Thursday, February 25, 2010

Wolf Attack

Wolves don't attack people … of course not. They just hunt field mice. Sure!

Well, tell that to the family of a little 3-year-old girl who was playing at a picnic area in Ontario's Lake Superior Provincial Park in Canada last summer. As the girl played, unaware of the danger, a male wolf suddenly came on the scene and bit into the girl's are and started dragging her away.

When the girl's grandparents chased away the wolf, the animal wandered down the beach where it found fresh prey. Brenda Wright and her children had just finished their picnic lunch when the wolf lunged at Brenda's 12-year-old son, tearing into his buttocks. Then the wolf turned its attention on the boy's sister and took her by the scalp. When Brenda attempted to protect her children, the wolf slashed her hands and legs.

It's no secret that the government's decision to reintroduce wolves in parts of America where that animal was a natural predator in the past has succeeded far beyond anyone's expectations. The wolves are breeding like rabbits, and roving packs are starting to move around the upper-tier of Americans states, taking their food wherever they can find it. And they're finding a lot of it. Ranchers are now fighting hard to keep wolf predation of their flocks and herds at bay.

As can be seen from the incidents I mentioned above, it's not just sheep and calves that are at risk. Domestic dogs are being slaughtered by wolf packs in some areas of the country, and even humans are not off the wolf menu. In fact, I've got 8 pages of reports about wolf attacks on humans (and not just children, but adult men and women), so don't get the idea that the two incidents mentioned above are an anomaly.

Keep in mind that these animals are not particularly afraid of humans, so they will walk right into your camp and take your food off your plate, rummage through your tent, and chase you up a tree. So what are you supposed to do to protect yourself in an encounter with wolves?
  • Up a tree — that's not a bad idea. Wolves can't climb trees, so you are safe if you can get up one. However, the wolf (or the pack) might just take up residence at the base of the tree and wait for you to get tired and come down. 
  • Maintain a clean camp to keep from attracting wolves into camp with the smell of food. 
  • Don't run, as that will only stimulate the wolf to attack. You can't outrun them, so you have to stand and fight for your life. 
  • Try to make yourself look as large as possible. Wave your arms and coat, hoist a backpack overhead to make you look bigger. 
  • Do not make eye contact, because that is taken as an act of aggression on your part and might trigger an attack. 
  • Don't grin or show your teeth, for the same reason. 
  • Get on your feet and kick, scream and fight back. Wolves have been known to attack humans as they slept in sleeping bags, where the victim is at a serious disadvantage. The sooner you can get up on your feet and start yelling at the wolf and fighting back, the better. 
  • Use any weapon at hand, a club, a walking staff, a knife, a gun, a mountaineering axe. 
  • Try to strike its nose, as this is a very sensitive area. 
  • Protect your face and throat by using your forearm to fend off the attack. 
  • As last resort, ram your fist down the animal's throat. You will get torn up a bit, but the wolf won't be able to rip up more critical parts of your body. 
  • Stay in groups. Wolves are less likely to attack if you are in a large group than if you are alone. 
  • Maintain a fire in camp all night, because wolves don't like fire.

    Tuesday, February 16, 2010

    Wild Animal Attack — Part 1: Avoidance

    In the warm and fuzzy world of some folks, wild animals all have big moist brown eyes, cute noses, and a cuddly personality. But that doesn’t exactly square with reality. Take, for example, the incident involving Mark Reynolds, a 35-year-old guy who went out for a mountain bike ride in California in January 2004, and was later found dead and partly eaten by a cougar (mountain lion). Nothing warm and fuzzy about it.

    Of course, the warm and fuzzy crowd will claim that was an anomaly. Well, try telling that to the family of the 41-year-old Arkansas woman who was killed in her own front yard by a cougar in May 2003.  Or the incident in Colorado in 1999 when a 3-year-old boy went missing and was later found to have been dragged away and killed by a cougar.

    I could go on and on. The list is really pretty long. And that’s just cougars. What about bears, or moose, or bison, or coyotes, or …? Let’s pause momentarily for a dose of wildlife reality. There are lots of wild animals that will attack a human, sometimes with fatal results. It does no good to play the denial game. The only good thing we can do is learn the truth and then figure out what to do if we are ever in a violent confrontation with a wild animal.

    The best way to avoid problems with wildlife is to use common sense. Be aware of what’s around you, what kind of animals you are likely to encounter, and the danger they pose.

    Avoidance is the best defense. Keep your distance, and take steps to prevent attracting wildlife into your camp. This includes:
    • Keep a clean camp. 
    • Thoroughly wash all cooking utensils after use. 
    • Seal uneaten food in airtight containers stored in bear-proof canisters, or suspend it from a bear wire away from sleeping areas.
    • Treat garbage just as you would treat food — either store it in bear-proof containers or hang it from a bear wire away from the campsite until you can haul it out of the area.
    • Do not take food into a tent.
    • Do not sleep in the same clothes you cooked dinner in. In fact, don’t even take those clothes into the tent with you.
    • Remove pet food from the area. Pet food attracts bears directly and can draw the small wildlife that is prey for cougars.
    • Never feed wild animals such as deer, raccoons or squirrels that can attract cougars.
    Even after you do all that, be prepared for whatever might happen. In my book, part of being prepared is carrying defensive “tools” that can range from firearms, to a substantial knife, to a club, to deterrents such as pepper spray, to whatever you can lay your hands on as you fight for your life.

    Saturday, February 13, 2010

    Will She Make It?

    Right now, there are two 16-year-old girls half a world apart attempting to something extraordinary — sail alone around the world non-stop and without assistance from anyone. Other people have done that before, but these two young ladies are both aiming to become the youngest to ever accomplish the feat.

    At first glance, this might not sound like something that belongs in a blog about wilderness and urban survival, but I assure you that it goes to the very core of this subject. Stick with me and I'll explain. I'm going to tell the story of these two girls and then make a prediction that is directly related to the main topic of survival.

    Jessica Watson was the first to leave on her record-breaking attempt. She's sailing a Sparkman and Stephens 34, a classic design that was literally torn apart and put back together to prepare it for the rigors of a 23,000-mile trip around the world. Onboard, Jessica has everything she needs to last her for the estimated 8-month voyage, because she is not permitted to stop to resupply, nor to accept the assistance of anyone. She sailed out of Sydney, Australia on October 19, 2009 and set her course northeast to cross the equator over and back (one of the rules is that she must cross the equator twice) and then she headed southeast to Cape Horn. She made the monumental passage around the cape on January 13, 2010. Alone on a 34-foot boat, having not seen another human being for 3 months, she sail around the most notorious place on earth. It wasn't until 3 days later that she commented on this huge event in her blog. She was excited, of course, but in a reserved sort of way that is not common to 16-year-olds. On January 24, 2010 the boat was pummeled by a storm and waves that knocked her completely over. As a sailor myself, and having been in some frightening storms that nearly put my mast in the water, I can imagine how terrifying these knockdowns (there were 3) were for her, alone in the middle of the south Atlantic, thousands of miles from help. What did she say about it in her blog? "…I have been having a very interesting time out here." Then she went on to describe the drama that unfolded as her boat was knocked completely upside-down, damaging some equipment and scattering everything inside the boat. All she could do was hang on for the ride and let the boat come back upright. "It was certainly one of those times when you start questioning exactly why you're doing this, but at no point could I not answer my own question with a long list of reasons why the tough times like that aren't totally worth it!" During the knockdowns, the EPIRB (emergency position indicating radio beacon) that is automatically activated when it goes underwater sent a signal to rescue agencies, and they in turn contacted Jessica's mom and dad back in Australia with the bad news. "Luckily I called in only a few minutes later before anyone could really start to panic. I was pretty annoyed at the stupid thing for going off and giving everyone such a scare!" Right now, she's on approach to her rounding of the Cape of Good Hope, and from there it will be a shot across the southern Indian Ocean back to her starting point in Sydney.

    Will she make it? I've been following her adventure since day-one, and have been blown away by her competence as a sailor, the readiness of her vessel, but more than anything by her level of maturity. It shows up in the thing she shares on her blog, the way she handles problems, the way she analyzes conditions, the way she plans for the next several steps in the voyage based on forecast conditions. She is on top of her game, and is handling it like a champ. More than anything, she is handling the isolation and the psychological challenge of being totally alone and out of reach of anyone who can lend her a hand. She knows (and knew going into this) that if something goes wrong, she's on her own to survive it, to repair it, to do without — whatever.

    Now for the second young lady sailor. Her name is Abby Sunderland. She is from southern California, and just last year her brother Zac set the record for being the youngest solo circumnavigator in a sailboat he and his dad tore down and rebuilt. Zac was 17 at the time; Abby is 16, so she's out to break her brother's record (although it was actually broken a month after it was set, by a Brit who was also 17 but a few months younger than Zac). Abby is attempting to do the same thing Jessica is, sail alone around the world, non-stop and unassisted. That's different from what the guys did last year, because they both stopped to make repairs and received assistance from outside sources. So Abby's and Jessica's record attempts are harder than what the boys did. And here's the deal; Abby is a few months younger than Jessica, so if Jessica captures the record, she might hold it only long enough for Abby to come along behind and break it. But the big question is: Will Abby make it? I have to admit that, although I am cheering her on, I am starting to be skeptical about her chances for success, and here's why. Even though Abby has a lifetime of sailing experience, and her boat is we'll prepared, I'm starting to see chinks in her psychological armor. Unlike Jessica who has been out for nearly 4 months, Abby has been out for only 21 days, and already she had to abandon the voyage once and do a re-start. Eight days out, she decided she was having problems with the solar/battery electrical system on the boat and was having to run the engine to charge the batteries. She can't carry enough fuel to do that all the way around the world, so she opted to pull in at Cabo San Lucas and have her dad fly down with a team to make some changes to the boat. That doesn't kill her chances at the record though because she hadn't crossed the equator yet. All it did was move the start/finish line from southern California to Cabo San Lucas. If she circles the globe and ends up back at Cabo, she succeeds. But here's the catch, and Latitude 38 (a San Francisco-based sailing magazine) commented on this same concern — what the heck is consuming so much electricity on that boat that a bunch of solar panel and 2 wind generators can't keep up? Is she watching TV and playing the stereo and running a blow drier and keeping all the lights on all the time? What the heck is going on? Well, I gave her the benefit of the doubt before her repair stopover in Cabo because I figured maybe something had gone wrong with the system and it wasn't her fault. But then came her report today. She's only a week out of Cabo and already it's back to the same old story. "The sun came out today and it was a very nice change from all the clouds. It was nice to have my solar panels charging rather than running my engine." It's stuff like this that makes me think Abby is not going to make it all the way around the world. Obviously she is burning up the electricity faster than the panels and 2 wind generators can produce it. That leaves me to conclude that either there is something still wrong with the boat's charging systems, or she is not willing to make some comfort sacrifices.

    As an outside observer, not knowing exactly what is happening on Abby's boat, I am concerned. Although I am cheering her on, not only for her own sake but because this is an awesome undertaking and I love to see people succeed with their goals. I don't want to sound like I'm being critical of Abby, but there is something nagging at the back of my mind that says this isn't about electricity — it's about maturity. Do I hope she makes it? Yeah. Do I think she will? If I had to bet on the outcome today, I wouldn't gamble on it.

    So what does all this have to do with you and your chances for survival in a wilderness or urban crisis? It isn't about age, physical size or strength, or academic learning. Yes, there is the physical elements of being able to build a fire, erect shelter, and all that stuff. But way more important than that is the mental game. I don't mean the academic mental game, I mean the psychological mental game. It's all about maturity. Survival living is not like being back home with all the comforts and conveniences. You can't expect to sit down and watch TV or use a hair drier or microwave oven when you're in a survival situation. Anyone not mature enough to realize that, and live with it, probably won't make it.

    Wednesday, February 10, 2010

    More on Tents

    As long as we're talking about tents as emergency shelters during a disaster, we should explore what exactly makes a suitable tent. Like I said before, it doesn't have to be an expensive expedition-quality tent to serve well in an emergency, but there are certain criteria it should meet.

    • The floor fabric should be waterproof, and be designed in "tub" fashion with the waterproof material rising several inches all around the walls. 
    • The rest of the material should be breathable and yet resistant to water penetration from outside. If the tent is urethane coated, it will be waterproof, but moisture released by the occupants simply breathing inside will result in dampness inside the tent. If the tent is not breathable, it must have screened openings on opposite walls that can be opened to promote ventilation. 
    • You need a tent fly: a waterproof panel of material that stretches over the outside of the tent, sort of like a second roof. This will deflect rain from entering the screened windows when you have them open to allow ventilation.
    • A vestibule just outside the door flap is a great way to protect shoes from rain, because you need to take them off before entering the tent to protect the tent floor. 
    • If you can stretch out a tarp in front of the tent door, it will help keep things clean and dry inside. 
    • The less complicated it is to erect the tent, the better. A free-standing dome tent is easier to erect than a wall-type tent that requires guy lines to hold it up. 

    Tuesday, February 9, 2010

    Life in a Tent

    After nearly a month since the earthquake knocked Haiti to its knees, there are still thousands of refugees struggling to stay alive from day to day. Miraculously, a survivor was pulled from the ruins of a grocery store yesterday, having spent 28 days buried in the rubble. Luck was with him, because when it all came crashing down, he was in a place stocked with food and water.

    The devastation was so great that it left hundreds of thousands without shelter. People were living among the crumbled ruins, without protection from the weather. The call eventually went out for tents to be sent to the island, and those have started to trickle in. Even though the survivors have lost all their worldly goods, even something as simple as a tent is an enormous blessing.

    The lesson in all this for us is this: As you work on your own emergency preparedness program, one of the top priorities is a contingency shelter to use if your home is destroyed or you have to leave the area during an evacuation. The tent doesn't have to be elaborate or expedition quality, but it does need to shelter you from rain and wind and harsh sunshine. Bug screens are important for ventilation while keeping the critters out. A waterproof floor is paramount.

    Taking care of your tent is important, to prevent damage that can compromise its ability to provide adequate shelter. Here are some tips:

    • Before erecting the tent, clear away anything on the ground that might damage the floor. 
    • If the ground is rocky, consider spreading soft dirt and leafy material to cushion the floor from the rocks that can damage the fabric. 
    • Consider spreading a tough plastic tarp over the ground for added protection, and then set up the tent on the tarp. 
    • To keep from wearing holes in the floor, remove shoes or boots before entering. 
    • Use a small whisk broom for sweeping out dirt, bugs and leaves that sneak inside. 
    • Operate the door and window zippers slowly to prevent damage to the bug screens. 
    • Air the tent out and all it to dry before storing.

    Monday, February 8, 2010

    Don't Wait for Somebody Else to Warn You

    Those of you who have been following this blog might think I have a "thing" about entitlement mentality. To clear that issue up right now, I'll tell you straight out … yes, I do. If you think you're entitled to anything in this life, you're believing a dangerous myth. You're not even entitled to your next breath or next heartbeat, and if you think you are there's going to come a day when you draw your last breath and feel you final heartbeat and whine that somebody "up there" is failing you. Well, guess what folks, nobody is failing you. It's just part of life, so get on with what you have left of it and stop expecting somebody else to supply you with what you want, or think you need.

    Now that I've got that off my chest, let's get on with a closely related incident that is making headlines in southern California. Everybody knows that the place burned to the ground last summer/fall. It does that every year, so it's no big surprise. Then, over the past couple of months, heavy rains turned roads into rivers. Without vegetation on the mountain slopes, the rain became floods in no time. What comes next in this repeating scenario? You got it, mudslides.

    Today's news out of Los Angeles County says that 800 homes were evacuated due to heavy rains at the foot of the San Gabriel Mountains that caused overflowing debris basins and rock and mudslides. But here's the thing that sparked my rant against entitlement thinking again — some residents complained that they were not told to get out of the affected areas until after the damage was done.

    Here's a quote from one lady, "Nobody knew it was going to be this bad. Last time, they started warning us in time to prepare for it."

    L.A. County Fire Chief Michael Freeman told reporters that by the time they saw how serious the storm was, it was too late to order evacuations. "We're operating just like everyone else, based on weather predictions," he said.

    Hey, these folks don't have a crystal ball. They listen to the same weather report you do.

    So where does that leave you? In a single word, it leaves you RESPONSIBLE. You are responsible to monitor the situation. You are responsible to make decisions. You are responsible for your own welfare. You are responsible to do something without having to be told. You are responsible to use common sense. You are responsible to prepare your own evacuation kit and then figure out when to use it and where you're going to go.

    Don't wait for somebody else to warn you. The message might not come in time, or at all. Or you might misunderstand the advice. Or the advice might actually be wrong.

    Prepare in advance. Monitor the situation, using all the means you have available. Make your decision. Live with the consequences. But for heaven sake, stop thinking you're entitled to something. You're not.

    Thursday, February 4, 2010

    Survival of our Nation

    Look at history. Do the math. The average age of the world’s greatest civilizations has been two hundred years. These nations have progressed through this sequence:
    From bondage to spiritual faith;
    • From spiritual faith to great courage;
    • From courage to liberty;
    • From liberty to abundance;
    • From abundance to selfishness;
    • From selfishness to complacency;
    • From complacency to apathy;
    • From apathy to dependency;
    • From dependency back to bondage.
    Today, we as a nation, are standing on the brink of that last shift from dependency to bondage. For a couple of generations, the government has pushed very hard to corral segments of our society in prisons of dependency by promoting entitlement thinking. As soon as a person begins to feel entitled, he (or she) steps into the trap of dependency. As soon as enough folks are in that trap, they are a society in bondage. 

    This intentional entrapment of our people has been disguised as altruism, charity, compassion, humanitarianism, love,  and all sorts of other pretty concepts with heartwarming labels. People who are guided more by their hearts than their minds are easily swept into the current of this kind of thinking, being led like so many rodents by charismatic Pied Pipers who wield a winning smile and smooth words. When those playing the tune end up in positions of power, the stage is set to make the shift from dependency to bondage for the entire nation. We are there now.

    I believe one of the most important things for our leaders to have (along with integrity) is a sound understanding of history. If, in the rush to remake America into something new and different, we refuse to look back and see what used to work that made this country so successful that it became the envy of the world, then we will never be able to duplicate that success. And if we refuse to study the policies that were failures (like the New Deal), we are doomed to repeat what failed before.

    So how does this relate to wilderness and urban survival? Take a look at countries that experimented with socialism and you'll see populations struggling to survive, and eventually risking everything to escape. Those escape attempts are survival incidents. When a government becomes so powerful that it can promise to give you everything you need, it has become powerful enough to take away everything you have. Study history, and you'll see clearly how this becomes a survival situation. And if you don't think it can happen to you, right here, then you're not understanding the lessons of the past. 

    Wednesday, February 3, 2010

    How Much Water?

    One of the primary needs in any survival situation, winter or summer, is drinking water. Having enough water is a very real issue, and it's important to understand that you must prioritize how you use water in a survival situation. You can live without bathing, without washing your clothes, and without flushing the toilet, but you can't live without water to drink.

    So how much is enough? That all depends on the ambient temperature, humidity, elevation, your state of health, and your level of activity. During hot weather, if you can manage to stay reasonably cool by using a shelter to avoid direct exposure to the sun and hot wind, you reduce the amount of water intake you need. During all seasons, if you pace yourself so you don't lose body moisture to perspiration, you reduce the amount of water intake you need. If you limit your food intake, you can get along on a little less, but not much. If you are ill, you might need more than if you are in perfect health. At high elevation, the dry air will dehydrate you faster than at lower elevation. The same goes for extremely dry atmospheric condition in the desert vs. the more humid environment of a lowland forest.

    The safe thing is to plan for a gallon per day per person for drinking and limited cooking. Yes, you can survive on less, but it's good to plan for more than to plan at the bare minimum. Note that a gallon of water weights about 8.5 pounds, so you're not going to be able to pack around enough water to last very many days, unless you have a vehicle to carry it. If you can safely shelter in place and have a sufficient water supply that you wisely stored in advance as part of your emergency preparedness plan, that is the very best scenario.

    If you are forced to evacuate in a vehicle, take as much drinking water as you can load, along with the rest of your 72-hour kit.

    If you are forced to evacuate on foot, you'll be limited to a couple of gallons of water, plus your packable 72-hour kit. This will require you to be able to collect and purify any water you can find, so carry a good water filter and some sort of canteen or water bladder or other container for this purpose.

    Under normal conditions, you can survive for a few days without water. That doesn't mean you'll be happy about it and full of vigor, but you won't die from dehydration for at least a couple days. If you limit activity and remain sheltered, you can last a lot longer. Some of the survivor of the recent catastrophe in Haiti were trapped in rubble, unable to drink, for nearly two weeks. Some survived longer than that, with a very limited supply of water.

    Sickness and injury place a heavy physiological burden on the body, and more water is needed during periods of physical trauma. Likewise for nursing mothers — they need more.

    When setting up your personal or family emergency preparedness program, plan for one gallon of pure water per day per person. Organize your supply in containers that are easy to carry (a 55-gallon drum full of water weighs close to 500 pounds and is impossible to move). Be able to grab water bottles and stuff them in small places in your pack or vehicle. Make sure you have a good quality water filter, and know how to use it. Water purification tablets are good, too, if everyone in the family can tolerate them without adverse reaction (check with your doctor about this).

    During evacuation, if you have the luxury of choice, choose to travel where you can obtain fresh water along the way to purify. In other words, make your contingency plans now to know what possible routes you might take if you have to get out of the area, and make sure there are some sources of water along the route.