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Sam Penrod, Deseret News
William LaFever, photographed in St. George, Thursday, July 19, 2012, was rescued from the deserts of southern Utah last week.
It was the most honest meditation I have ever done. It wasn't even a bad experience. —William LaFever

ST. GEORGE — At 6 feet 4 inches tall, William LaFever's weight was down to a near fatal 128 pounds when he was rescued July 12 after spending several weeks in the remote desert of southeastern Utah.

Thursday night, he was released from the hospital after being treated for severe malnourishment and was headed back home to Colorado to be reunited with his family. He has remained independent since his rescue. He did not want his family to visit him in the hospital and declined their offer to come to Utah to take him home.

LaFever is a 28-year-old man with autism. In early June, he left his home to come to Utah on a "mission." He felt he had to answer the call of the desert, he said, and he felt he needed to come to Utah to be reborn.

"I didn't think I was going to die out there," he said. "I never believed that. It just wasn't time."

As he prepared to board a bus to head home for Colorado Springs Thursday, he admitted that his adventure turned into a situation of life or death, but he believes his mind overcame his body.

"In total, I was about 35 days in the desert. My journey began on June 3," LaFever said.

A few days into his adventure, he called his father from Boulder to say that some of his hiking gear had been stolen and he had run out of money. LaFever's father told him to get a ride to Page, Ariz., where he would send him a money transfer.

LaFever, who was accompanied by his dog, apparently decided to hike down the Escalante River to Lake Powell to find a boat ride to Page. That was all but impossible, especially considering the limited food and equipment he had with him. During the hike down the river, his dog ran away and LaFever ran out of food.

"It was the most honest meditation I have ever done," LaFever said. "It wasn't even a bad experience."

He kept cool during the day by sitting in the river, but at night it was a different story. "At night I had just a thin sheet to curl up with, and I would be in a ball," he recalled.

He survived with really nothing but his own will power, and he used his mind to dream about foods he wanted to eat as he really ate snakes, frogs, plants and roots.

"I've eaten things that would probably gross you out," he said. "I was 128 pounds in Panguitch; and before that, a few months ago, I remember weighing about 165 pounds."

Around 3:30 p.m. on July 12, searchers in the helicopter spotted LaFever sitting in the river waving his arms. Officials said he likely would not have survived another 24 hours.

He was flown to an area hospital in stable condition. LaFever was quick to thank his rescuers and the medical team who nursed him back to health over the past week.

As for why he ventured into a very remote wilderness by himself, he said it is something he can't express in words. "I just had to do it. I can't explain it. I knew what I was doing."

"My mind didn't suffer. My body and my spirit didn't suffer," LaFever continued. "I have never felt such weakness, but weakness was only for the body."

E-mail: spenrod@ksl.com