Cody Lundin’s Aboriginal Living Skills School marks 30 years of preparing people for emergencies.
As a series of severe winter storms walloped Texas in February, causing a crippling statewide power crisis that led to shortages of water, food and heat, one woman in her late 60s was texting Cody Lundin from her San Antonio home, thanking him for the life-saving skills she and her husband learned in the Sonoran Desert Daze course they took through his Aboriginal Living Skills School (ALSS).
“They got out the sleeping bags that had never been used since the course, were eating a chipped beef sandwich that was cooked over a bunch of candles, had filled up their bathtub with rainwater and snowmelt that they caught, and didn’t understand why people were short on water,” said Lundin. “They had transferred their mindset from fear to coping skills.”
The news came as the Arizona outdoor survival instructor was about to mark 30 years in business with his Prescott-based school. For decades, Lundin has taught a cave full of courses at Prescott College and Yavapai College and has walked thousands across Arizona’s harsh desert and frigid high country. His Aboriginal Living Skills School is one of the oldest survival schools in the United States, where he teaches outdoor survival skills, primitive living skills, bushcrafting and urban preparedness.
“We’re in a physiological body, yet most know very little about their biological needs. Most don’t have any idea where their water comes from, where to find it, how to make it safe and where to store it. Most don’t know how to regulate their body temperature. We are so dependent on the grid and people don’t realize the extent they rely on it for their survival, let alone the complacency that comes with it. This creates the lack of being prepared and the feeling of shock when being caught off guard. The body shuts down.”
He says everybody will be scared in a survival situation, including him. “Fear uncontrolled can kill people. Ninety percent of survival is psychology and 10% is everything else, like hard skills. I teach people how to be more self-reliant. Once people know how to deal with their needs, it simplifies their thought process – their focus can narrow in on what’s important to their safety and that brings down their fear.”
Lundin’s students range from 7-year-olds to 80-somethings, although most are middle-aged, educated professionals. “The No. 1 reason they come to me is they want to learn how to do more with less. This has been true since the school’s inception. And the confidence they gain is huge when you can put someone in the field and bring them back a more confident person.”
Those skills, he says, are going to be applicable in any stressful situation, whether it happens in the African bush, the Red Rock Secret Wilderness or the concrete jungle.
“One of the biggest causes of a survival situation is the case of a day hiker who is not physically, mentally and emotionally prepared. These hikes are notorious for killing people. For example, say you have Jeff from Connecticut who’s visiting Northern Arizona on a business trip. He’s not familiar with the area or the climate. He’s not hydrated before the hike and he didn’t bring enough water on the hike. He doesn’t have the right gear and didn’t tell the front desk at the hotel where he was going and when he should be back. There are a million ways this can go wrong. When his core body temperature rises, he begins to have all kinds of issues, including poor judgement. When disaster happens, he goes into a form of mental and emotional shock.”
Lundin draws wisdom from a lifetime of being in nature and his insatiable appetite for knowledge, much of it coming from medical journals. The best gift he ever received was the book “Wilderness Medicine,” which came from his mom, a doctor of pharmacy, who worked at Yavapai Regional Medical Center.
In the 1980s, Lundin had a revelation about creating his Aboriginal Living Skills School while hiking in Sedona. “I saw a need to educate people going into the backcountry, I wanted to be my own businessperson and I adore nature. I wanted to tie in to the natural world and teach others how it can influence them for the better.”
Those who spend any time with Lundin may quickly assess that he is part rugged caveman, part savvy businessman. Lundin lives what he teaches and has the wildland credibility to do so. He loves the outdoors, thrives on a connection to nature and maintains a minimalist lifestyle in his passive solar subterranean home. Whether he’s conducting a business meeting, engaging in a news interview for programs like NBC’s “Dateline” or publications like USA Today, or teaching urbanites how to make fire with a stick and a stone, Lundin arrives in a shirt and shorts. His long, blond hair is tamed by braids and a bandana; his feet are bare, toughened by the Arizona landscape. His gaze is steady, his intention is focused, his cadence is measured and his presence commands respect.
“I took an ALSS course because I have always been concerned about personal safety,” wrote Susan MacIver. “Whether in the city or traveling through the loneliest stretches of wilderness, I wanted to feel that I knew ways to help myself and others, should the need arise. While I don’t have much experience in the wild, it can still be brutal to be stuck in your car in a traffic jam that lasts for hours. The course I did attend, I loved! I count it as one of the highlights of my outdoor experiences. I was in the ‘Save Your Butt’ overnight course, i.e., your car breaks down or you are lost on a hike. It was tremendously informative and Cody was more than professional. As a matter of fact, his demeanor was such that I knew he was deadly serious about teaching us how to survive a potentially life-threatening situation.”
As COVID-19 cases spiked through the last year, so did sales for his best-selling books, “98.6 Degrees: The Art of Keeping Your Ass Alive” and “When All Hell Breaks Loose: Stuff You Need to Survive When Disaster Strikes.” In them, he offers a straightforward scientific account of how the brain works when the body perceives a threat and what happens to the body – how blood vessels constrict, breathing becomes shallow, judgment is impaired – and how hypo- and hyperthermia impact our gross, fine and complex motor skills.
He also discusses how to control fear, which includes being aware of our surroundings, and a practice he calls “cultivating rational insanity.”
During a survival episode, you’ll be taxed to the limit on all levels. In order to prevail and mitigate the panic factor, you’ll have to be as cool as a cucumber. You’ll need to approach your situation in a somewhat detached and rational manner, while gearing up your mind and body to accomplish the insane if necessary, thereby smashing all self-imposed limitations. Funneling the intense energy of insanity and uniting it with the sound coolness of rational decision-making creates a potent force in emergency scenarios. FBN
By Bonnie Stevens, FBN