A 35-year-old woman said the 17 days she was lost in a Hawaii forest were a "spiritual boot camp," and that she was inspired by the hundreds of volunteers who worked to find her.
Amanda Eller, a yoga teacher and physical therapist, was found Friday afternoon in a ravine between two waterfalls. On Tuesday, she spoke to reporters at Maui Medical Center, where she had been treated over the weekend.
"This whole journey was extremely spiritual to me, and I never felt alone and I never felt fearful," she said. "It was an opportunity to be stripped of all the comforts of this modern world and see what was left. And there was such beauty in that."
Eller planned to go for a 3-mile hike on May 8, leaving her cellphone in her parked car at Makawao Forest Reserve. She said she typically has a good sense of direction, but after stopping to meditate, she couldn't find the path back to her car.
Her family reported her missing the following day when she didn't return home. State officials led a search for 72 hours, then efforts fell to volunteers.
Some of them had never met her, she said, and it showed the true meanings of family, caring for one's neighbors, and aloha.
"I have such a deep sense of that now. I’m fueled by that," she said. "How do we keep that fire going, how do we keep that inspiration going?"
A GoFundMe page raised more than $76,000, which her family used to fund helicopter searches. Eller said she probably heard 20 helicopters pass over her while she was missing, but they couldn't spot her through the vegetation. She said she worked to make herself visible, but after almost fainting from dehydration, she learned she couldn't move far from water. She ate some wild fruits and plants, but water was the priority, she said.
Around six days in, her shoes were swept away by flooding, she said, and her ankles were torn up by brush. A 20-foot fall down the ravine wrenched her knee.
"The thing that kept coming in any time I had that victim mentality was that this is not your punishment," she said. "This is your destiny. This is your journey. This is part of your path."
Eller added that she had to repeatedly choose life and kept thinking of her loved ones. She believes she was meant to experience the pain she felt while lost to better serve the patients she treats in her work.
"I came into a place of complete acceptance of that," she said. "This is my journey. I have to choose life. There’s a reason I have to keep myself alive."
She offered a prayer for another missing hiker, 35-year-old Noah Mina, and his family. And to anyone hiking in Hawaii, she urged carrying a cellphone and water, even for short excursions.
"It’s a friendly jungle, there's not much that will get you," she said. "But still, be prepared."