The Great Outdoors

I’ve been watching this show in the History Channel, Alone. If you haven’t seen it, it’s a reality show wherein the contestants are each dropped off alone in the wilderness, in the Pacific Northwest, with a pack of supplies and a few video cameras to document their day-to-day activities. They are each also provided with a GPS locator beacon which they can use to contact a rescue team to come get them in the event that something happens or they just get tired of being cold and wet and hungry all the time. The individual who lasts the longest wins half a million dollars. 

There’s only a couple type of “reality” shows I can tolerate.  Shows which challenge the contestants to create something (ie: Face Off) and this show. This is basically because I dislike the manufactured drama which comes with putting a bunch of attention-starved people into a room together and making them fight over something. It’s the worst kind of gladiatorial combat.

On Alone, though, there is no interpersonal drama. Just one person at a time, struggling to survive with on their wits alone in a wilderness which I am relatively familiar with.  That might be another draw; it makes me a little homesick, but we’ll get to that.

The show starts each episode with a little disclaimer letting you know that the people participating are “survival experts” and that this is not to be tried at home. After watching it, though, I get the distinct impression that not everyone is as much of an expert as they would like you to believe.

I’m thinking most specifically of the gentleman who talked a good game to his friends, but nine hours… NINE HOURS after the boat dropped him off, he tapped out and went home. He had all kinds of justifications for it; how it’s harder to be alone than he expected, and the mental toll of the whole trial… But c’mon man, it’s nine hours. I’m alone longer than that every day at work. In the end what I think it boiled down to for this dude was a somewhat irrational fear of bears. There’s a very obvious turning point in his mentality between when he’s dropped off, and when he hears a rustling in the bushes that he suspects is a bear and sees some bear scat. The dude, literally, spends the rest of his time there on the beach, afraid to go into the forest. Bears.

Then there’s the woman who gets so involved in explaining to the camera how it is that she’s going to survive out there for a super long time that she hits herself in the hand with a hatchet. Faced with the possibility of infection and the need for medical attention, she also goes home within the first few days.

Now, don’t get me wrong, I’m not saying I’d be the bigger winner at Alone, and I understand how easy it is to make a mistake in the wilderness. But I am saying that I could definitely outlast at least a few people simply by drawing on the knowledge I learned in the Boy Scouts.

Let me tell you a little bit about my Scouting experience because I think it’s a little different than most folks might picture. It wasn’t so much tying knots (though I could tie a one-handed bowline in under three seconds) and earning merit badges, it was a lot more backpacking, tarp camping and snow caves. Something about the mentality of the adult leadership of my Scout troop tended to focus more on how-not-to-die-in-the-forest and less on basket weaving. As a result, anytime our troop would get together with other local Boy Scout troops, there was always this feeling that we were sort of on a different wavelength. Not necessarily a better wavelength, but definitely a different one. I’ve got a lot of great memories from Scouting, even though I never advanced beyond the rank of First Class, and watching this show brings them back.

One of the first and foremost things we learned, though, was how to stay dry without the use of a tent. We did a lot of camping in the Pacific Northwest with little more than tarps for shelter. Rain was the enemy and the enemy was everywhere. So when I see these “trained survival experts” on this survival show with a veritable swimming pool in the bottom of their reinforced tarp and wood shelter, all I can do is shake my head and think, “C’mon, dude…  Don’t set up camp in a depression. You should know better.” Ultimately, though, this is all fantasy. I’m not going to be on any survival shows any time soon; and, for all my talk, I’d be the guy who falls down a hill, or eats a bad mushroom, or gets his ass kicked by a deer.

What it has done, though, is provide some really fun inspiration for a new story I’ve been working on. It blends the reality show formula with the introspection of being by yourself for a long time plus the fear of the unknown and a little bit of wish fulfillment. I hope to have it up here to read in the near future; I don’t think the format lends itself toward publication… Though, it would be easy enough to convert into a screenplay. That’s something to think about.

More than anything, though, all this thought about being in the woods has really made me miss camping. I haven’t been camping in a long time; not real camping. I think I’ve been real camping once since I left the Boy Scouts eighteen years ago (holy shit!). I haven’t been camping at all since I moved to Hawaii.

I did do some car-camping during a visit to Hawaii a couple of years before I moved here, but nothing since the move. Oh, and we pitched a tent at the Honolulu Zoo once. Neither of those really count, though. Any camping where you can see the car, aren’t allowed to start a fire on the ground, and have to bring your own firewood isn’t camping. And as far as I know, there’s nowhere on Oahu where those objectives can be met. I remember when the wife and I went to Kauai a couple years back, when we were at the airport catching our plane back home there was this group of teenagers with hiking packs who looked like they’d just stumbled out of the wilderness. See, there is this big canyon on Kauai which is riddled with trails and campsites and, apparently you can actually, legally, use them.

I’d love to get over to Kauai and do some backpacking and camping someday. Not soon though, I’d need to get back into shape and I’ve never backpacked in this kind of heat before. So that’d take some getting used to. At the very least, though, I’d like to get up into the hills and do some hiking on-island. So much of Oahu is actually wilderness and I’ve seen exactly 0.001% of it. I don’t really know where any trailheads are, and I’m not super comfortable striking out just the two of us, wife and I, into the unknown. Not so worried about getting lost as I am getting in over our heads because we don’t know what lies up ahead; the weather here changes quickly and  fairly safe trail can become hazardous really fast. If those hazards are behind you when you decide to call it and head home; you’re gonna have a bad time.

But, yeah, I really want to find a way to go camping here. I was so envious of those kids, all scraped up and covered in dirt and grime. There’s a sort of paradoxical cleanliness that you feel when you’re gummed up with nature. The smell of smoke clinging to your skin, and this sort of lightness that comes from being disconnected from the rest of the world, if only for a few days.

I think that’s what I’m craving; the disconnect. When you spend a few days in the wilderness it’s almost like getting into a time machine. The rest of the world I still happening, but you’re surrounded by this oblivious cocoon of trees and their gentle psithurism whispering in your ear. When you emerge, when you return to the world, you’re a little different, and the world is a little different from when you last saw it, and you have to get caught up and reconnect and locate your place again.

It’s a tiny little refreshing reset button, and it’s been way too long since I last pushed it.