Back in July 2018, I was invited to be a guest speaker at the Infinite Man Summit in Lisbon, Portugal. The event is aimed at men who wish to work on themselves to become better people, have better health, better relationships, better jobs, better businesses and awaken their higher selves and tune in to the world around them and their place in it.
I put forward the idea that Wilderness Living and Bushcraft was the ultimate form decentralisation. The room was filled with people who were interested in Crypto Currencies and the many benefits that they bring, including decentralisation. With no centralisation, we remove the government or other 3rd party from the equation and this is an attractive prospect as it gives us control back over that aspect of our lives.
I floated the notion that out in the wilderness, we really can be free of oversight, control and restrictive policies.
This appeals to a great many people and most of us find it to be an enjoyable and therapeutic experience that simply feels…right…because it is right. We have evolved to be the masters of the forest and an apex predator in our own right.
We have not evolved to eat manufactured food, be glued to computer screens and phones and spend most of our lives sitting in chairs. It has always seemed strange to me that people are required to go to a gym in order to maintain some level of physical strength in which they pretend to lift logs, pretend to sprint after animals and pretend to climb trees.
We have drifted so far from our evolutionary apex that our current lifestyles have become a complex minefield of health, psychological and resource problems.
In the end, my talk was well received and a plan was born to take some of them out into the mountains and forests of Sweden´s Arctic Boreal forest for some training and a challenging test at the end.
Two weeks prior to the course start date, Sweden was engulfed in the worst season of wild fires on record and I was warned that it was not safe or wise for us to travel to the area. No problem I thought, We will go to Norway. Unfortunately, Norway was also on fire, and then Finland.
Then followed a mad rush to find a new location that was not on fire, was accessible, had all of the safety and logistical requirements that we needed to run the course and that offered all of the features of an ideal training location, things such as a diverse range of trees and plants, wild food, streams and lakes and above all, a pleasant vibration and some good vibes from the forest.
I arrived at our staging area, an Off Grid cabin in the woods some 4 or 5 days before my clients arrived. The cabin was nice and set in some beautiful Spruce forest. The cabin had solar panels which charged a couple of 12v batteries, a well for water and a wood stove to heat water for a hot shower.
The drive up to the cabin from the main road was a steep, muddy, slippery and rocky drive and our poor car, despite being an expensive and especially difficult to source 4×4 barely made it to the top of the mountain where the cabin was located.
People do not often consider how much preparation work is involved in setting up an expedition or course so here is a brief glimpse into what is involved, ¨a day in the life¨ of a Bushcraft and Survival Instructor if you like.
Debate with the car hire company explaining that as I had booked a large 4×4 then that it what I expected to be given. They did not agree and tried to send me on my way in a Honda Civic. They claimed that no car company in the world offers a guarantee on the type of car that a customer receives. When I asked why the website had options to select different types of car based on different criteria, like number of seats, I was met with blank stares.
This was my first introduction to Romanian bureaucracy, something that I set out to shield my clients from.
Met with local guide to scout out locations to run the course. This took all day and inspite of some language difficulties, we managed to find some nice places and marked them all in the GPS.
Located the two nearby hospitals and confirmed that at least one of them had 24/7 emergency rooms and ambulance services.
Found detail of the local mountain rescue service and checked that they covered the area that I was working in.
Source topographic maps of the area. This aspect had already begun a week earlier as I poured through piles of maps in the various map shops in the place that I live, it was not easy as Romania appears to not have complete coverage of topographic maps. Many areas are well mapped but other, less popular areas are just not printed. Eventually my local contact found some maps and they arrived just in time.
I also scouted out a backup location to take the group to should there be some problem that required us to move.
Locations for taking groups to have to be ¨just right¨. There must be;
- Flat areas to sleep
- Trees to tie tarps to
- Abundant material for firewood and shelters
- Diverse tree and plant life for people to become accustomed to and learn the value of
- A water source for drinking and washing
- Animal life for recognition, tracking and potentially eating
- Vehicle access to make getting equipment and stores easy to get in and out and for emergencies
- Maps, maps need to be available so that help can be directed to our position via the phone or radio
- Some sort of mobile phone network access or the ability to go to somewhere nearby that has a signal
And a long list of other considerations, mostly safety related have to be made before the perfect site can be made home for the duration.
Any other pre-course work that i needed such as building demo traps and shelters, finding local food and evidence of predators also had to be done on this day. I located tracks and scat from a local European Brown Bear about 100 meters from our log cabin, some Wold prints in the mud and Lynx droppings all within 100-150 meters of our staging area. This is pretty normal for the area, there are no recorded incidents of wolves or bears attacking people in this area.
Food shopping, We had no means to refrigerate fresh food so I was limited to things that would not go bad in the hot weather in Romania (around 30 degrees most days). Then followed an enormous shopping list and three trolleys of food later, I managed to get it all in the car and got it back to the cabin.
The guys arrived and the course began!
For the next 9 days, together we had a mix of extremely hot and humid weather punctuated by heavy rain and thunder storms.
I witnessed a group of city slickers and hippies transform from hesitant, unsure of themselves, unsure of the basic realities of living outside transform into strong, resourceful, healthy warriors of the wilderness.
Each member of the group went through their own experience, dealing with their own issues and sticking points but ultimately bonding into an effective and efficient team through hard work, grit and determination they all came out the other side to be part of something bigger than themselves.
Here is a list of what they learned during those 9 days but it is very important to recognise that the real lessons that they learned were not taught to them by me, they learned through the experience of doing, by feeling, by breathing. They learned from the feeling of sleeping under the stars and from the feeling of the wet grass between their toes. They learned that to have time to relax in the evening sun that they must work hard throughout the day so that the camp chores were completed early. They learned that firewood has to be collected, fires need to be started and maintained, food cooked and water filtered before they could relax.
The real teacher is the wilderness, the forest, the mountains and the streams and finally, themselves. My role is to facilitate their learning by providing the conditions for them to learn and to guide them in their own discoveries.
Each course location and circumstance offers different opportunities, here is a brief list of what was covered during this course.
- Off grid cabin living
- Dangerous predators and how to handle them
- How to find and make water safe to drink
- Cooking with fire
- Innovative ways to dry wet clothes
- How to set up a tarp with special quick release knots
- How to carve test pegs quickly
- Improvised shelters
- How to safely and efficiently use a range of cutting tools (Axe, Saw and Knife)
- How to create tinder bundles and find dry tinder
- How to create fire by friction and make a bow drill set
- How to use a ferrocerium rod to create sparks to make fire
- Using a hard rock and a knife to create sparks
- Using spruce resin for antiseptic and for fuel
- Improvised water filters
- What to do when lost
- Improvised cordage
- Determine how much day light is left in the day without knowing the time
- Siting a camp and avoiding potential hazards
- Batoning / Splitting wood with an knife
- Carving feather sticks
- Making pine pitch (expoy / glue) to repair things like water bottles
- Silent movement in the forest
- Notching and Hooks
- Rabbit snares
- Spring loaded trigger snares
- Pressure plate triggered, spring loaded snares
- Creating and maintaining fire in heavy rain
- Survival priorities
- Organisation, Organisation, Organisation
- Wild foods, Strawberries, Rasberries, Blackberries, Blueberries, Burdock root, Elderberry, Hawthorne berries and leaves, Wild Water Mint, Wood Sorrel, Fish, Fungi
- Meditations in wood carving
- Barefoot walking
- silent movement and breathing exercises
These guys would have had a terrible time of it if I had left them alone in the wild on the first night but by the middle of the course they were getting into the swing of things and looking after themselves and by the end their training was complete and they were all ready to be sent out into the wilderness on their own to have their own adventures and I look forward to hearing about them.
They kept me on my toes and I did not get much rest!
There was drama, excitement, adventure, wonder, plenty of stories to tell later and we all learned a lot, I am happy and looking forward to the next one.