By Cindy and Walt
Miles and I staggered around till almost dark. It was getting cold so once we stopped, making a campfire was the first order of business. Miles gathered some firewood while I rounded up the dry weeds and twigs necessary to get a fire going. In less than fifteen minutes I had a fire, if not roaring at least flaming.
Miles: Nice job, Rose.
Me: Nothing to it. A few dry twigs and a flint and it’s easy.
Miles: Those cotton balls with the Vaseline didn’t hurt any.
Me: Ah so you Noticed. A girl has to have a few tricks, since we aren’t as big and strong as you guys.
Yes my voice was laced with sarcasm. Miles, bless him, just laughed.
Miles: I don’t care how you did it. Let’s just start dinner.
I unpacked the three inch deep frying pan, complete with a lid, to use for my rice and beans.
Me: Well I got a pot to boil my rice. I think I will save my beans. I can do that while the squirrel roast on a stick. Do you know how to dress that squirrel?
Miles: If I knew that I wouldn’t be paying twenty five grand to learn how to live off the land.
Me: Well I’m paying it too, and I know how to dress the squirrel.
I removed the animal from the plastic bag, then washed it. The head had to go since it was all bones. I kept all four legs and the chest and back. I used the sewing kit to put a quick stitch in the belly to hold it on the spit. Then I hung it over the fire while the rice boiled. I seasoned the rice with the salt and pepper in the tiny little paper packs.
Miles: No offense Rose, but that thing just doesn’t look very good. It has to be with way to many tiny bones.
Me: Yeah we could use a meat grinder to make squirrel hamburger.
Miles: I would choose a car for a run to McDonald’s over the grinder.
Me: Yeah but that would kind of defeat the purpose of your twenty five thousand dollar investment.
Miles had brought canned stew, so he heated that. It looked better than my rice, but mine weighed much less in the pack. Besides I knew when the stew ran out there would still be squirrels running around the woods.
Me: So Miles where you from?
Miles: A little town in Ohio. My dad worked in a steel mill till it closed. I went to school got a degree to teach high school. I pretty much lost interest when some kid threatened me. I did sixty days on the county farm for defending myself. Now I couldn’t get a teaching job, even if I wanted one. (He paused then asked) so what about you.
Me: Well Professor, that’s a lot more interesting than my life. Let’s call it a night, so we can get an early start tomorrow.
I had found a tree limb to hang the front of my tarp from. I piled the firewood on the side to stop the wind from getting inside and making a balloon of it. If we needed the wood in the night, it meant it was too cold to sleep in the shelter, so I wouldn’t miss it holding the tarp, while I sat by the fire.
Miles and I were up before six. The sun came up while I ate the half piece of hard bread shaped like a flat biscuit. I had some peanut butter and jelly with it.
Miles: You want some of this sausage roll?
Me: No thanks, but it does look good.
I ate slow and had a lot of water to get the biscuit and peanut butter down. When the sun came up we checked the map and decided that we were over half way there. I just knew we weren’t going to make it to the staging area that quickly. There had to be a problem.
It came in the very steep mountain between us and the staging area. To by pass the mountain would require walking for ten extra miles through heavy thickets.
Me: So Miles, which way shall we go?
Miles: If we go through the thicket we won’t have to climb that fucking mountain. I vote to go through the thicket. There is no prize for being first.
Me: I’m willing to give it a try, but I think we will regret it.
It took fifteen minute to get to the thicket. There was no trail just a few bent wild bushes where someone else had been through. It hadn’t been lately I knew. The bushes had recovered almost fully from being bent over.
Miles: That is pretty thick looking. Do you reckon there is a better place to enter it?
Me: No we can waste half a day trying to skirt it and still end up in the middle of it. Best thing we can do it suck it up and get on with it.
Miles struggled more than me. One thing he insisted on was breaking trail. I let him even though it might have been easier if I had done it. He just bullied right straight ahead once the decision had been made. I followed as much as possible in his trail, what little there was of it. The brush seemed to close in behind him.
We probably lost a couple of hours by going through the brush. By lunch Miles was absolutely on the verge of collapse he was just plain exhausted. I wasn’t a whole lot better. I stopped at the outer edge of the thicket for a hard tack biscuit with peanut butter and jelly. I drank lots of water to wash it down.
Me: Miles you need to eat something and get hydrated. You want me to fix you something?
Miles out of breath: No, I can do it, just give me a minute.
I knew he was pretty much useless for the rest of that day. It was going to be me who would set the pace and just hope he could keep up. I waited a full twenty minutes, which was ten minutes more than we had agreed to for the morning breaks. Then I started up the much gentler hill ahead of me. The hills were up and down the rest of the day but the mountain had been avoided. We did have some ground to make up since skirting the mountain gave us a longer walk.
When lunch came at 3 PM, we stopped for half an hour. I had another biscuit and peanut butter with lots of jelly for energy.
Miles: how can you eat that shit twice a day?
Me: There is protein and sugar in it. The hard biscuit is just to fill my stomach. I drink lots of water so it keeps me going.
Miles: I need more than that.
Me: Well as long as I don’t have to carry it, I don’t give a crap if you bring a five course meal.
When we started walking after our half hour lunch break, it was obvious we weren’t going to make the meeting until the next day. A couple of the other teams looked really fit, my guess was a couple of them would make the meeting that afternoon.
We made the top of a hill a few miles from the site where we were to meet just after five. I had an idea that Miles was finished for the day so I didn’t even suggest that we keep going and try to finish it.
Miles and I made camp. There was less wood at that elevation where we chose for our camp, so I gave him my hand ax. Miles had chosen not to bring one along. He did have the big knife rather than the small skinning knife.
Me: Do what you can and try to find some wood on the ground. Growing wood is going to be hard to bring down with that hatchet. It seems to be pretty sharp but it is lightweight.
I hung up the tarp again I used a piece of nylon cord to secure it. I didn’t think it would rain but the plastic tarp would help hold our body heat inside rather than have a cold temperature draw it from our bodies.
He came back with enough wood to cook and keep the fire going a while but not enough to last all night. Once the fire was going I cooked and ate beans for dinner, while he ate some kind of soup. It was at least hot for him, I wasn’t too sure how filling it would be.
After dinner the sun was pretty much down so I sat by the fire. We didn’t have too much to say, probably because we were on the edge of exhaustion. I tried to spot any campfires nearby but I didn’t notice any at all. We were running low on firewood.
Me: Why don’t we save the last of the firewood for morning.
Miles: Sounds like a plan. It is going to be cold though.
Me: We can share a sleeping bag and cover us with the second. That should be nice and warm. We can also weight one side of the Tarp then tuck in the opposite side. That should keep our body heat inside.
Miles: Sounds good and you don’t have to worry. I’m too tired to even consider sex.
Me: Good then I won’t have to gut you like a fish.
Miles might have been too tired but he slept with an erection. It seemed a little small, but I really couldn’t tell for sure. I did know that it wasn’t huge. I fell asleep nice and warm. The fact that I was sharing my sleeping bag with a man didn’t keep me awake at all.
Miles: Shit Rose everything is damp.
He noticed it first thing in the morning. The plastic tarp held in the heat but also the moisture. Everything was indeed damp. I had stored all my clothes outside the trap but the sleeping bag was damp from the humidity. It was going to be very uncomfortable if we had to sleep in it again that night.
Me: Maybe we will make the finish line before we need them again. I hope you don’t have a problem with me changing clothes in front of you.
I said that as I climbed out of the bag and removed my underwear. I replaced it with clean dry panties and a dry thermal tee shirt. Then I pulled on thermal pants from the boys wear department of Walmart. Finally my dirty Jeans and cold but dry sweatshirt.
Miles: It didn’t bother me, but it was a nice sight. Except you are even more skinny naked.
Me: Well honey, I wasn’t always skinny.
Me: Long story. Let’s get breakfast and hit the road.
Since I was a little chilled I built a fire and fixed a cup of Bart’s herbal tea. I didn’t usually drink it unless I was having some kind of pains. I just needed the comfort of it that morning.
The hike was the best it had been since the beginning. The hills were easy going up and over. There was one steep climb before we reached the assembly point. Even that wasn’t too bad probably because it was the last one.
Even the big mountains in the area were not the type you had to rig ropes to ascend or descend. You just had to be careful that you didn’t break a leg due to carelessness. Miles was dragging but I kept pushing him. It took up all morning and a small part of the afternoon but we walked into a clearing with more piles of equipment.
I wasn’t too interested in the equipment. I was interested in the smell of burned meat. There were two others sitting on logs eating what looked like steaks. I walked in and took a really good look about to be sure there were no others. I was surprised we had made it in second place.
Mica: Well you two did make it. Killer told me you would be first. I told him you were going to be dead last. So we were both wrong.
Miles: We were closer to first than last. That should count for something.
Mica: It means your food is still warm but the bread that was fresh an hour ago is going to be a little hard.
Me: What no microwave?
Mica: The only oven here is a cast iron pot in the fire.
Me: That works.
Since we had several hours of daylight, I hung the damp sleeping bag over a tree limb to dry. The temperature was well above freezing so there was a good chance that it would.
All afternoon men came wandering in. Each pair had some tale to tell. They all looked pretty worn down. I’m pretty sure they were surprised to see Miles and me seated with the two much better conditioned men.
After I ate the chewy steak with bread from the dutch oven, I sat by the fire with the others. I expected all the trashy looking materials were there for a purpose. I had no idea what the purpose might be but I was sure that Mica would tell us when everyone was assembled.
It wasn’t quite dark when we heard the gun fire. Two quick shots, then one shot the sign for emergency, or I’m hopelessly lost. Mica had been flitting around checking up on us all, but Killer had spent his time napping in the sun until the shots sounded.
He grabbed a small medical emergency pack and a Satellite phone then headed back up the hill. He left Mica with the rest of us. I knew for a fact that it would be dark before the others made it back. I knew it was selfish, but as far as I’m concerned, it is always all about me.
Me: So Mica is there a plan for tonight or do we string the tarp over a tree?
She looked at as if I should have sounded more concerned. Well fuck her, I thought. I wondered if she really wanted a camp filled with people suffering from exposure.
Mica: The plan for tonight is to make whatever shelter you can from what we have around. Then tomorrow you can build something more substantial. Of course that will all depend on what the condition is of the other party.
I wondered why she called it a party. I was pretty sure they weren’t having any fun. Even so my thoughts turned to shelter. I had been staring at a six foot long wooden crate all during dinner. I went over and threw my pack on top of it. I found the small tool kits piled helter skelter among the trash.
Me: Miles do you want to sleep with me again, or are you tired of me yet?
Miles: (Looking around at the crew) I definitely choose you. So what is the plan?
Me: I figured I’d turn this packing case into a cocoon. Stabilize it some then toss one of the tarps over it. This time we leave the front open like a dog house. We should still make enough body heat to stay warm, but have enough ventilation to allow the moisture out.
Miles: Sounds like a plan. If we get cold we can always move to sit by the fire.
Me: I’m hurt that you don’t think I can keep you warm.
Miles: Not even your charms can ward off hypothermia forever.
Me: Nobody ever froze to death while in bed with me. That story was a gross exaggeration.
Miles: I do hope that was a joke. With you it’s hard to tell.
Working together it took only minutes to turn the packing crate into a doghouse style shelter. Some of the others just pitched their tents. I was glad the tents worked for them. The lightweight plastic tarps worked just fine for me. We had always found a way to hang the tarps to make a tent like structure. The two 8×10 tarps worked just fine. The two pieces could be conformed several ways.
Miles never even unpacked his tent. With the hand ax I cut stakes for the tarp so that it wouldn’t blow away. As had happened before our body heat quickly filled the small space helping to warm us I fell asleep long before the lost hikers arrived.
The next morning I used the communal fire to prepare my tea. I wasn’t ordinarily a fan of the stuff but it sure made getting started easier even after a hard push through the forest and a night on the ground. With the tea I had the usual hard biscuit which was my last. I had been told it was a three day trip so my food supply had been for that period of time.
I noted that there were nine of us gathered around. Some were cooking food, others drinking the coffee supplied by Mica. Killer was nowhere to be found.
Mica to the group: This course should be called living off the grid more than subsistence living. In our course you can use a chainsaw or an all terrain vehicle, anything that helps you live a mostly subsistence lifestyle is fine. I suppose it should be called the minimally intrusive lifestyle. Simply put it’s as the old song says, ‘I ain’t asking nobody for nothin’, if I can get it on my own’. First look to what you can do on your own. If you really have to have pizza, then you have wasted your money on this course.
I know there are some retired military, who plan to live on their military retirement only. Some of you have a disability you have to manage as well. We even have a millionaire in this group. The one thing common to everyone is for one reason or another you do not want the government involved in your lives.
There are three things you need basically. Everything else is just shit. You need food, water, and shelter. We use a broad definition of shelter. In our definition it includes heat as well as a dry place to sleep. We teach you how to provide those essentials.
What we don’t teach is how to run a homestead. To do that you will need a lot more than you need to subsist. So if that is your plan, then you can use this experience to build on. If it is pure subsistence, you will have the basics.
My partner will teach hunting and fishing for the most part and I will teach you about plants and cooking with one pot and the open fire. You had your first taste of subsisting on the move. Some of you chose canned and other prepared foods. From now own that is not an option. So get ready to live the very hard life. You can leave at any time, of course, but there are no refunds. Your twenty five thousand tuition is forfeit.
What you brought and what we are providing will be a typical survival outfit. With these tools you should be able to make do in almost any environment.
There are some rules. One is you will not share food. In the end you are not helping anyone by sharing. You are responsible for feeding yourself. We will be in the communal site for the rest of the course, so do what you can to improve it.
Your next concern is food and water now that you have a dry shelter. There are three hundred acres of forest to hunt and a stream running through here with fish. This is the end of winter, so there is nothing to eat that hasn’t been preserved. You will find ten small cans of vegetable meant to last you for two weeks so husband your resources. You will have to find protein on your own. There is no protein of any kind in the vegetables. There is also no bread products so that staple is gone as of now unless you can make it somehow.
I am providing you with a pocket reader and a complete library of frontier living. Use them sparingly you will have only one set of batteries for the four weeks left. There is no way to recharge them, so they operate on a set of four Alkaline batteries.
I found there was as much information on that reader as there might have been in a complete small town library. All I had to do was find it. Searching it was only possible the old fashioned way. Read through the index and try every title which seemed relevant.
Mica: To keep you from shooting each other hunting parties will leave at the same time going in four different directions. You will shoot nothing larger than squirrels and other small animals. You will not shoot at deer or bears. Best you leave them alone and hope they will leave you alone. Maybe they will. Killer will teach you more later.
At the same time the hunting parties go we will launch a fishing expedition. What ever you kill will have to feed you for the four weeks do not waste it.
To me that was an admonition to find ways to preserve the meat for a second or third day.
Killer who walked up addressed us: If you will come with me we are going to discuss hunting the gray squirrel, snaring rabbits and fishing.
He spent an hour giving us hints on the movements and habits of the squirrel. The thing I took away from it was to find a likely spot and be patient. If you sat long enough, you should get a shot. Whether one ate or not would depend a lot on how good a shot he or she was.
After the squirrel talk Killer spent the next hour in a detailed explanation of the snare and how to set them. There were the bunny trail snares as I liked to think of them and the baited snares. It would be hard to use baited snares with no bait, so we would be depending on the bunny trail snares. Those had to be well hidden and positioned just so.
Finally, he quickly taught us the basics of fishing the mountain streams. That mostly consisted of trying not to fall in and not to get wet. Squirrel hair tied to a hook was a pretty good lure, if worms were not available. Fish hooks were provided for our use. I had chosen them for one of my pack items. Even so I took the ones Killer offered me as well.
Killer: Okay this afternoon we are going to start hunting. I should say you are going to start hunting. I will allow one person from each pair to go into the forest and one to the stream you decide among yourselves who does what.
Miles: I know you can shoot and we need the food. Why don’t you go to the hunt and I will try my hand at fishing.
Me: Sound fine to me. We should try to find a way to preserve the food we manage to secure. I think smoking is probably the way to go. We just need the details for an open fire smoker.
Miles: I’ll try to read about it but if you have time you might want to do it as well.