It doesn't always feel that way, but since when do we gauge the truth of a thing by how we feel about it?

We need to stop doing that.

Sister Sama put a lot of time into organizing what sounded like a very ambitious training hike. We were going to trek 11 miles from Black Star Canyon to the town of Corona. From there we would figure out a way to catch a ride back home.

She put out a general invite. There was lots of excitement.

Then Sister Sama got sick. And that would have been the end of it.

But I still need the training. I've got 30 miles to cover over a three-day period. There just aren't that many opportunities to put in the work, and I couldn't let this chance go to waste.

So I made my way to the Black Star Canyon trailhead. I was there just a few minutes before 6 am. It was dark, cold, and quiet. I offered my pre-dawn prayer.

Minutes later I heard the whispered whine of an electric vehicle. It was Wildomar, his Womanzanita, and their son. He's ten years old. This was before dawn. Why these people aren't locked up is a mystery. I love them, though. I would visit them in jail.

They parked and offered their prayers in the misty darkness. I heard other cars and saw headlights. Mountain bikers. A trio of older women. Somebody with a dog.

Then I saw Brothers Fazeel and Waqar who brought his young nephew. This was shaping up to be an amazing day. There was now seven of us, but just as the light of morning found its way into the canyon, I recognized two brothers, young men that I have hiked with in the past who were responding to Sister Sama's general invite.

I mention them for a very specific reason. They are not associated with our Skyline trip. They just wanted to go hiking. And when the organizer got sick, they still wanted to go hiking.

I want us all to sit with that for a minute.

These young men, 17 and 14, were one of my greatest lessons in a day FULL of lessons. We'll get back to the hike, after this important digression.

Why did you sign up for Skyline? We asked this at the very beginning. Brother Muaz said he wanted to reset his internal clock. Brother Christian said he wanted to meet new people and learn about Muslims. Sister Syma is looking to recharge. Sister Jumana is looking for a challenge. You all had reasons.

Now ask yourself another question.

What will turn you away from Skyline?

If I get sick, will you stay home? If someone doesn't offer you a ride to the trailhead, are you calling it quits? If you forget to pack your jacket, will you turn around?

For two months we've been stoking this fire. For two months we've been talking about a simple backpacking trip. But it's not really a simple backpacking trip at all, is it?

This is everything you need to learn about you right now. We understand that all is decreed, but that decree is left to unfold at our hands. Your hands.

How hard are you working to make this happen? What is your investment?

Sure. You put up a few hundred bucks. That's something. But it's the smallest something any of us could ever do in the service of ourselves or anything else. Throwing cash at our favorite charity is a different experience than rolling up our sleeves and serving.

The challenge before us, the "grind" in D&T Grind, is to see this thing through. This is how we "serve." And the only way that will happen is if you've made the decision, like those two young men, to show up.

Brothers Omar, Fazeel, Waqar, and Sister Randa show up in training. Sister Sama shows up in her community organizing. Sister Amira shows up to make sure you all have gear at a savings of HUNDREDS of dollars. Sisters Aisha and Syma and Brother Muaz show up in their comments and feedback.

We each have our own agenda, our personal journey, and we are also traveling together. Which takes me back to the training hike and my next important lesson of the day.

I'm not familiar with the trail systems through Black Star Canyon, so we just started walking. A mile or so in there is a cut-off to some falls, but the creek was dry and the bed rocky. So we stayed on the main trail, a broad incline that curves in meandering switchbacks along a ridgeline. Following that with our eyes we could see that this would eventually take us to a series of antennae and transmitters, but those seemed really far off.

Brothers Waqar and Omar had some reception out there and we pulled up a map and saw something about an old Indian village. That sounded interesting. We decided that would be our destination and turn-around point.

I got a new backpack. After Sitton Peak, the fatigue in my shoulders and low back made it clear that my pack needed to be upgraded. While in Pennsylvania last month, my wife and I went to REI and got fitted. This turned about to be a really good idea and a fantastic experience. We have different bodies and the way each pack fits is unique. I ended up picking up an Osprey Atmos. She went with a Deuter (and if you clicked that link, yes- it does come with a flower).

I was excited to test out the new pack with some weight, and I was carrying my 2-gallon water container which sprung a leak. That made me cold, so I ditched the water on the side of the trail with a plan to pick it up on the way out.

The hike was actually pretty uneventful, but there are two stories that need to be shared.

There was a point where I lost track of Brother Omar and Sister Randa. They had their son, so it was pretty easy to imagine that they were caught up being parents. Maybe the kid needed a snack. Or maybe they just all wanted to hang back and goof off as a family.

A bit later, though, they caught up to the rest of us. I learned then that Sister Randa had an experience.

One of her biggest concerns going into this trip was how she would manage eliminating outside. Yes, we will have pit toilets at the trail camps, but it will be HOURS between those toilets. We'll have another post on the specifics of wilderness elimination, but this topic came up the last time we hiked together, and I told her what I knew about pissing in the woods.

Apparently, that conversation went well. At some point, she picked up a urination device, practiced in the shower as suggested, and absolutely WENT FOR IT this past Saturday.

Sister Randa BAPTIZED Black Star Canyon.

poor technique

This is how you handle fear.

We celebrated, and then we trekked on until we found what we were looking for. And it was beautiful.

We found a ring of live oak trees. Just behind those trees is a slope leading to a dry creek bed. And in the center of the ring are these massive rocks, punched through with morteros, holes ground into the stone by the native Tongva for processing their acorns. It was so easy to sit there and imagine young Tongva men shaking the acorns from the oaks and the women pounding the shelled nuts into meal. I could hear them talking, laughing, and singing as they brought the fresh ground meal out of the morteros and layered it into finely woven baskets to be laid in the creek where the cold canyon water would leech out all the the astringent tannins.

I sat on a rock, taking it in. And then I turned around.

Somehow, from that little tiny school bag that she was carrying, Sister Randa produced pizza. And eggs. And fruit. And homemade date cookies and nuts and it was the most beautiful thing ever and that is why, of course, Da Vinci had to make such a big deal out of it.

I have no idea why I'm waxing Catholic on this post. No idea whatsoever.

But that spread brings me back to my second lesson of the day.

Yes, we each have our own agenda. And we are traveling together. The consideration that Sister Randa had for the rest of us is exemplary. This does not come natural to all of us, but it is important and it can be learned and here is your exemplar, may God bless her and her family and all of those with whom she comes into contact.

When we can look outside of ourselves while still holding onto ourselves, we have truly arrived at something something special.

Please have concern for your partner. Check in. Trade notes. Let the group know your travel plans. Settle your dues. Tell Sister Amira what gear you need. This is the consideration of others that will only further your growth and deepen the richness of your experience.

We will talk about the expulsion and management of bodily waste in our next post.

I love you.


  1. Ma sha Allah! Great reflection and lessons from what appears to be a day trip or a day activity. Subhan Allah, sister Randa inspires us with her generosity and commitment. The beauty of a community is displayed by the value we bring naturally. Thank you for sharing and may Allah keep your heart and all of ours open to his lessons in our daily journey.

  2. Subhan'Allah, everyone was sharing generously of themselves during the hike. Some were sharing their knowledge of the outdoors, while others were sharing their peaceful encouragement. I was really touched by the young brothers ages 14 and 17 who were so patient and loving with my son, who can really test the limits of everyone's patience. That was really heartwarming.

    It is easy to share belongings and material things (food, a jacket, even precious toilet paper!), but much harder to share what matters most: our insecurities, our pain, and what makes us most vulnerable. Ahmed, you said "why these people aren't locked up is a mystery." Maybe next time I'll tell you about the time I was indeed locked up - no joke.

    Adventure awaits!

    1. yes, human insecurities, we are expected to keep our masks on tight.
      : o )
      Most Muslims will claim: We come from a "good" family.
      Embarrassed to talk about any issues or dysfunctions.
      About arrested (development)...At age 15. Being locked up for one day in a Pakistani jail, (because of a false immunization card required for traveling)... made me claustrophobic and starving for a window, for images, for life outside the box. I'd say the most dangerous, and thus most mentally ill are the banksters and corrupt politicians. And 99% of them don't get locked up in jail. Reference "The First Step Act" and professor Roger Lancaster's articles like "The Carceral Problem" who I heard say yesterday that, 30% of American Adults have a RAP sheet (in our punitive state).

  3. SubhanAllah, the prospect of having to figure out how to do just what Randa did without any females to consult with lead me to chicken out and stay home Sunday morning. I love gaining inspiration from the so many little things those around me do. I appreciate reading all the posts and the comments in our little tribe :)

    1. I've had men drop out of trips for this very reason.

      It's one of the many ways that the modern age has changed the very definition of modesty. I appreciate the privacy and luxury of a well-appointed bathroom, but it's important to know how much of that experience is completely alien to how most of our brothers and sisters around the world and throughout history relieve themselves. And to think that our embracing of this new and manufactured reality would keep us from having other, immensely valuable experiences in the company of beautiful people is really kind of horrifying!

      More on that in an upcoming post :)

  4. The 4 young men we indeed inspirational in many ways. Most kids and adults are glued to their sofa, or phone, or bed, specially at 6am Saturday. But these young men did not want to be among the millions who have nature deficit disorder. Two of them were: Waqar's nephew and his tutor. I thought, it's so cool to have another young man as a tutor. And the tutor, I believe his name is Abdul-Rahman, had knowledge about so many different subjects. Four very intelligent young men and powerful.

    1. With God's help, the future may indeed be bright!

  5. Awesome photo edit with sister Randa and the last supper. Brilliantly describes how one woman was so generous to bring food for 12 disciples, who really appreciated it. Thank you specially for the cookies your mom made

    1. I thought the photo edit was brilliant. Thank you for the validation :)