Survival

I had a comp assignment to convince someone to try something. I preferred wilderness camping. Care to critique?

Consider Survivalism By CaptainTheGabe

One of the first real novels I read was the book My Side of The Mountain, by Jean Craighead George, a story of a boy who leaves his life to go live off the land in the Catskill Mountains. Being very fond of nature, this seemed like an awesome idea. Unfortunately, an eight year old cannot exactly do such things, nor did I have any wilderness available, living in mid-Michigan. And so, it lie dormant as a romantic daydream for many years; no more ambitious than becoming a rocks star or joining the army, whatever little boys fantasize about during school. Over the next few years, I spent a lot of time watching nature shows, such as Zoo Life, The Crocodile Hunter, Wildboyz, Survivorman, Planet Earth, World of Survival, etc. As a lifelong primalist, I Idolized Les Stroud, Ray Mears, Bear Grylls, John Muir, Chris Pontius, anyone who had the opportunity to go out and start a fistfight with nature. How great would it be to become a bushcrafter, how fantastically useful all the knowledge and skills would be. A constant dream, just outside the grasp of my standard life.

Just before my nineteenth birthday, I was recently out of work and school. The stress of my life changing so dramatically was getting to me, so to stave off depression, I decided it was necessary to celebrate my birthday. While pondering how I should do that one night, I turned on Netflix to see a new show had been added: Survivorman. Rekindling an ancient daydream, I found myself alone in the Manistee national forest, with a knife, a saw, a canteen, and a roll of toilet paper. I may not have been Ray Mears or John Muir, but I was going to give it a try. I only lasted three days of my week trip before an unfamiliar pathogen got the best of me. It didn’t matter. That first experience was enough to make me go survival camping every year. The first time was three days alone. The next year was five days alone. The third year was an entire week with my cousin and girlfriend, who also fell in love with survivalism. Late last July, I took a small group of people to the Nordhouse Dunes wilderness for two weeks. I came home for three weeks, and went on another three day excursion. I now keep a bug out bag ready, just in case I have some time off.

Backpacking and wilderness camping have improved many aspects of my life, through the great experiences, and especially the hard ones. I urge anyone who will listen to give it a try. Everyone who has come with me has had far more fun than expected, gotten some entertaining stories, and learned a lot of cool skills.

So what’s all this wilder-crap about?

Basically, it’s camping in the wilderness, (not a campground or RV), with minimal supplies, only bringing what you can carry on a long hike through the forest, up hills, through swamps, whatever. If you have the skills for it, you can bring almost nothing as I did my first time, (though I was without any of those skills), but it’s less of a test and more fun with at least a good bug out bag. It’s a chance to get away from electronics, social drama, advertising, and any of the artificial stress life puts on us these days. No phones, no internet, no TV, just a great chance to really find yourself and get you head together. Also bonfires and animals and what have you. You know, fun stuff.

Okay, but why would I do this?

Well it’s fun, for one thing, but there are a lot of great reasons to get out there. Getting away from made up stress is a big one. You don’t really know how much checking your phone and social media nonsense constantly really wears on you until you can’t do it for a while. It’s very relaxing to get off the grid for a while. Nobody can contact you, Facebook isn’t trying to sell you something, the NSA isn’t watching you take a dump, some thirteen year old on Call of duty isn’t threatening to rape your mom, and it doesn’t matter how many lives you have left in Candy-Crush. If you’re one of the people who can’t stop texting for thirty seconds, you need it even more that you think. All of the made up stress in life is forgone for a few real-world needs. It doesn’t matter if Kimberly is sleeping with Brian. What matters is find a water source, build a fire, find some food if you don’t have any.

When you’re sleeping in the middle of a black forest, and you can hear critters rustling around you, probably mice, but possibly cougars, (in the dark, it always sounds like a cougar), you get a feeling you’ve probably never had before: Fear. Not anxiety about work or school, or what people think of your outfit, but real, primal fear. Don’t worry, you probably aren’t going to be eaten, but the feeling that you might really puts everything else into perspective. When you’re back in your normal life, silly things don’t bother you as much as they might have. I’ve gotten a few horror stories from my trips, (nothing I couldn’t laugh about later), and they made everything back home seem so trivial. I don’t mean to turn you off to the idea so quickly, the good experiences greatly outnumber the bad ones, but the bad ones make the best stories.

This leads to my favorite part: The Stories. Every trip gives me more and more great stories to tell anybody. Everyone who has gone with me is full of awesome stories as well, and the different perspectives ensure that we’ll never be short on conversation. It’s something that’s hard to find these days, now that the only thing most people talk about these days is TV shows, celebrity news, or each other. I could talk your ears off for days without ever getting boring, about my girlfriend tripping over a masasagua (Michigan rattle snake), having to defend our campsite from a group of very persistent raccoons ever night, swimming in lake Michigan at night in the middle of a crazy thunderstorm while throwing a bag of wine back and forth, building bows and traps to catch food, getting lost in the dark while being followed by unseen animals, finding ways to start and keep a fire in the rain, playing with friendly (a little too friendly) fish and birds, becoming hopelessly lost on a pitch black night to happen across a friendly stranger in the middle of nowhere (probably the only person for miles) who knew exactly where we were going and how to get there, carving a scary looking dragon scepter out of a root, and then finding out the creepy bastard would glow in the dark when it got wet. I could go on forever. Of course you can gather fun anecdotes from anything you choose to do, but without any of the standards of our modern tech society, they stand out and grab people far more than most. I’m the only one in my family who can say they had a potentially very serious run in with a rattle snake, it’s just not something that happens these days (outside the southwest, anyway).

While the snake may have been scary at first, it was very cool to see a masasagua in its natural habitat. If you aren’t unnecessarily loud, you’ll see a lot more animals than you might expect. On the two week trip I took, I saw deer, squirrels, chipmunks, and frogs; basic animals, but I also saw a fox, a weasel, porcupines, a fisher, many raccoons, toads, a lamprey, eagles, turkey, turtles, all manner of cool bugs, an entire flock of piping plovers (a very endangered bird), fauns feeding, and my cousin and I had a pretty good conversation with a very large owl. The animals are everywhere, and their behavior around you differs greatly depending on where you are. In the Nordhouse dunes area, for instance, in the middle of the week, when the park is basically empty, all of the animals come out to scavenge abandoned campsites. This makes a perfect opportunity to witness a lot of new little friends you might not normally see. In the inland areas of the National forest, where people almost never venture, you have a good chance of seeing predators, like bears, cougars, badgers, bobcats, and wolves. I have seen a bobcat and a badger on my own, and I’ve come across many bones left behind by other predators, (they’re actually all over the place in some areas, it’s hard not to trip on skeletons), as well as the markings black bears leave on trees, but I’ve yet to see an apex predator. That’s probably for the best. They eat people sometimes.

A side not on the “all manner of cool bugs”, after spending a few days in the forest, you will lose any fear of bugs you may have had previously. I’ve gotten so used to being covered in bugs it’s actually weird for the first few days at home, not picking them out of my hair all day. It might sound scary, but the fear passes quickly.

Yuck city. So bugs and predators, got it. Anything positive?

The physical benefits are fantastic. You get a massive workout without getting that miserable treadmill feeling. It really doesn’t feel like working out. After constant hiking, cutting and moving wood, carrying water, hauling a pack, and your body’s temperature regulation outside of central air conditioning, you feel much stronger and more energetic very quickly. Exerting so much energy consistently through the day causes your body to adapt to repairing itself very quickly. You get stronger faster, sore more rarely, and your metabolism speeds up quite a bit. You’re sense of smell, taste, and hearing sharpen very noticeably, while your sense of temperature and pain will dull. It’s really nice to be perfectly comfortable in a wide range of temperatures, and not be bothered by small cuts and bruises.

The mental gain is very apparent as well. Getting out of your comfort zone and doing things that need to be done quickly builds a lot of self-discipline, and honing your survival skills improves patience. A lot of things go wrong while you’re getting good at maintaining your camp and gear, and you adapt to stress easily because of it. Your problem solving and critical thinking abilities benefit from all of the minor challenges every day, and you’ll think faster on your toes. If you go with a group of friends, as long as none of them are apathetic or give up too easily, you’ll quickly bond on deeper levels while travelling and working together, as well as sharing difficulties. If you choose to go on your own, it’s a great chance to get your thoughts in order, get in touch with yourself, and boost your sense of self-worth. It feels really cool to start a fire from nothing.

Survival camping is also a good way to learn some very useful skills and test yourself. I’ve heard Ray Mears say many times: “Everybody thinks they can start a fire, until they actually have to do it.” It’s pretty funny to watch someone try to start a fire, even if they have a lighter. Surprisingly enough, even with a flame in your hand, the proper technique is absolutely pertinent to getting more than charred leaves. This idea is true for most useful bushcrafting skills, whether it’s finding viable firewood, locating a suitable location, purifying water, or even just learning what gear is worth the extra carrying weight, experience trumps anything you can read or watch. I still filter many items out of my pack every time I go out. There is a wonderful sense of accomplishment that comes with honing survival skills. On the first day of my longest trek, it was raining, but I still managed to start a fire with a striking flint. That’s a major confidence boost.

While they may not seem like the most practical skills in everyday life, you can easily be the most prepared person you know in any emergency situation. Power outage, car accident, getting lost or stranded, flooding, revolution, any manner of apocalypse scenario anyone is worried about, hell maybe even zombies/dinosaurs/robots whatever, the situation changes. The important thing is you’ll be prepared. That’s more than most people can say. An added bonus if you’re a guy, nothing is manlier than warming your ladyfriend with a fire you made with a stick. Well, except maybe using that fire to cook a meal you caught with the bow you made from a sapling, but that’s a little more advanced. You could be the backwoods Old-Spice man.

Pretty cool, I guess. I’ll give it a solid Maybe.

These are just a few of the many reasons to consider trying your hand at bushcraft, survivalism, backpacking, and wilderness camping. I should add that I do not recommend just going out to some massive forest completely unprepared. Go with someone experienced, do a lot of research, read some survival guides, maybe even watch Survivorman, just don’t go before you have a mild understanding of what you’re doing. As long as you don’t drown, freeze, starve, or get eaten,(you probably won’t), You’ll have a great time.

10/04/13

Edit: formatting

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