i survived survival school

I spent Saturday up in the Hudson Valley, practicing surviving in the woods. As a Canadian, I feel like surviving wilderness is one of those things I should be able to do. Doesn’t anyone else remember that one lost in the woods video that was actually part of the elementary school curriculum? The one that taught children how to survive in the woods overnight? (And that was before reading Lost in the Barrens as part of the Requisite Farley Mowat Reading in seventh grade). I tell my Scout colleagues and parents that I’m Canadian, and that seems to automatically better qualify me for my job as leader of a troop of 5 – 7 year olds just as much as my decade with Girl Guides does.

However, this doesn’t mean I would actually survive in the woods. I am a city kid. But I spent my formative years in cities that had major wilderness culture going on in them, and therefore, assume that I am also at least partially a wilderness person. Hence: taking survival school this weekend, JUST TO BE SURE. After all, I had a Groupon for it, and it was a chance to practice and learn some skills for the woods. And it was a chance to learn some skills to teach the kids, to be better at my Other Job as Otter Leader.

And survival school turned out to be awesome! I took it under the tutelage of Destination Backcountry Adventures, whose company founder and leader absolutely loved the outdoors. Being outside with someone who really believes that nature is something you can work with, a place we belong in, makes a huge difference. We had two teams of four people, and each team were given our Survival Scenarios, the story of why we were lost in the woods, and why we only had (in my team’s case) a bag full of odds and ends to survive with. We then had to go practice the skills we learned in class and demonstrate that we would last a few days out in the woods.

My team had what I called the ‘Drunken Dumbass’ scenario: amateur campers who didn’t register at the trailhead, didn’t camp at the legal campsite, and after some bourbon, pass out in their tent next to a river. Cue the flash flood. Gear gets lost, someone’s ankle gets broken, and they’re lost in the Adirondacks without much of anything. The rangers have evacuated everyone who registered at the trail head, but not these people. We had to pretend we were in it for a few days, and that we would have to prepare accordingly.

First step: rescue. The guy on our team tied clothes up in the trees, in a set of 3 to indicate an emergency. Next step: shelter. We built a debris hut, a skill I already had from taking the Scouts to an Urban Park Rangers program last year. We incorporated a sheet of plastic that was in our Miscellaneous Survival bag. Third step: fresh water. There was a nearby pond, easily found because of the frogs croaking in it. Fourth step: fire. We set up our fire ring with tinder, and put out a bunch of twigs to dry on a sunny rock so we would have flammable wood to get it going. And that was the morning session. In the afternoon, we practiced Fire Without Matches, Orienteering with a Map and Compass, and Eating Frog Eggs (I didn’t try them, but a few people did sample the frog eggs that said frog pond was full of).

The skills themselves were great, but it was the mentality of survival, of not letting a fear of the unknown take over, that I learned the most about this weekend. I learned about prioritizing when in a survival situation, about accounting for basic human needs: shelter, water, and hope for rescue. I also learned a lot about backpacking, and how to make a backpacking trip better. It was a great trip, and a great experience. I’m really glad I went.

But OMG, I was so tired after Saturday! We spent the day scrambling up and down a ridge in Fahnestock State Park, bushwhacking through off-trail terrain. I went up and down that damn ridge multiple times. My legs yesterday felt like I’d done a CrossFit workout. I was actually so tired on Sunday that I HAD TO REST part of the day, which is not something I enjoy taking time to do. (I like to GTD on weekends, dammit). But it felt good – all the scratches and cuts, sunburn and bruises, feel good – like I’ve been doing something real. It’s good to be outdoors. It was good to be in the woods. It wasn’t the coastal rainforest I’m used to, but it was still forest.

Now that I”ve recovered though, it’s time to prepare for Passover! Tonight is our family Seder dinner; tomorrow is community Seder at the synagogue. Tonight, I’m making lamb, the leftovers of which will go to Philadelphia with us this weekend so Ben and I have a protein to eat while the rest of Paul’s family eats ham at Easter. And I only have two days of work this week because I am taking the rest of the week off for Spring Break with my son: Mama-Ben Adventure Camp! I am SO excited about spending two days with the kiddo, doing things in New York City we don’t always have time to do.

Surviving done; outdoors appreciated. It’s time to get back to city life, and time to get to work.

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