Tuesday, September 8, 2009

Surviving the Woods

Its a tradition with most to give gifts for birthdays. It is, however, not the tradition in our family. Leastwise not with me. I always ask for an experience, and most frequently for a camping trip. This year was no exception. But i did not want a camping trip per se, but a Survival Trip!

So at about 2 pm on Saturday afternoon my wife drove me to the top of a mountian in Appalachia, dropped me off and said, "I don't even know what to say. Ummm alright, bye. love you." And with that she drove off. Leaving me with my clothes and a backpack with the following items: 1 gallon of water; 1 lb. of Trail mix; a knife; a sleeping bag; a metal cup; and an edible wildplant guide and mushroom guide.

My inspiration was defintely Les Stroud from "Survivorman" and Bear Grylles from "Man Vs. Wild." In reality i could be more amptly compared to Christopher McCandless from "Into The Wild," and that couldn't have been comforting to my worried wife (Christopher didn't make it out alive, due to misidentifying and consuming a poisonous plant).

But unlike Christopher i had the safegaurd of companions. Nathan, Micheal, Landon and my younger brother Kyler. When they met me at the top of the mountain, we headed out on foot into the woods. first down into a valley following a dried out creek bed, and then up another mountian just about to the top where we found a nice dry spot to construct our survival shelters. This 3 hour hike nearly killed me due to an extreme lack of previous physical excersion. But the others seemed to do just fine. whatever.

So we started a quick fire and began to construct a large basic lean-to shelter. This constisted of one long thin trunk of a tree being propped up horizontally about 5 to 8 feet of the ground and leaning on one side a bunch of branches to form a bit of a hide out. To make it "waterproof," we added pine branches. By this time it was dark, we were tired and not soon after that everyone was fast asleep. Well everyone except for me. I wound up staying up most the night adding wood to the fire. But i probably got a good 2 hours of extremely uncomfortable sleep on the ground that night.

The next morning Nathan (wearing a tshirt, and boxers and a belt holding a knife which was longer than his boxers) and Micheal decided to make a second shelter, while Landon, Kyler, and myself were sent out on hunting duty. After making our way through a hellish patch of thorned briars and circling half way round the mountain we returned with little more than some mushrooms which i was unable to indentify, so they went to waste. Though Landon did eut a small salamandor and I feasted to my hearts content on an inch worm. Oh and we found water, which we collected to drink after boiling.

The rest of the day was spent make pine needle tea, attempting to make fire without the use of a lighter, attempting to capture a deer, cooking and eating a small turtle, improving the shelters and sharpening spears. It was a day of testing survival tactics. Some worked, others failed, and none of us were looking forward to the sun going down.

Another sleepless night.

By morning the clouds were rolling in and we were rollin out. The hike back proved to be about as bad as the hike there, with the only possible exception being the pounding rain that decided to grace our ascent to the top of the mountain where we started. Actually, i absolutely loved the rain. I don't know why. It just felt great to be at the mercy of mother nature. We have done such a wonderful job in life of protecting ourselves against her.

I, of course, was the last one to make it up the mountain, but i felt great in the end. I was hungry, thirsty, soaked, terribly tired, and my leg muscles were sooo soar, but i felt great. For a moment it all felt right. Like a wrong had been corrected. Upon further reflection i think im coming across some answers.

I couldn't help but think while in the woods about the Natives who may have lived here or at least passed through at some point. The People who lived here in America for God only knows how long, before the European invasion. I have long felt the weight of their lost lives on my shoulders. Like when God tells Cain that he hears Ables blood crying out from the soil, the blood of the Native Americans cries out.

We have so quickly forgotten about the mass genocide that our European ancestors carried out on the people of this land. And my how my mind boggles when i think of how effectively we have silenced Their ancestors by handing out hush money.

And not only the mass genocide on the people, but the raping and ravaging of the land. The Natives respected and took great care of the land, taking only what they needed and not over indulging. Not so with the westerners. We came in and treated the land and animals as if they were expendable. As if ours very lives didn't hinge upon the their health.

In only a couple hundred years we have managed to tear this place a part.

Furthermore, on this trip i realized that half the world lives in this hand-to-mouth fashion. It was hard for all of us pampered American boys to survive two days with reletively comfortable conditions, while many live like this their entire lives.

I suppose in that moment of being hungry, tired, thirsty, wet and soar, i felt justice. It felt like for that moment all was fair. And i could be at one in spirit with those who lived in this land before and us and with those today who continue to struggle through life with so little.

May God have mercy on us all.
His redemption is so sweet.



  1. that sounds like a really cool experience. thanks for posting this. heather brodbeck

  2. Happy birthday. Sounds like a good time. Kyler with a knife was kind of scary though. I thought it was going to turn into a horror movie.

  3. Joel loves doing that kind of stuff. He would have loved to have been with you guys. He keeps talking about moving out into the middle of nowhere and living there......and dragging us with him. Glad you had a great experience!