A New Approach to Survival

Wednesday afternoon our plane crash-landed in the woods of northern Minnesota and southern Manitoba. The pilot and co-pilot were killed and shortly afterwards the plane sank in the lake. We were 20 miles northwest of a small town and discovered 12 items on-board that might be helpful to our survival – things like a ball of steel wool, a can of shortening, and a cigarette lighter that had no fluid. We all died.

Of course, this was an exercise – not real life. Still, we died.

I would have died on Tuesday, but when I got to school my name was on the roster for Wednesday’s class. I had gone to class on the wrong day.

A quick check of my schedule back home revealed the day of the class (WED) listed directly after the course code (which, in my defense, was also all capital letters… it all read as one big course code at the time).

Before we died in the crash, we introduced ourselves. We had to tell everyone the strangest thing we had ever eaten. I had eaten everything everybody else thought was strange and for the life of me I couldn’t think of anything else worth mentioning. I was the only girl in the classroom…. and the oldest.

imageThe instructor was telling us in no uncertain terms that if we were not dressed appropriate for outdoor activities on any given day we would be sent home and docked with an unexcused absence. He was looking at our feet under the table as he described “appropriate” footwear. Stefan wore his bedroom slippers to class – immediately I liked this kid, but bedroom slippers were not considered appropriate.

The syllabus says we will engage in physical pre-conditioning for backcountry travel. We were given a Physical Conditioning Log that is worth 25 points of our overall grade, and told to log at least a 2-mile hike each week. It did not seem probable that I would earn extra points by mentioning I had run 40.

We are to show appropriate self and peer leadership and practice Leave No Trace techniques appropriate to an emerging outdoor professional. We were told emphasis is placed on skill acquisition, no trace impact, and rescue techniques in various environments and conditions.

Thursday’s class had many of the same kids plus one girl. We played more games and were told we would not learn how to hike in this class, but we would learn how to teach someone to hike. I listened to my classmates describe what they wanted to do with the information they learn in this class and realized they are just beginning their life’s journey. There are so many things for them to experience, so much for them to discover about themselves. They are just beginning to bloom.

For the next year I’ll learn how to teach others to hike through the backcountry, climb an Alpine Tower, paddle through whitewater rapids, and poop in the woods without leaving any trace. For me, it will be survival of a different sort altogether.