A Weekend Alone In The Wild
Though I would never admit it, I was addicted to survival shows. I recorded Cody and Les and watched them repeatedly and I was getting excited about trying out my newfound knowledge over the long weekend. I had scoured the Internet for the latest survival gadgets and now I have quite the collection. I was confident I could survive any wilderness environment. I looked forward to this time in the woods, living off the land and surviving like my ancestors did hundreds of years ago.
The Trail Head Day 1
My first thought was it did not look wild enough. Anyone could follow the well-beaten path. I wanted the wilds, rushing waters and wolves howling in the distance. So I decided I would hike a few miles up the trail and then go off trail a few miles to find a remote area.
My pack was getting heavy and I really had no idea how far I had traveled, but my legs were trembling so it was time to move off the trail for a short rest. I pulled out my compass and stared at the face. The trail ran east and west and I was pointed east so I decided to turn right off the trail and head south. I surmised that all I had to do was turn around and head north to find the trail again, no way to get lost because I had my compass.
My pack was getting even heavier, and it kept snagging on limbs and brush making hiking very difficult. It had been four hours since I left my car at the trailhead and it was an hour since I had left the trail. I was on my third bottle of water and I was starting to feel hungry so it was time to try out my field rations.
I pulled out my compass again and was surprised to find out I was heading east instead of south, I was sure I had been walking in a straight line, so I would have to correct my course after lunch. My face was slick with sweat and my feet burned so a relaxing break was called for.
Day One Late Afternoon
Lunch sat in my stomach like a lump, I could not figure out how the ration heaters worked so I just spooned the rations cold out of the package. When I stood, my legs ached and I felt a little dizzy not to mention my feet felt swollen, I had sat too long. My face and hands were nicked and scratched from brambles and branches and the cuts burned from my dripping sweat.
I decided then this would be a good place to camp for the night even though there were no rushing streams and certainly no wind sighing through the pines or wolves howling. I looked forward to a crackling fire and looking at the stars.
I began emptying my pack and wondered briefly, why some things are wet in my pack. I set my water supply aside and I realized I had drank more than I expected. I had brought two gallons and had just scarcely over a gallon left but it was enough to get me back to my car.
The information on the Internet said two quarts a day was enough so I should have had at least a gallon and a half left because the day was not even over. I had sweated a lot and so had probably drank more than I should have. I decided I would ration my water, after all the experts on the survival shows had to find their own water wherever they were, they never even carried a pack or canteens.
I had cheated and brought a one-person tent and after setting it up I began to gather some stones to ring the campfire. The sun was setting so it was time to find my matches.
My First Mistake
I felt my face drain and I became light headed my matches were wet and the heads crumbled off when I tried to light them. How could this be and then I remembered other things were wet as well and I realized I had pulled my water bottles from the refrigerator and put them in the pack. Condensation has seeped into my matches and ruined them. I had been so looking forward to a hot MRE for dinner.
It was difficult reading the directions on the Ferro rod package but I had seen it done on the shows. It sparked when I scraped it with my blade but nothing caught fire. I was doing just what I had seen done by the experts. I had some dried grasses, crumbled leaves and some smaller wood in a pile and was scraping the rod with my knife. I really did not know the difference between a Ferro rod and a magnesium stick so I tried shaving it with my knife blade. It was getting too dark to see good enough to know whether anything was coming off the stick or not. The sparks simply would not ignite the pile of leaves and grass.
Leaves and dirt were sticking to my damp feet as I hopped around looking for my pack and some MREs, another cold meal, and it really got dark in the woods at night. I drank another bottle of water and spooned another cold meal into my mouth without tasting it.
Sometime Later That Night
Every rustle in the brush had me poking my head out of the tent. My clothes were damp and I was cold. The ground was cold and very hard, and the thermal blanket crackled like aluminum foil every time I moved. I had thought about rigging a hammock earlier and I sure wished I had been able to. I had unwound my neatly coiled Paracord before it became dark but I simply could not figure out how to weave and wind it into a hammock. I had seen it done on one of the shows but now that I was out here, I had no idea how to begin.
The air was heavy with dampness and I was so tired but I could not sleep. I decided I would head back in the morning and learn from this trip so next time I would be better prepared. The thought of heading back made me feel better and I curled up and tried to sleep.
Morning Day 2
Headache, upset stomach and my entire body ached. I rummaged around and found some over the counter pills in the first aid kit for aches and pains. I was careful only to take a sip of water to down the pills because it was a long hike back and I did not want to run out.
I changed my clothes and thought about leaving the dirty ones behind because the pack was simply too heavy and I did not really want dirty clothes in the pack. How did I get so filthy anyways? I had envisioned before leaving on this adventure of bathing in cold mountain streams and drying out next to a fire. I smelled sour and hated putting clean clothes on without bathing first.
Even though I had not been walking south, I thought that by walking straight north I would intersect with the trail and it was then just a matter of heading west along it back to the car. With compass in hand, I set out. My headache was getting worse and my skin felt clammy but not really sweating as much as yesterday, which was a good thing I thought, it helps save on water.
Every time I looked at the compass the needle for north was always pointing off to my left, and I had to adjust repeatedly. After two hours of hiking, the trail was nowhere in sight and I knew I had only walked an hour from it yesterday. I decided that I was able to walk faster yesterday because I was well rested. I hardly slept last night and it felt like someone had loaded rocks in my pack. My feet were blistering and my legs ached.
Another hour of hiking and still no trail in sight, could I have crossed over the trail and not known it, impossible I thought, it was well marked and worn by thousands of hiking boots. I needed a break and a sip of water, just a small sip because it appeared it would be awhile before I made it back to the car.
My vacation of solitude was solitary all right, no cell phones, no chatter from family and friends and no stressful workday, what fun I was having. No one even knew I was hiking, they probably assumed I was home lounging on the couch over the long weekend.
Early afternoon the panic begins to seep in and I increased my pace, I swore that I recognized a tree and large rock from yesterday’s hike. I yelled a few times because I just knew the trail was just ahead, but my voice sounded weak and I knew it did not carry far out here. I had no energy and still a nagging headache. Another small sip of water and two more pills later I decided it was time for a break.
I pulled out the Ferro rod because I needed a fire even in the daylight I wanted a fire. I rummaged through the first aid kit, came up with some cotton gauze, and pulled it apart to make it fluffy. I pulled my shoes and socks off and hung the socks over a limb to air out.
I took a bigger drink of water, my reasoning if I was not moving I would not sweat as much so I could drink more. It felt good going down and almost immediately, I felt better. The cotton was bunched up next to some twigs and dried leaves. Two hours later, I managed to get a fire going and now it was time for a late lunch.
I had no way to heat the meals; the directions said immerse the package in hot water. I did not have enough water for that or anything big enough to heat water in. My canteen cup was cheap metal and just a few days from being new the metal was already corroded, it obviously was not stainless steel and I knew if I heated food in it the food would taste like a tin can.
I estimated I had less than a day’s worth of water, and I knew I was lost. I did not bother setting up the tent but instead decided I would roll up in another thermal blanket and curl up on some piled up pine needles and leaves. I thought I had enough firewood gathered but it was barely dark and already I was running low.
The machete I had brought along was not any good for chopping wood and it appeared the blade was bent somewhat. It was new out of the package and only used on this adventure and already next to worthless.
I wondered why on television dried firewood laid everywhere but out here, there was hardly any lying around. I let the fire burn to coals and fed it just enough to keep a small flame going. I hated the thought of wandering around in the dark looking for wood I knew was not there.
Just one half of a bottle of water left and this of course made me all the more thirsty as I walked west knowing that the trail head was west of where I went off the trail. I assumed that if I walked long enough I would come upon a highway, and the city I lived in had to be west of where I was.
Panic was always ready to bubble to the surface and I felt real fear and genuine discomfort. I wanted to run, at one point I even ran in circles out of panic, and I threw my pack away because of the weight and it uselessness and then had to go back and retrieve it after I calmed down.
My feet hurt so bad I flopped to the ground and actually wondered if I was going to die. I wanted to stay there until someone found me but I realized there was no reason for anyone to be looking. Today was a holiday and the third day of my wilderness adventure, well now it was a wilderness nightmare. Brand new hiking shoes hardly worn and they made my feet blister, could no one make a product that really worked I wondered.
My headache was back and showing a complete lack of control, I downed the rest of my water. I was out of pain medication and my left foot was blistered to the point walking was painful. I did have some more cotton gauze and I felt better now if nothing else I would have a fire tonight. I had splurged this morning and eaten my last MRE thinking I would be home by day’s end. I was just wandering now and not even paying attention to my compass because what good is a compass now if you do not know where you are.
I built the fire up and sat staring into it. Sleep came and I actually thought I heard wolves howling, as I lay curled by the fire.
Something to Think About
The following depiction is a work of fiction but is true to life and will demonstrate what being lost feels like to the average person that does not have any specific survival training. The individual in the story can be anyone; it can be you, a family member or friend.
For educational purposes, the individual was shown doing certain things that in a real survival situation could prove to be fatal, but the actions will demonstrate how decisions can have life altering consequences in a survival situation.
There is no better teacher than life itself but you should never venture into the wilderness without the proper knowledge, skill sets, tools, supplies and equipment. Practice your bush craft in a controlled environment where you can learn from your mistakes but do not die because of them.
Anyone can become lost or stranded with literally the clothes on their back but that would be a rare occurrence indeed. Typically, people who become lost or stranded started out hiking, hunting or camping or in some cases, due to a vehicle break down.
People lost in the wild usually start out with some gear and supplies, and in the case of a vehicle problem, they have their vehicle for shelter and possible tools and other items in their vehicle to help them survive. Once the food and water runs out people, panic because they simply did not have the knowledge needed to adapt and use what they have with them or use what they can find in their environment.
The individual in the story made a series of blunders of which several could be fatal. The mistakes were made because he simply had no experience and relied on information others had provided. See if you can determine the mistakes this individual made so you will not make the same ones during your next outdoor adventure.