Friday, July 30, 2010

Some Favorite Machetes

I've written both here and in my book about the utility of a good machete in the bug out bag, as well as for all types of wilderness travel and just work around the house or camp.  I thought I would post a few pictures of some of mine.  Here are the two I use most often.  Both are Latin American style blades, heavy in the tip for effortless trail clearing in the jungle, and made of good, springy steel that takes a razor edge.

I brought the shorter one back from my last trip to Honduras, and it has become an everyday favorite.  I bought it from a street vender in San Pedro Sula for the equivalent of about 7 bucks, if I remember right, including the handmade leather sheath you will see in the photos that follow.  It's just the right size and weight for a bug-out bag machete, and it goes with me every time I camp and most times I enter the woods.  It measures 23 1/2 inches overall and has an 18-inch blade.   The manufacturer's label on it says "Montero."  I've never found one like it here in the U.S., although I did find this reference on a similar one by the same company.  If I had known how good it would prove to be, I would have bought a dozen of them at that price.

The longer one is a "Collins" style machete made in Colombia.  This is the one I used off and on for years when I did some land surveying work with my brother all over the swamps and thickets of the South.  The longer and heavier blade is good for cutting sight lines all day, as the weight of the blade does most of the work if you use proper technique.  This machete can cut down small trees with no problem and has been a real workhorse.  Unfortunately, I can't find these anymore either.  I bought this one at Forestry Supply in Jackson for about 30 bucks, I think.  This one has a 22-inch blade, but they were available in longer and shorter lengths at the time.  It's in need of a new handle, but the blade is good to go for many more years.

In this next photo, you can see these two compared with a much longer blade.  This is a machete I bought off of one of our Miskito Indian guides on the Rio Patuca trip that I recently posted about.  All these fellows carried blades like this, even though most of them were well under six feet tall.  They preferred the long blades for cutting through the jungle all day and of course they used them for everything else that they needed a knife for as well.  This blade is worn down to this slender profile by repeated sharpening over the years.  It probably at one time had a heavier section near the tip, like the other two.  On that trip I saw many machetes that were sharpened to nearly a needle point and had only an inch or so of blade width remaining for most of their length.  This kind of machete may be too long for a bug out bag, but these guys didn't have bags at all and didn't even use sheaths.  The standard method of carry in the jungle when the blade is not in use (which is rare) is lying in crook of the arm, edge up, ready to come into play in an instant.  This method is also safe when negotiating muddy trails, since it keeps the blade away from you in a fall. 

Here's a couple more shots of the two Monteros from Honduras.  The well-used one is mine, and the new one is the second one I bought and gave to my dad, which he has used as a wall hanger and preserved in pristine condition.

These fancy leather sheaths go with the territory in many parts of Latin America, and though a lot of it is decoration, the tassels don't really get in the way and the leather of the sheath is heavy duty and very well put together.  The only wear mine has shown is the discoloration you see here that gives it character.  Both of my working machetes live in the tool box of my truck, requiring little thought in the way of care and only a few strokes of a mill file to keep them sharp.  If I'm sitting around a campfire with time on my hands, I might get out the diamond sharpener and hone them to a razor's edge after the filing, but it's not necessary for most tasks these blades are meant for. 

I've tried a few other machetes available locally and some have been quite good, while others were a disappointment.  One that served well on my long kayak trips was the Ontario Knife 1-18 Military Machete.  This one is basically the same dimensions as the Montero, though not quite so well balanced and a bit heavier.  Still, it's a tough machete that can take a lot of abuse and it's readily available and inexpensive, as well as the right size for a bug out bag machete.  

Tuesday, July 27, 2010

Interview with Jim at Survival Weekly

Jim at Survival Weekly, as site dedicated to all aspects of prepping and survival, has posted a review of my book Bug Out and the questions and answers to an interview I did with him that you may find interesting.  No worries about sound quality here as this interview is in writing.  Here is is from this page at Survival Weekly:

Author, adventurer, photographer, and all around wilderness expert. Scott B. Williams has truly been there and done that. He has traveled the world, living in some of the harshest climates known to man. All the while, practicing wilderness survival skills, learning what works and what doesn’t. His new book, BUG OUT, which I reviewed here, is part discussion on assembling a comprehensive bug out bag, and part travelogue of the best areas for bugging out in the United States. Scott was kind enough to sit down with me and answer a few questions. 

You have spent a considerable portion of your life in the outdoors, living off the land in a wide range of locations and climates. From your personal perspective, where did you have the toughest time? By that, I mean where did you find it the most difficult to obtain what you needed to survive?

It’s hard to rate one type of environment over another in terms of difficulty of living off the land, as they all present their own unique challenges. Of course, growing up in the Deep South and being accustomed to hot weather and sub-tropical conditions, I’ve found it easier to adjust to places like jungles, tropical seashores and islands and the deserts of the Southwest. For me personally, some of my trips in the high country of the Rockies, for instance, demonstrated that it would be difficult to survive there unless you really have your skills honed, especially in the cold months when you have the constant threat of hypothermia and food is harder to find. On the other hand, many of those cold locations are plentiful with big game, so if you have the means and the skill to take a larger animal and can preserve the meat before it spoils, you could be set for awhile. But these environments are not as easy to just walk into and start foraging and hunting small game as some of the other regions of the country.

I think we can all agree that knowledge/experience will usually trump gear/gadgets. The latest whiz bang gizmo may be all but worthless without the knowledge to operate it and an understanding of the principles behind it. With that said, there are certainly many pieces of equipment out there to help make a bug out situation a little easier. Any recent innovations you’ve come across worth mentioning?

I’m generally against gizmos and gadgets, mainly because they will likely fail when you become dependent upon them. But as long as it’s working, I particularly like things like the compact hand-held GPS units that are now available pre-loaded with detailed topo maps. Such a device can give you a lot of confidence and more freedom to travel in really trackless wilderness with the assurance that you can get where you’re going, even at night. I like the fact that I can locate an interesting point in some swamp or mountain area I’ve never been to at home in advance on the computer, then plug in the coordinates and use the GPS to go right to it.

Another useful gadget I like a lot is my Casio 1500 Pathfinder multi-function atomic watch that has a built-in electronic compass that has proven extremely accurate. The watch is solar-powered, so it never needs batteries, and it includes a barometer and altimeter function.

Another fantastic piece of technology that is incredibly useful for those of us who go to sea in small boats or kayak remote coastlines is the hand-held, reverse-osmosis Desalinator, which enables one to drink seawater and has saved many lives of those stranded on life rafts or in similar situations.

You’ve mentioned your preference for a machete over a large sheath knife both in BUG OUT and on your Bug Out Survival blog. I find this interesting as it is a unique perspective in my own studies of survival texts and I tend to agree with you. Could you explain to our readers why you have such a high regard for having a machete in a bug out bag?

Again, having grown up the jungle-like hardwood bottomlands and swamps of the Deep South, I have been around machetes all my life, and have long recognized the need for a blade that is big and heavy enough to quickly cut a path through briars, cane brakes and other thickets that would otherwise be difficult to penetrate. I also spent some time in my younger years working on a land-surveying crew, where we frequently had to cut thousands of feet of sight lines every day through these kinds of obstructions. Then, after that I saw the endless and creative ways the natives of Central America and the Caribbean use the machete and then tried some of these myself. I have found no tool that can substitute for a good machete. It’s lightweight, easy to carry, mostly maintenance free and can double as a formidable weapon.

One of the topics you address in BUG OUT is the fantasy versus reality of living off the land. I feel this chapter should be required reading for anyone entertaining thoughts of heading for the hills in a bug out situation. In your experience, what are some of the most common fallacies people have when it comes to roughing it in the wilderness?

People seem to fall into one or the other extremes: those who think they can head out in the wild like Tarzan with nothing but a knife, or a mountain man with a rifle and a bag of salt; and those who have formed the opinion that it’s absolutely impossible for any modern human to live off the land and without supplies to last months or years survival is hopeless.

I wrote Chapter One to address these ways of thinking and present my opinions. I don’t want to mislead anyone into thinking that a bug-out bag is a guarantee of success and that by having it they will be able to just head for the hills and find the living easy. That’s why throughout the first part of the book I stress skills over stuff, and suggest extensive planning, location scouting, and even trial runs and test trips to sort out the gear in the bag and practice the skills.

But one big reason I wrote the book is to open people’s eyes to just how much uninhabited land there is all around them, even in a heavily-industrialized nation like the U.S. I wanted to present bugging out to the wild as an option and show that it can be done with the right skills and gear, and that there is hope, and you don’t have to just give up if you don’t have or can’t afford a well-stocked retreat somewhere in the countryside. No survival plan can be guaranteed to succeed. But those who are open to all the options will have a better chance than most.

What would you say are the three most essential things to include in a bug out bag?

This can vary with the region you live in, of course, but it’s always helpful to remember the “Rule of Threes”: 3 hours without shelter, 3 days without water, and 3 weeks without food, and plan accordingly.

1. Shelter from the elements – at minimum a parka or poncho – preferably a good tarp and sleeping bag as well.

2. A reliable means of making fire.

3. Enough water and high-energy food to get you through the first part of the crisis and sustain you until you can begin trying to find more of both in the wild.

At the back of BUG OUT, you have a fairly extensive recommended reading list. If you could only pick two or three books to suggest concerning wilderness survival, what would they be?

The one that went with me on all my long kayak trips and many other excursions was How to Survive on Land and Sea, by Frank C. Craighead, Jr. and John J. Craighead, Naval Institute Press.

There are many newer ones that look good too, especially John “lofty” Wiseman’s SAS Survival Handbook: How to Survive in the Wild, in Any Climate, on Land or at Sea.

It will be different depending on your region, but I always suggest a guidebook to the edible and useful plants of the area you will be traveling through or bugging out to.

You have an extensive background in kayaking, canoeing, and boating in general. From a practical standpoint, would you recommend that mode of travel for a bug out situation?

Absolutely, assuming your are already in a region with navigable waterways such as streams and rivers or estuaries and the seacoast. A boat can immediately take you out of reach of the much larger percentage of the population that does not have a means to take to the water, and get you to places where you will be inaccessible to many that might want to cause you harm. The places it can take you will also offer better resources for living off of the land by virtue of their inaccessibility without a boat. The other advantages of course, are that you can carry more stuff, depending on the vessel, and you can use it for hunting, fishing and foraging once you get to your bug-out location.

I’m partial to boats of many types because of my extensive experiences with them and the many miles I’ve traveled unnoticed, even through populated areas. Bugging out by boat is not for everyone, but if you’re willing to put the time in to acquire the necessary knowledge and skills, it could be one of your best options.

Any new books on the horizon? What’s next for you?

I’m working day and night on my next survival-related book right now. It will be published by Ulysses Press as well, and is scheduled to be released in February, 2011. The title as of now is: Would You Survive?: The 13 Deadliest Scenarios and How Others Got Out Alive. The book will be a mix of fictional scenarios that puts the reader in each situation, and real-life accounts of some of the most harrowing survivor’s tales in recent times. The goal is for it to be both entertaining reading and informative at the same time.

Blog Talk Radio Interview with Dr. Prepper

I did a live interview by phone a couple of weeks ago on the "Dr. Prepper" show on Blog Talk Radio.  I was the second guest that evening after the interview with Daryl Stevenett, the found of Life Caps, a "survival pill" designed to sustain a person without food for days if necessary in a crisis.  I haven't tried the Life Caps myself, but they look interesting and certainly wouldn't take up much space in a bug-out bag. 

My part of the interview didn't go so well, mainly because I was out of town that evening and had to make the call from my cell phone.  The sound quality was not so good and Dr. Prepper had to keep asking me to speak louder, which broke my train of thought several times.  A lot of the questions were about my long-distance sea kayaking trips that led me eventually down the path to writing Bug Out and creating this blog.  If you're interested, you can scroll down through the list of recent shows below to the July 15 show and listen to it:

Thursday, July 22, 2010

Bug Out Boat: Folding PakCanoe

If you've read my Bug Out book, you know that a lot of the prime roadless bug-out locations that I describe are along rivers or in swamps, lakes or coastal marshes - especially in regions like the Gulf Coast Southeast (Chapter 5), the East Coast (Chapter 6) and the North Woods (Chapter 8).  Many of these locations will be inaccessible to you if you don't have a boat of some sort, and some of the most remote areas are only accessible by the smallest boats such as canoes and kayaks that can be carried over or around obstructions.

The folks who are most likely to need the bug-out strategy in the first place are those in some of the larger urban or suburban areas of these regions, many of whom live in apartments or other situations where storing boats is problematic.  There are many solutions to such obstacles, but it occurred to me that many readers here may not be aware of some of the options available, like the PakCanoe, a folding canoe that I have personally had quite a bit of experience with in some really tough conditions.

Folding kayaks have been around for a long time, based as they are on the original kayaks from the Arctic that were built with a skin-on-frame construction.  Folding canoes are more difficult to engineer because of the lack of decks, which add rigidity and tie the hull sides together.  But Alv Elvstad, the designer of the Pak Boats line of folding canoes and kayaks, has overcome the difficulties and has been producing a proven folding canoe for quite some years now. 

These canoes range from shorter solo craft to the 17-foot tandem expedition canoe like the one shown above.  They consist of a take-down aluminum frame that assembles much like the aluminum poles in a modern tent, and a skin of tough PVC coated fabric with a Hypalon bottom like those found in a Zodiac inflatable dinghy.  These canoes are not fragile as you might think at first glance.  Instead, they excel in handling whitewater rapids and absorb the bumps and blows of rocky rivers better than many hard shell canoes.

The best part about these boats is that they can be disassembled and stored in a closet in your apartment or kept in the trunk of a car or otherwise carried on a larger bug-out vehicle until you get to where you need a boat.  My experience with the 17-foot PakCanoe began in 1995 when my friend and fellow Mississippi writer Ernest Herndon and I decided we wanted to canoe the remote Patuca River in the Mosquitia Region of Honduras.  If you ever saw the movie or read the novel, The Mosquito Coast, this is the river part of the story takes place on.

You don't get to a river like the Patuca by driving to the boat ramp. The upper reaches of this river are surrounded by mountainous jungle.  To get there, we hopped a ride on a missionary bush plane out of La Ceiba, on the coast, to a Rus Rus, a Miskito Village near the Rio Coco, which forms the border with Nicaragua.  There's a dirt road that leads from Rus Rus a bit farther up the Coco to the village of Auas Bila, and from there we had to travel by motorized dug-out up the Coco to a place where a foot path leads through a pass in the mountains separating the Rio Coco from the Rio Patuca.  We could not have carried any sort of rigid canoe on this trip, the first obstacle being the bush plane flight, and then the trip up the Rio Coco, which has many rapids, then the two day trek on a muddy trail through the jungle to the Rio Patuca.  But with the PakCanoe stored away in two duffel bags in addition to all our camping gear and food supplies, the trip was doable with the help of some Miskito guides we hired at Auas Bila.

Here's a photo of the giant dugout we took up the Rio Coco, along with our guides and the bags containing the canoe and gear.  The village outboard for the big canoe is not yet mounted here:

The assembly site at the end of the trail connecting the Rio Coco with the Rio Patuca.  The guides had to use their machetes to make a clearing big enough for us to camp and put together the 17-foot boat.  There was no sandbar or other opening on the river bank here.  You can barely see the rolled up red canoe in the photo below, almost swallowed up in all that tropical greenery. 

We said goodbye to our guides and set off paddling down the Patuca, our destination the village of Brus Laguna, on the Caribbean coast of Honduras.  Once we started moving downriver, the scenery opened up like this:

Here's a shot of Ernest Herndon with the PakCanoe somewhere on the Patuca.  We made it all the way to the coast without issues with the boat.  It carried the load well, handled minor rapids we encountered, and allowed us to make a decent daily mileage, though not as much as we would have made in a sleeker fiberglass or wood canoe.

At the end of the journey we disassembled the boat on the beach at Brus Laguna and once again loaded it in a small plane for a flight back to civilization. The trip was a success, made possible by this well-designed and well-built folding canoe.  Ernest ended up keeping the boat and we later used it on a trip down the rock-strewn Ouachita River in Arkansas, among other places. 

Everything has downsides, of course, and the PakCanoe is no exception.  For one thing, it's expensive, as are all quality folding boats, whether canoe or kayak.  The other drawback is long-term durability, which is going to be less than most hard-shell boats.  Ernest patched the hull time after time over the years, but eventually gave up on it after it reached the end of its useful life.  It wasn't too much of a loss as we didn't have to front the expense of buying it for our trip because the designer sent it to Ernest for free, as he was seeking reviews at the time and we gladly obliged him by testing it.

In many bug-out situations, long-term durability may not be as important as having a boat right now when you need it.  The main thing is having the means to reach an inaccessible location until  you can do better, so if you live somewhere that doesn't accommodate a rigid canoe or if you drive a vehicle you can't carry one on, you may want to look into the PakCanoe or one of the similar folding sea kayaks.  I'll be writing about those here as well in a future post.

Monday, July 19, 2010

Been in the Wind

I've been slow to update for a couple of reasons- number one being that I'm busy working on my new book that has to be completed in just a few more weeks, and number two that I've been spending too much spare time in the woods on two wheels, due to the fantastic weather we've been having here.  Below: the KLR 650 that I will over time transform to into a bug-out and touring vehicle for exploring backroads, forest service roads and logging tracks:

The red is not ideal of course, but I got a deal on this one barely used.  It will be a work in progress to set it up for the purpose.  My brother also picked up a used red one of the first generation variety.  Here they are side-by-side from yesterday's spin in Desoto National Forest:

These bikes are infinitely practical, as while they are not the best at anything, they do many things well, from cruising down the highway at Interstate speeds to negotiating some pretty rough stuff off-road.  The six gallon gas tank gives a range of roughly 300 miles, depending on how you ride. Load-carrying capacity is also good, with a huge variety of aftermarket racks and pannier systems available.

We will be both be going to a more utilitarian finish that suits these bikes better.  Here are a couple of options I like, flat black and desert tan:

Tuesday, July 13, 2010

Wallet-sized Firestarters

Leon Pantenburg, the man behind the excellent site, Survival Common Sense, recently sent me a test sample of some wallet-sized firestarter packages he has developed.  He first contacted me about these in response to my post, Minimal Bug Out Kit for Everyday Carry.  He probably felt sorry for me for still carrying the old bulky Fire Stick firestarter that I've used for years.  Leon's wallet packs are much more compact, barely taking up any more space in your wallet than a business card.  They come sealed in plastic packages, with instructions on the label:

When you take the material out of the package, you can see it is some kind of impregnated fabric:

The instructions say to tear off a 1/8-inch strip, twist, and then light the edge.  I did that when I first received the package, but Leon insisted that to give these a real shake-down, I should first soak one in water for a couple of days.  I did better than that.  I opened one of the packages and weighted it down in the bottom of a pan of water, forgetting about it for a week.  Today when I took the above photos, I removed this fourth package from the water, thoroughly soaked, as you can see here:

Following the instructions, I tore off a strip and twisted it a bit, then lit it with my Bic lighter:

I had no problem getting it started, even though I didn't bother to shake or wipe the water off the twisted strip. It sizzled and popped, but burned with a fury.  So then I lit the whole piece from the soaked package:

You can see the first piece is still burning fine, and the larger strip is flaming with a vengeance.  I had to throw it on the ground and stamp it out before it set the 4x4 post I was using for a bench on fire!   I would say this is a pretty good initial test.  I haven't used the firestarters on a trip yet, when getting a fire going really counts, but they are now part of my kit and will be put to use the very next time I build a campfire. 

Leon says the idea for a wallet-sized survival firestarter came to him several years ago when he did a story on some lost snowmobilers who with no gear and no training got stuck in deep snow in the Oregon backcountry and nearly qualified for a Darwin Award because of it.  With no idea how to find tinder or dry wood, they tried cash and even credit cards in their attempt to start a fire, but did not succeed.  They survived only because they were found in time by a search and rescue team. 

He says he developed this wallet-sized firestarter over a period of several years and now includes them in all his survival kits.  As he says, it's light, absolutely waterproof and works every time.

Leon plans to start selling these firestarters from his website sometime in the future, saying they will likely go for about $5 for a package of three, plus shipping.  I think he's got a winner here and I look forward to seeing this on the market as all of us who are interested in survival, prepping or wilderness travel have a need for a compact, reliable firestarter. 

Friday, July 9, 2010

Went to the Beach Yesterday....

Yesterday I drove to the Mississippi Gulf Coast for a first hand look at the oil that's washing ashore, and to take some photos for a magazine article I will be writing.  The oil is coming ashore almost everywhere on the mainland in my home state now, not to mention the once-pristine barrier islands on the other side of the Mississippi Sound.  The first thing you notice driving down Highway 90 is group after group of clean-up workers, concentrated in the areas where the most oil is on the sand:

Working with rakes, shovels and plastic bags, they are picking up globules of oil and tar balls in the sand.

It seems futile, as every wave washing up to the beach is carrying more tar balls and oil.  You can see how calm and gentle the Sound was at the time I took these shots.  Note all the black particles in suspension.  With the well still flowing unchecked, and who knows how much oil already in the Gulf, how long will this keep washing in?  Imagine how much would be coming ashore if the wind was really kicking up.

In places, the water is black with oil:

The so-called "booms" that are supposed to keep the oil off the beaches and out of the marshes are pitifully inadequate.  Look how much oil is washing over this one in an almost calm sea:

This is what this stuff looks like after it ends up on the sand.  You can try to step around the globs and tar balls, but there is more of it under what appears to be clean patches.  I ruined a pair of shoes and socks despite being careful not to step in any visible patches.

Where this stuff gets in the marsh, it kills the marsh grasses and every other living thing.  Here you can see it is just beginning.  This is in the Waveland area. 

I found this oil-coated eel right at the edge of the tide line.  Believe it or not, it was still alive, but just barely, slowly moving it's head back and forth as it suffocated to death.  It is so black with oil I have no idea what species it is.

Despite the oil, radio commercials in Jackson and other places around the state are telling people to "come on down, everything you love about the Gulf Coast is still here."  Some people are still letting their children play in the water:

I took these photos and left feeling sick.  I've been sea kayaking and sailing in these waters for over 25 years.  I've written countless articles about the islands and estuaries here, and a boater's guidebook to the area published in 2004, Exploring Coastal Mississippi: A Guide to the Marine Waters and Islands.  No words I can write here can convey how I feel about what has been lost.  Will it ever be the same?  I don't know.  It all depends on getting that well shut down, and soon. 

Tuesday, July 6, 2010

Book Review: Lost in the Jungle

One of the great fringe benefits of writing books is that I get to read a lot of good books in the course of my research.  I've been reading lots of first-person narratives of near-death survival experiences lately while working on my current book project which will be completed in the next two months.  One such book is Yossi Ghinsberg's Lost in the Jungle.   At one time, back when I was obsessed with getting to the jungle for the first time myself, I read anything and everything I could find related to jungle travel.  Now, having been there and done that  more than once, it began to have less appeal, and somehow I passed on Ghinsberg's excellent book a couple of times when I picked up the original hardcover edition in the bookstore and flipped through the pages. 

I now realize the mistake I made after recently reading this book, which I couldn't put down once drawn into the narrative.  Lost in the Jungle is in fact a gripping account of a lone man with little knowledge of wilderness survival facing one of the most unforgiving wildernesses in the world - a trackless swath of the Bolivian Amazon along the remote and inaccessible Tuichi River.

Here is a Google Earth view of the area where Ghinsberg was lost.  Note that not only is it an unbroken tract of virgin rainforest, it is also rugged and mountainous, the rivers cascading in whitewater rapids through treacherous canyons. Try to imagine what it would be like to try to walk out of such a jungle, alone with nothing but a lighter, a poncho and a few remaining morsels of beans and rice, your feet peeling from jungle rot and not even a machete to aid in gathering food or cutting a path: 

Ghinsberg is extremely fortunate that he lived to write his book. Two of the four companions he started out with on his ill-prepared trip were never heard from again.  In the first part of the book as you read his account of how they ended up in such a predicament, it's hard to have much sympathy for any of them as you see mistake after mistake being made.  But once Ghinsberg is alone and telling of his terrifying experiences after getting swept through raging rapids on a log raft when he becomes separated from his remaining companion, his descriptions of the difficulties the jungle presents and his methods of dealing with them with practically nothing win you over to his side.  He turns out to be an incredibly tenacious survivor against odds that few experts would care to even contemplate.  Even with his inexperience, he manages to find food, shelter himself from torrential downpours, survive a flash flood that nearly sweeps him away, extricate himself from quicksand bogs and fend off a prowling jaguar in the middle of the night.

I think the most important lesson this book has to teach is the role of attitude and the will to live in an extreme test of life or death.  Ghinsberg refuses to give up, and near the end of the narrative, when he knows he can't walk out, he resigns himself to the possibility that he may have to wait months before someone comes along on the river.  Even with this dismal prospect, he starts making plans to survive alone like a modern-day Robinson Crusoe of the jungle until he can get out.  It is little wonder that today he makes his living as a motivational speaker.  More about what he is doing now can be found on his website here:

Sunday, July 4, 2010

Can't Never Could....

All my life I heard the same advice from my dad whenever I complained about the difficulty of something or especially if I made the mistake of saying, "I can't."  His standard reply was "Can't never could do nothing."

When I was 25 years old, I sold everything I had and set out to see the islands of the Caribbean with a 17-foot sea kayak loaded down with camping gear.  It was an experience that would re-shape my life.

This post is about not listening to those who say "you can't" do something.  It's also on not following the crowd (or the herd, as I prefer to say in my book of rants called Astray of the Herd).

The reason I'm bringing this up is because of the common human behavior of groups discouraging individuals from attempting something outside the usual comfort zone of the group or larger numbers of individuals that make up the group.  Propose any such risky idea or unconventional enterprise to a group of other people, and you will quickly see it get shot down by one or many others in the group who will tell you not to attempt it, because they wouldn't.

An interesting post on the Boat Bits sailing blog I frequently read discussed this very thing just the other day in a piece called The Urge To Follow The Crowd.  The author tells of a post on a popular sailing discussion board in which a new member asked advice about sailing his relatively small, but seaworthy boat on a quite significant but very doable offshore passage from south Florida to Puerto Rico.  Naturally, the naysayers had to pipe in and kill the dream, advising the owner of the boat to instead have it shipped to Puerto Rico rather than attempt to sail it there on its own hull.  And this on a forum devoted to "Sailing Far."

This reminded me of so many times I've heard the same thing: "You can't."  You can't do this, or you can't do that, because....  but the person saying it never concludes with the truth: "because I can't, or because I'm afraid to."  I heard it when I announced to friends and family back when I was 25 that I was selling or giving away everything I owned except what would fit in a kayak and setting off to see how far as I could go, paddling from Mississippi to Florida and beyond in the Caribbean.  I did the trip anyway over the next 13 months and had the time of my life.  I heard "you can't" when I went to Florida and bought a 30-year old 26-foot sailboat for $5000 and  sailed it home to Mississippi, fixed it up, and moved aboard it with my then wife and went cruising.  I heard "you can't" when I said I was going to write books, and so on, and so on.   I even  heard it every day in Spanish: "No Puede Ir!"  (You can't go!) when my friend Ernest and I set out to hike through the Honduran jungle to the upper Patuca River with a folding Pak Canoe and then paddle to the coast. I've heard it all my life and I still hear it.

The above example of the sailing forum is one reason I take Internet discussion forums with a grain of salt.  I read a lot of great forums on subjects I'm interested in - many of them can be found in the links to the right - but I rarely post on any of them.  I read them to learn from others who have been somewhere or done something I want to know about, or have owned or tested some item I'm interested in.  But I've seen enough to know that I don't need all the "you can't" replies if I were to post a question like the guy in the above-mentioned sailing forum did. 

Survival forums can be among the worst.  I see discussion after discussion of "bugging-out" vs. "bugging in", 45. vs. 9mm, AR vs. AK, and on and on and on.  With regard to survival, and especially wilderness survival, there sure is a lot of the "you can't" attitude out there.  I don't bother, but would love to ask some of these negative posters why, if they are so sure that they and no one else in the discussion could survive in the woods (or whatever situation is the topic of the hour) then why are they even on a survival forum?  Just because the popular crowd's consensus is "you can't", should we just curl up in the fetal position and wait to die if the SHTF?  When it comes to survival, either you do or you don't.  There's really no in between.  But one thing is for certain, if you don't believe in yourself enough to believe you can, then you probably won't try hard enough to succeed.

That's the rant for today.  Just remember: "Can't never could do nothing" and take that four-letter word out of your vocabulary. 

Thursday, July 1, 2010

Pine Resin for Wilderness First-Aid

Fresh pine resin is an often overlooked resource that has many uses in the wilderness.  One of these uses is to quickly seal wounds and stop bleeding.

The other day when I posted the contents of an EDC (every day carry) survival kit,  frequent commenter Dave Sears mentioned Super Glue as something he would include in such a kit.  As he says, Super Glue has many uses, including sealing a cut closed or re-installing a loosened crown on a tooth.

On another blog I frequent, Paul at the Urban Survivalist mentioned that he followed the advice in my book and went out and purchased himself a machete.  He promptly sliced open his finger with it, as happens all to often with this wickedly-dangerous tool if you are not 100% cognizant of where the edge is every moment you have one out of its sheath.  I felt bad that he got cut with something I recommended, but I've done it myself as well.  And I once took a fellow member of a survey crew to the emergency room after he nearly whacked off his index finger with one while trying to split the end of a stake he was holding upright with the other hand.

But back to the topic here.  If you spend enough time outdoors doing anything with machetes, axes, hatches, knives or even chainsaws, you're bound to get cut at some point.  Many years ago I learned an old woodsman's trick from a backwoods kinda gal who's father was a logger that had cut himself severely more than once while working alone deep in the woods with no proper first aid kit. 

I had scored a piece of glass with a glass cutter and placed it on the edge of my outdoor workbench to snap it off by pressing down with considerable force. It snapped alright, but when it did, my wrist went across the edge and the blood started pouring.  At first I thought I had hit an artery, but it wasn't nearly that bad - just a long, clean cut that let the blood flow freely and looked like it would require stitches to stop it.  But this person referred to above knew what to do, and ran away for a moment to a grove of pine trees nearby, quickly returning with a big gob of sticky, amber-colored resin which she pressed onto my wrist directly over the still pouring cut.  To my amazement, though the blood mixed with the messy pine sap, the bleeding stopped, as there was no way for it to get through this tenacious mess.  Anyone who has ever inadvertently put their hand in a patch of this stuff while passing a pine tree knows how hard it is to get off. 

I was worried that it might be harmful, but she assured me that it would not only stop the bleeding, but heal the wound.  She told me how her father had used in once after a deep cut with a chainsaw that went into his thigh almost to the bone.  I decided to experiment and test it out, leaving the resin on my wrist until it dried out enough to peel off.  When it did finally all come off, to my amazement, the cut was cleanly sealed without scabbing.  Eventually it healed with hardly a trace, much less conspicuous than another glass cut I had on a finger years before that I had sewn up with stitches in an emergency room.

I did a little searching around and found other references to pine sap's usefulness in sealing wounds.  Apparently it has anti-fungal and antibacterial properties, and is safe to use in this application, as well as for more obvious uses like making pitch glue.  Here is a discussion thread about it on the BushcraftUSA forums that you may find of interest.  The discussion gets more interesting on page 2:

You won't find fresh pine sap on every tree, even in a pine forest, but since that incident, whenever I make camp in the woods and there are pine trees around, I make a mental note of any particular trees in the area that are oozing sap - just in case.


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