Experiencing Tough to Appreciate the Amazing

By Stella Haffner   |   November 23, 2021
Hunter Brownell is fifth from the left in the bottom row

As the world of computers and scientific technology leaps forward, the phrase “machine learning” becomes more buzz-y than ever. In layspeak, machine learning describes the collaboration between human and machine — we set parameters while letting the machine find patterns in the data. But as any good data scientist knows, we can set all the right parameters, use our best judgment, and still come to the wrong conclusion. This is true both of outcomes from hypothetical data sets and of our real-life experiences.

Today we’re hearing from Hunter Brownell, a current data science major at the University of San Diego. He is here to tell us what happens when our best judgment fails us and what we learn along the way. 

Dear Montecito, 

There are a lot of things that growing up in Montecito gave me. A phenomenal education, awesome friends, and most importantly, an optimistic outlook on life. 

I am of the personal belief that to appreciate the finer things in life, we need to experience some of the tougher times too. Montecito’s very own Boy Scout Troop 33 made sure I walked away with many memories that I will have for the rest of my life. When I think of experiences I had while I was a student at Montecito Union elementary school, a highlight (or lowlight) that always plays in my head is the five-day backpacking trip I will never forget. 

We had done a handful of shorter backpacking trips with our boy scout troop, and it seemed that after half a year or so that us boy scouts were ready for the pinnacle event: a 45-mile hike, taking place over five days. 

None of us really had any idea what to expect going into this, but we all knew it would be hard. The weather forecast stated a very unlikely chance of rain on the first night, and a 0% chance on every other night. With the odds heavily in our favor, we made the decision to leave all unnecessary raingear, as it would have just added weight to our already heavy hiking packs. Blindly following our scout leaders, we embarked on the first day, a roughly 12-mile uphill hike. Without any idea how much harder this day would become, we chugged along for mile after mile until the weather decided to turn south. The rain started, and we continued to hike for miles and miles, the pelting waterfall not stopping for hours. Being the 12- and 13-year-old boys we were, the complaining probably didn’t stop for hours either. 

After what felt like an eternity, we finally arrived at our planned campsite, where we put our stuff down and realized it was now not only raining but hailing on us too. Our scout leaders set up a tarp so we could keep our bags dry, but now the task was to start a fire. Being from sunny Santa Barbara this is usually not a problem at all, but there were two factors severely holding us back now. First off, the rain obviously soaked all the firewood around so without plentiful amounts of firewood, it became our job to scrounge the forest floor for twigs and sticks that had managed to escape the barrage of rain and hail God had sent down on us. The second problem is none of us had packed clothes that were nearly warm enough for that night, so we were all slowly being frozen to our cores, with not the faintest idea what to do about it. 

With all of our minds blurred to absolute hell, we painstakingly found enough sticks to start a fire where we could cook our dinners and slowly dry more wood to be put into the fire. When this task was finally over, we realized the only way out from the frozen hell was to crowd under the tarp, mercifully designed to trap heat in the way space blankets do. Not too long after this did our scout leader Dave realize our fellow scout Adam was feeling a little worse than the rest of us. In fact, he was displaying early stages of hypothermia. His lips were starting to turn purple, and he was having trouble getting even basic sentences out. 

Adam had gotten his down jacket soaked, which meant his main source of warmth was hardly doing anything at all for him. Thankfully, Adam had more clothes and after a little bit of hypothermia-induced resistance, Dave got him out of his soaking wet jackets and into clothes that were going to help him. Once the fire was made and we were all huddled together, staying warm the rest of the night wasn’t all that bad considering we weren’t freezing anymore and we were able to get some warm food into us, which helped tremendously. Never in my life will I take being warm for granted because not everyone gets to finish their night with a warm dinner and not all Adams have a Dave to save them. 



P.S. Parents of Montecito children, if you have recommendations on people to feature in “Dear Montecito” please contact me, stellajanepierce@gmail.com!


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