Another Southwest Festival of Strenuosity has concluded, and I can say without reservation that this was the best Strenfest SW yet. Attendance was the largest it has ever been, and the men who attended threw themselves into all five days and four nights of this event with all their might. I am very proud of each of them: it was their great attitudes and excellent ethic that made this our greatest Strenfest so far.

In attendance were: Garret Walliman (@gwalliman), Alan Chintis (@achintis), JT (@trottier), Jeremiah Tosic (@jeremiahtosic), James Cole (@mtjcole), Taylor Crowe (@corvus303), Chris Jarvis (@cjarvis), Abe Levkoy (@abe) Wyatt Lacey (@evanfardreamer), Cody Bro (@danishbro) and Jake Reid (@the_mountain_goat). The last two, it should be noted, were attending Strenfest SW 2022 as their first Desert Rangers event! It takes guts to make Strenfest your first event, a quality we found that these two men possess in excess.

The men of Strenfest SW 2022

As with our previous events in 2020 and 2021, Strenfest SW 2022 was held on private property in the Blue Range Primitive Area in the Apache Sitgreaves National Forest. Because this is the third year holding Strenfest on the Blue, and because we anticipate holding many more events at this location, our event this year was themed in part around improving the site. A secondary theme was wood, because four of our six events were themed in some way around working with or building things from local timber.

It was a properly hard event, and a fun one as well. Read on to learn about the great and strenuous deeds that we performed!

Day 1 - Arrival
September 21st, 2022

The first day of Strenfest SW is always set aside for arrival. The first attendees started arriving around 2PM local. Most had come from Arizona, but one (Abe Levkoy) drove from Colorado, and another (Chris) flew in from California to an Arizona airport and then drove to the Blue! A hearty congratulations to these men for their dedication to attending Strenfest!

Eventually, ten attendees arrived in all, plus the host making a total of 11, out of a total of 13 signups. This is by far the highest attendance rate we have had to date - well done, gentlemen, for keeping your honor pledge!

Tents are being set up

Alan setting up his tent

After the men set up their tents, we began Strenfest with the traditional gathering of firewood. A large pile was amassed, and as the sun set a fire was lit by James, the fire master. This fire was also inaugurated with the ashes of Strenfests past, carrying on the fire from all previous gatherings of strenuous men. Strenfest had officially begun!

James getting a fire going

Following the first fire tradition we had dinner around the campfire. During dinner we also held our first rendition of a song: prior to Strenfest all men were asked to learn the classic sea shanty “Don’t Forget Your Old Shipmate”, and tonight we performed it for the first time. We would have subsequent performances on the following days.

The first campfire of Strenfest SW 2022

After dinner and songs around the campfire we went to bed. A big first day was ahead of us.

Day 2 - Good Deed and Lumberjacking
September 22nd, 2022

A new tradition was introduced at Strenfest SW 2022: a bugle was sounded early in the morning to start the day. This bugle was in fact generously gifted by Brett himself in recognition of Garret’s work on the Bugle newsletter - it seemed right and proper that it should be used for a purpose as important as starting a day at Strenfest.

The sounding of the bugle to start the day!

Following breakfast, the men set out to the first event: the good deed.

Good Deed: Clearing Downed Timber

I have maintained and will continue to maintain that each Strenfest should have a good deed performed by the men in attendance. This year we made that good deed our very first event, and it was this: helping clear downed timber and deadwood from the site.

Actually, a small wildfire occurred on the property in the early months of 2022. This fire damaged several trees, which dropped many limbs, and it also spoke to the area’s need for timber clearance. The great amount of wood presented an ugly hazard and it needed to be cleaned, and the eleven men of Strenfest were the right men for the job. Over the course of about three hours these men gathered this downed timber and stacked it in piles.

Piling up the deadwood

In some cases the downed limbs (or even fallen trunks) were quite large, and axes were used to split them up into smaller pieces. Some particularly large specimens weighing multiple hundreds of pounds were team carried a la GORUCK.

Jake bucking a large downed tree into pieces with an axe

Team carrying a mighty log

Alan hefting a log

This timber was loaded onto a trailer and hauled to a community burn pit for disposal. After the cleanup the site was both more fire resistant and also far more visually appealing. I’d like to offer the attendees my great appreciation for helping improve the site in this way.

The trailer loaded up with a portion of the deadwood we collected

Following the timber clearance, while some members were taking the collected wood to the burn pit, the remaining members returned to the campsite and built a new fire pit for cooking, which would be used on day 2 of the event.

Digging the fire pit

Following this we took a break for lunch, and following lunch we moved on to our second event of the day.


Our morning good deed event was focused on cleaning up already-downed wood, whereas in the afternoon we took out some trees ourselves. These were trees that had been burned and killed in the wildfire, but had not actually fallen - they were a danger and needed to be taken out. This gave the attendees an opportunity to earn several Lumberjack badge requirements.

Cody and Abe taking out trees with their axes

By axe and by chainsaw we took down eight different trees - mostly junipers, but some cottonwoods and pines as well - most of which were several dozen feet tall.

Taylor taking down his tree with an axe

Jake cutting down his tree with a chainsaw

Once on the ground these were bucked up - once again, by either axe or chainsaw - and the logs were stacked up into a woodpile. At one point we formed a bucket brigade to transport these bucked logs to the pile, and the rhythmic work of tossing the logs from person to person resulted in an impromptu rendition of our sea shanty.

Bucking logs with a chainsaw

Passing bucked logs in a bucket brigade

We gifted this woodpile to a neighbor, as about half of the trees we took out were on his property. This pile of juniper will make a fantastic collection of firewood and will help keep them warm for the upcoming Blue winter!

Lumberjacking was hard and dirty work, especially because the trees were burned and hence our hands and clothes (and in some cases, faces) got covered in black ash. Despite this, we found the work to be great fun - it’s hard to not be pleased after felling an enormous tree! Following our work, our neighbors (Jay and Eleanor) gifted us a round of beers, which we happily shared.

Creek Bath and Speeches

As can be seen in the photos, we were filthy following the day’s hard work. At Taylor’s suggestion, several men took a refreshing bath in the Blue River. This dip in the creek was a fine capper to a strenuous day, and not even the crawdads nibbling at our toes could spoil the pleasure of a cool bath in a natural stream.

Following the bath we had dinner around the campfire. and shortly after dinner it began to rain. Fortunately one of the men had brought a canopy: we huddled under here and began our final event of the day, the speeches.

Prior to Strenfest each man had been asked to draft a five minute speech. Orator work is, for many men, something much harder than physical labor, but I am pleased to report that each man delivered his speech with confidence.

Alan delivering his speech by the light of a headlamp

The ambience of the speeches - delivered by the light of headlamp with rain pouring down around us - was very cool, and the speeches themselves were on a fascinating variety of topics, including postmodernism, the history of the Comanche, the hazards of artificial fragrances and the need to cherish a friend’s life. Many will be republished in upcoming issues of the Desert Rangers Journal - keep an eye out for those! By giving this speech to an audience, each man earned an Orator badge requirement.

Following the speeches, we retired to bed and fell asleep with the rain drumming on our tents. The first day - and by far the most difficult one - was complete.

Day 3 - Pathfinding and Crawdad Gigging
September 23rd, 2022

Hiking and Pathfinding

Just as every Strenfest must have a good deed, I also believe that every Strenfest must have a hike. The first two Strenfests featured hikes that started right from our property, but this year we had to drive a bit to get to a trailhead. We piled into two vehicles at 9AM sharp and headed out. Our destination was Frieborn Trail, an official forest service trail which travels up Frieborn Canyon and terminates at the top of Maness Mountain, the local high point for the quadrangle.

Driving to the trailhead

This hike was not just a hike, but a seminar as well: Freiborn Trail is a very interesting trail that I found to be very well suited to teach about pathfinding. The trail, while distinct in some places, is in many places very hard to follow by the footpath alone. It does, however, have many trail signs such as tree blazes, “gates” made by cut or trampled trees, and several other signs that experienced hikers can use to determine in which direction a trail travels.

Lecturing on pathfinding and staying on the trail

Given these characteristics, as we hiked I provided information about how to keep track of a hard-to-follow trail and what signs to look out for. Each participant got to practice this by leading the group, pointing out the signs they found along the way.

A third goal of the hike was to take out some downed trees that had fallen across the path in places - a bit of trail maintenance! We carried an electric chainsaw up the trail to this end, and we did end up clearing trees in two different spots, including a monster cottonwood with a multiple foot diameter!

James clearing fallen trees from the trail

Alan clearing an enormous cottonwood

Because of the focus put into the pathfinding and clearing aspect, we didn’t make it that far along the trail - only a few miles in. We reached a nice turnaround point - a wide spot in the canyon where Frieborn Creek trickled through amidst a large jam of logs - rested here for a bit, then turned around and headed home.

Taking a break at the turnaround point

Upon returning back to camp we ate lunch, and after lunch we began our next event.

Crawdad Gigging

The Blue River is full of crawdads. They are an invasive species and are considered a pest, but they can also be cooked and eaten. As such, we put together an event where we hunted, caught, boiled and ate crawdads right from the Blue River.

The first step was creating the hunting implement. I have found that a hunting gig design works well for catching crawdads, with one modification: the goal is not to spear the crawdad but to pinch it and pull it out of the water alive. You cannot (or should not) cook and eat dead crawdad - and so the gig is modified to make the “tines” longer, thinner, more flexible and less sharp. This is the design that each person worked on creating.

Making the hunting gig

After everyone had created their gig, we set off in groups to hunt at various places along the river. It is a spectacularly cool and primal feeling to wade along the river with a primitive hunting implement, and it is even more cool to use it to successfully pull a crawdad from the water. These crustaceans are tricky - they will see you coming and they can quickly retreat into hiding places, so catching them takes real skill.

Jeremiah working the river with his gig

About half of our participants were able to catch one or more crawdads, with James coming out on top for catching both the most and the largest! Even those who didn’t catch any had fun with this event.

Crawdad caught on a gig

Into the bucket it goes

Alan with his catch

The complete haul

Of course catching them is only half of the plan: it was now time to cook them.

Campfire Potluck

A handful of crawdads does not make a meal. As such, each participant was asked to bring a dish that could be cooked over the campfire, and for dinner tonight we lit up a cooking fire in our fire pit and began preparing these meals.

Getting the cooking fire going

Cooking over a campfire can be difficult, but happily our campfire potluck went fantastically well! Some of the dishes that people brought were chili, stir fry, loaded fries, corn and peach cobbler.

Cooking on the camping fire

Eating the potluck

Chowing down on some campfire corn

Of course the crawdads were boiled as well. A hot mixture of Louisiana spices were used for the seasoning, resulting in a satisfyingly spicy meal when they were served. It is right and proper that we should eat what we catch, and happily these turned out to be quite delicious.

Boiling the crawdads

Cooked and ready to eat

Major thanks to all the participants who brought the meals!

Following dinner and nightfall, we once again gathered around the fire for a late-night activity: a game of Werewolf. This party game (also known as Mafia) is a fun game of deception and behavioral analysis, and it works best for larger groups: our group of 11 was the perfect size. We played three rounds over the course of an hour, and a good time was had by all.

Following this a bit of further conversation was had before turning in for the night. The second day of Strenfest was complete.

Day 4 - "Before the Fight" and Bench Building
September 24th, 2022

The third day opened with, as with the others, a loud note on the bugle. As this was the final full day, this would be the last time it was sounded to start the day, and so I put extra effort into it.

Before the Fight Class

After breakfast the men gathered up for a seminar that I called “Before the Fight.” The idea was to talk through everything that leads up to a violent encounter, up to the point of actual violence, and discuss how that violence can be avoided.

Giving the “Before the Fight” presentation

This includes the decisions that a person makes that puts them in a location or scenario where violence can happen in the first place, the need and ability to identify a potential threat, and the skill to “manage unknown contacts” - determine whether a person is an actual threat or is simply benign, while at the same time positioning oneself for possible violence and communicating to the world that you are not the aggressor.

Practicing verbals and body language

This is a complex and difficult subject, and several exercises were run to practice the various small skills that go into it.

The class was briefly interrupted by lunch, and continued on for about an hour afterwards; once the class was completed, the group immediately moved on to the next and final event.

Building Benches

Our last official Strenfest event was a return to our themes of wood and improving the site! Prior to the event we had identified some designs for log benches which we felt we could build using only the basic hand tools available on site.

We had, during the Good Deed wood gathering on Day 1, identified some good logs that could be turned into benches, and we had left these on the other side of the river. We therefore traveled across and began our work.

Splitting the log lengthwise

Nearly split

In order to create the bench seats, we had to split a log lengthwise. This task involves using an axe to scribe a line all around the log, and then using splitting wedges and careful effort to affect the split. This was done successfully; following the split, the splintery interior was cleaned up using axes.

Two manly men tearing apart a log with their bare hands!

Cleaning up the split inside of the log to make a smooth bench seat

Meanwhile, the legs of the benches were carved out from smaller logs. We started this work with an axe, but soon decided to speed things up with a chainsaw.

Cutting the legs

Given that the split bench seat log produced two halves, we created two benches of different designs. One bench is held together with gravity: the seat sits in a concave hollow carved into its two legs. The other design is more complicated: the legs are stood up, and the benchtop is attached using a wedged mortise and tenon joint. We had not planned for this design beforehand - the men on site simply came up with it and figured out a way to make it work!

Basic wedged mortise / tenon joint on one bench

The other bench, held together by gravity

While the bench builders were working, a few other strenuous men decided to continue work on the Lumberjack Badge and split some firewood logs that we had onsite. In all four men split 15 logs or more (and looked good doing it!) - this firewood was stored in the woodshed until the shed was full, and after that it was stacked on the porch. Thanks much to all who helped split this wood - it will keep us warm during the winter months for several years!

James splitting wood

It was around this time that I figured out how to use the slow motion mode on my camera

Once the bench building and log splitting was complete, the benches were carefully carried back across the river to the campsite. They are the first structural improvement to the site (aside from the fire rings) and I hope that they represent a trend of improving the campsite for future Strenfests!

Ready to carry the bench pieces across the river

Wyatt hefting one of the legs across the creek

The benches turned out good, look awesome and served as a great seat for our final fire. Thanks to those who helped build them!

The benches in place around the Strenfest campfire

Sitting on the completed benches

Bathing in the Creek

We had a short period of time before dinner, and the men took advantage of this to clean up with another creek bath. This time around the water was colder - good! - and we got several more people in the creek, leading to a very manly photo:

As each man cleaned up and dried off they returned to the campsite, and soon it came time to light the final fire and have our final night’s dinner.

The fire and beautiful sunset on our last full day

As is tradition, our final dinner was a hot dog cookout around the campfire. Each man roasted their dog and got to eat their fill!

Cooking dogs over the campfire - a Strenfest SW tradition

Another tradition is our challenge coin photo. This year we had seven coins - over half of the attendees!

Among Strenfest SW attendees it is well known that the final night’s conversation around the campfire is often the finest part of the event, and this year was no different. We dug deep into many topics, some of them difficult, all of them interesting. I won’t reveal what they were or comment on them - I will simply say that I am glad to have shared a campfire and a conversation with men such as these.

As the conversation died down we walked away from the orange glow of the fire to stare up at the clear night sky and the bright stars beyond. All was peaceful and still and many of us laid down on the ground to admire the cosmos.

Late that night we turned in. Strenfest had come to a close.

Day 5 - Breakfast and Departure
September 25th, 2022

We awoke early on day 5 and immediately began breaking camp. Breakfast would come later - it was now time to work!

Each man took down his tent and carried it across the river, and those that finished this first helped other men shoulder their load. The common area was cleaned up and by the time we were done the only evidence that we had been at the campsite were footprints and campfire ashes. Some of those ashes were gathered to serve as part of our Eternal Fire tradition.

Gathering ashes for the eternal fire

Once at the cars everyone loaded up, and saying farewell to the Blue for another year we departed for the nearby village of Alpine, where we had breakfast at the Bear Wallow restaurant. Our party of 11 was too big to fit around a table and so we split up, occupying the entire bar and a table as well. We chatted and reflected on the events of the last five days as we ate a hearty mountain breakfast.

Breakfast at the Bear Wallow

Once the meal was complete it was finally time to say goodbye. With a round of handshakes, each man stepped into his car and began the long drive home. We had completed our third Strenfest, which we universally considered to be the best one yet.