08 July 2009

Survival - Phase 1 - You

I am not a professional survivalist.

Nor have I been through any military training for same.

I have previously been a research scientist for DoD, with training in geology.  Thus I have been through a pretty long and hard field camp of 6 weeks in desert terrain in the summer.  I have also been out in forested area camps where they were staffed for semi-wilderness survival in areas that had been logged 50 years previously and other unlogged areas of virgin hemlock woods which are true wilderness areas in north central Ontario, Canada.  I have also been with my cousin who lived just south of Hudson's Bay out in areas where logging roads were the major roads and electricity was either a 'bring it yourself' or 'the ten families who live here pitched in for a central generator' sort of deal. Or you did without.  I've had various excursions into the wild with family members and as part of my geology training.  Also I worked a winter at Yellowstone, NP in Wyoming to Montana.

Other than that I grew up in Buffalo, NY.  I got through winter storms that left my family without electricity or heat for weeks on end in the middle of some of the worst storms that area ever sees.  I got through '77 and multiple ice storms in the years following.

Thus I can't give you ins and outs that you can see on Man vs. Wild with Bear Grylls.

Bear Grylls Simply Walks Into Mordor

Or on Survivorman with Les Stroud.


Or Deadliest Catch, although they probably all do get along with Mike Rowe on Dirty Jobs.

survival group
Photography by: Justin Stephens

Nor is this likely to be the vehicle you own:


It isn't mine, thats for damned sure.

You want to do better than me, then that is why we invented Google.  You get what you pay for.

For you to survive you must be prepared to survive.  If you really ARE a vegetarian, then you know exactly what is edible in the region you are in, what their starch and vitamin contents are and how to get a complete protein out of that.


If not, a field manual on wild plants for your area is a good idea as that will be how you survive.  A lot less stuff to carry around at start, more to worry about depending on the season so you have a different set of costs and benefits to the omnivores around you.  Unless you don't consider bugs to be part of the protected scheme of things, in which case you have one of the best protein sources on the planet.  In season, that is.  That's life.  Pine trees are your friend: rip them off for all they are worth.

For the rest of us there is a bit of jackleg knowledge on just what is and isn't edible, what to stay away from and why.  You can, indeed, take a picture of plant on your cell phone and do a look up on it... if you are in cell phone range.  If you are thinking that you will need to survive after something happens to your car or civilization, and don't expect anyone to come and rescue you, then the idea is that you need to survive with less than you have, in many ways, and more than you have in ways you don't know.

What have I gotten by on in this realm?  Well growing up in Buffalo, NY, with the winds howling at 50 mph, the snow driving down in wet, fluffy flakes and piling up waist deep to me, I could either sit at school and wait for a school bus to come (far, far later that day, I knew what the schedules were like) OR put on what I had and trek home the mile and half through absolutely frozen suburbia.  I already had on a double layer of clothing (available in my locker), my parka, gloves, boots (nice, thick hiking boots), triple layer of socks, about 20 lbs of books in a backpack... yes, indeed, I lived in the suburbs of Buffalo, that was my NORMAL wear during winter weather or the threat of real winter storms.  I hiked home in about an hour, just a bit slower than I normally did.  The ploughs had not been through, there were no cars moving until I got to a main thoroughfare, and I could only pick out some automatic lights being on in a parking lot at 1pm.  Lights on in the afternoon, barely visible.  That was 1977.

Later years with a car would see some worse storms, white outs, and the wonders of driving by looking out your passenger side window to see if there was still a curb there... someplace.  Getting stuck in Buffalo, in the winter, is not a question of 'if' but of 'when'.  My car stuff consisted of a tarp, sleeping bag, a few packages of nuts and M&Ms (or whatever was available), bottle of some liquid (water, iced tea, or whatever was available), tool kit, pocket knife.  I did not take the advice of keeping a case of beer in the car, but then I don't like stale beer.  As I was diagnosed as a diabetic I kept my supplies on ME so I could go anywhere I needed to and not worry.

The #1 thing I learned while hiking, camping, driving and so on is that you keep necessities with you so you don't waste time and energy on worrying.  The moment you sit to worry, or sit to think, or sit to do anything but rest for a few minutes, then you are no longer thinking about surviving what life is handing you.  The act of worrying when you need to be surviving is to not be surviving and that ends up in a very bad place for you... and whoever has to come and get your carcass out from where you worried yourself to death.

Nor can you think your way to surviving.  You can only DO your way to surviving and when you do something wrong you admit it and then change what you are doing to account for it.  If you aren't doing, you aren't actually thinking about what you need to do to survive.  Plenty of time for self-recrimination when you get back out of your situation to whatever passes for civilization.

What is your normal, daily, walk out of the house survival load?

Cell phone? (it is charged, right?)

Laptop computer? (it had better have a charged battery!)

Pens? (do you use those?  do they still write?)

Note pad? (say, that's where your critical items shopping list got to last year...)

A purse is actually a very handy thing to have for small items that are lightweight, can slip into compartments to be kept safe and are at hand... if you can find them.  Really nail files, clippers, mirror, chap stick, handkerchiefs, lighter or matches, all of these are positive survival elements.  The purse is the modern over-the-shoulder, venerable carrying pouch that women have been most wise not to divest themselves of.  Using it as a survival system... that is another matter, entirely.

The reason men build things like small knives into money  clips, belt buckles and such is that we want to take a load out of our pockets.  Men carry flat objects that slip into a wallet: a fresnel lens, a credit card sized multi-tool, a credit card sized flashlight, watch fob devices, key ring devices.  Thus men go for smaller and multi-purpose devices while women go for small but full sized devices (which isn't to say you can't do a lot with a large belt buckle).  What is very nice is that all the essentials can be hidden away or given a nice chrome or alloy plating and look high-class while being functional.

You don't have to be Bruce Wayne to look good, nor carry an equipment belt to be Batman.

To know where to start with this, the beginnings was given by James Burke in the first episode of his Connections series.  It starts off very simply with you riding in an elevator and the power goes off.  So does the phone on board.  The elevator, an ever so handy device to move you from floor to floor in a building is, when the power goes off, a metal box with buttons on the inside.  Do you stay and hope for rescue?  How long?  When you decide not to, can you locate the door to get out?  Can you climb to an accessway and get out of the elevator shaft and then the building?  Do you go to your car or walk out when you find that the power isn't coming back on any time soon?  If by car, what is your destination?  How many millions of others have that same idea?  Does your car even work?  If, by some miracle, you can get ahead of everyone else what is it you are looking for as a destination?  If the power isn't coming back on (say due to an EMP attack) what is the best place for you to go?  Is your family with you?  If you decide on a farm, is it occupied?  If you find an unoccupied one and can somehow find a way to keep animals alive there, you are now stuck growing food for yourself and your family.  And without power you are now 4,000 years in the past trying to figure out how to use an animal drawn plough.  Or make one.

Your survival, when the power goes out for good, rests in your hands.  A modern government is no better, and actually much worse at this than you are.  The ability of society to remain civil is in your hands, also, and expect that the 'government will provide' concept engendered in so much of society will make people who aren't used to fending for themselves seek to TAKE for themselves.  Self-reliance is the backbone of a republic or any civilized state as it creates civil society with those willing to take on the honest hard work of surviving and keeping a family together and feeding them as its backbone.

That is at its worse.

Spinning off a road onto a frozen lake, going through the ice... that is actually better as you can plan for it, keep your cool, and survive.  That is what Les Stroud and Bear Grylls are about.  Doing something fun and having it go horribly wrong and stranding you where no one can find you, that is what they are about: you need to get back TO civilization.

When civilization recedes it is up to YOU to KEEP civilization going.

Thus it starts with what is in your pockets and your vehicle.

For you to survive you need minimal tools and your medications to keep you going until you can get to your next survival point.  That is normally your car and then your home.

The basics are simple.

Comfortable clothing.

Good footwear that will allow you to walk all day and all night in them, in the worst weather for your season.

Comfortable socks.

Outer wear that is season appropriate.

Your medicines, enough to get you through the rest of the day.

A snack, of small size, portable, not so tasty that you will want to eat it being bored during normal times.

A source of hydration, even if it is just a bottle of water or that portable coffee mug.

Any of the small tools that you are comfortable with and know how to use, or can fashion something else into something useful quickly.

A signaling device that isn't your cell phone, although that is handy, too.

Be prepared to walk 6 to 10 hours to get to your vehicle or home or wherever your next cache of stuff is.

I am pretty sure that in the secret life of super-heroes, that is what they do: store spare equipment in odd places where they can get to it.  Just like the man who found a Thompson SMG in between the walls of his barn, probably put there by a criminal back in the 1920's.  You don't need to be fancy: your desk or locker, a few things with a friend, or the willingness to slog to your next further place to get more to survive.

Your ability to survive depends on you, no matter what the situation is.

You can be pro-active in preparing and reactive to the happening having already prepared for the worse.

Then you will stop worrying.

Everyone who didn't do this will be worrying and not surviving.

You will be surviving, not worrying.

That doesn't mean you will survive, but your odds just got much better because you stopped worrying.

No one can do this for you.

Mother Nature is only your friend when she isn't looking at you hard.

Survive and limit what Mother Nature can do to you, use your tools that you have with you and get a destination and head for it.

Simple.  Basic. Easy to prepare for.

You don't have to be in the Marine Corps to always be prepared.

This isn't about fanaticism, but prudence.  If you are evangelizing, you aren't leading by demonstrating, thus not leading at all but being a fanatic.  Eschew fanaticism as all such are tough and stringy and have no life giving substance to them.  Prudence will guide you through the worst of things and ever be your helpmate to fend for yourself and those you love.  Those that survive walk with prudence.


Harrison said...

Wise, prudent advice that will be taken, kurt.

A Jacksonian said...

Harrison - Walk with Prudence, Help with Charity and Suffer with Grace: Dignity is Yours.