I’m no one’s idea of a survivalist.
My only time tent camping came at the age of 14. It rained all night, seeping into the tent where I accidentally touched the walls. We ate breakfast on an overturned log, and the pancakes were miraculously both raw inside and burned outside. On the car ride home, my friend’s mom told me to check my hair for ticks. I screamed, “TICKS?!?” then found one in my scalp, an event I relive in quarterly nightmares.
In high school, I was forced to accompany my mother to a weekendlong bluegrass festival that included a stay in a woodsy cabin in rural Missouri. Whether or not this sounds fun to you probably depends greatly on whether you’re a 16-year-old who wears Doc Martens, listens to a lot of Depeche Mode and wouldn’t be caught dead admitting that you’d ever heard of someone named “Earl Scruggs.”
My one positive memory was lying out with my best friend, who for some reason agreed to go with me, on the rocky shore of a murky Ozarks creek, far enough away from the festival grounds that we could drown it out with fiddle-free music from my boombox, trying to get enough of a tan to convince our other friends that we’d been at the beach.
I’ve decided never again to voluntarily spend 24 consecutive hours out of doors.
But I still hear the call of the wild, perhaps with the ears of my ancestors, who, just two generations ago, lived without electricity and running water, and gave birth at home on straw floors.
Instead of leaving my home, though, I just curl up on my couch and read books like Jon Krakauer’s “Into Thin Air,” about a doomed expedition on Mount Everest in 1996, or watch TV shows like “Alone” on the History Channel.
If you’ve never watched it, “Alone” is basically “Survivor” for homesteaders and conspiracy theorists. They drop off survivalists in the middle of nowhere (usually some bleak Canadian island) with no food or water and limited supplies. The contestants are too far apart from one another to know how many are left, and the “competition,” such as it is, amounts to living off the land for as long as it takes to outlast everyone else.
And they do quit, some quickly and some months later. There are typically a handful of contestants who will, at some point, look around, ask themselves, “What the heck am I doing?” and fail to come up with a decent answer. They’re very relatable.
Then, every few weeks or so, someone will fall down the side of a mountain trying to haul firewood to their shelter or get pulled from the competition due to their 200-calorie-a-day all-berry diet almost giving them a stroke. They’re less relatable.
The early seasons of “Alone” had the hilarious added element of the hubristic dilettante, men (always) who’d brag before the show started about how if they saw a bear, someone would have to come save the bear, only to quit the first night when they heard rustling outside their tent.
I miss those guys, because by the third or fourth season, only experienced survivalists applied. Now the competitors are all from Alaska, wear camouflage and waterproof waders, and are intimately familiar with the process of tanning a hide using the animal’s own brains.
They’re folks who know what pithouses are and can confidently make one. They build watertight canoes, have resumes with a lengthy paragraph titled “primitive skills” and use deadfall traps to kill mice, which they then skin, roast and eat with relish.
In short, they’re nothing like me.
But I love the show, and many of the contestants, and at least once an episode, I think to myself, perhaps as I’m watching someone shave with a machete or eat a giant slug, “Well, it takes all kinds!”
Honestly, I’m glad someone knows how to do that stuff, just in case there’s a zombie apocalypse. The only thing I’ll be good for is writing strongly worded letters and finding the survivalists.
They’re mostly in Alaska, I hear.
Only problem is, they’ll all be wearing camouflage.
To learn more about Georgia Garvey, visit GeorgiaGarvey.com.
Photo credit: Triston Dunn at Unsplash