Saturday, December 31, 2011

What's That Noise?

In a survival situation, you need all your senses working efficiently to keep you alive. That is, in fact, the very reason we have those senses. One of those is your sense of hearing. Humans don't have a sense of hearing just so we can enjoy tunes piped through earbuds.

Don't take me wrong, I love to listen to music through a set of earbuds, but there's a time to set those things aside and pay attention to the world around you. Those who walk around with earbuds hanging from their heads, put themselves at a certain level of risk. That's why participants in a triathlon are not allowed to wear earbuds and listen to music during the cycling or running phases, because they can't hear the traffic around them — and under those conditions, that's a survival issue.

In broader terms of survival, we have the sense of hearing so we can avoid becoming some predator's meal, so we can hear the movements of an enemy, so we can hear a shouted warning, so we can be aware of an approaching storm and take cover, so we can hear the sound of water trickling in a stream, so we can track animals for food, etc. — all for our survival.

When you find yourself in any type of emergency situation, that is the time to tune up your audible awareness of what's going on around you. It may save your life.

Listen for anything unusual. Becoming a legendary Kung Fu master who can hear a tiny ant walk into the room might be too much to expect, but on the other hand don’t be so tuned out to what’s going on around you that people can walk up behind you without your knowing.

Likewise, be aware of the unusual buzz or snap or hum that might alert you to an electrical fire. A growl from under the hood might signal low power steering fluid in the reservoir that can disable your vehicle. A strange vibration might turn out to be a rattlesnake near your feet. A change of tone in the conversations in a crowd might give you advance warning of trouble brewing, allowing you to get out before it erupts.

Pay attention to sounds that are out of the ordinary. Check out the source, and take appropriate action.

Thursday, December 22, 2011

Ten Days Stranded

How would you like to spend 10 frozen days alone stranded in your car with nothing to eat except a couple of candy bars and nothing to drink except melted snow?

That's what Lauren Elizabeth Weinberg, a 23-year-old Arizona State University student did, and it got her name in the headlines. Not that getting headlines for this sort of thing is desirable, but at least she survived her ordeal without much damage.

The whole thing started when Lauren decided to take a drive in the mountains of northeast Arizona, not knowing that a vicious sub-freezing winter storm was about to clobber the region, laying down a blanket of several feet of snow. According to her rescuers, the young lady didn't understand that those forest roads are impassible during the winter.

When the car became stuck, Lauren hunkered down and spent the next 10 days nibbling on candy bars and  drinking water she melted from snow. She turned the snow into water by packing it into water bottles and setting them on top of the car so the sunshine could do the melting. A good tactic.

Authorities commented that Lauren's survival was remarkable after such a length of time in near-zero temperatures and with so few resources available. When the car became stuck, she just sat there with 2 candy bars and a bottle of water to keep her alive until some forest service employees happened to ride by on snowmobiles 10 days later checking gates. They weren't even looking for her, because no search was underway. It was pure luck.

What she did wrong:
  • she didn't let anyone know where she was going and when to expect her to return
  • she didn't check the weather ahead of making the trip
  • she didn't understand that the roads were impossible to drive in the winter
  • the vehicle wasn't equipped with survival gear (food, water, clothing, sleeping bag, signaling, fire)
What she did right was that she remained calm and stuck with the vehicle that provided shelter and offered access to all the resources (meager as they were) she had with her. A vehicle is much easier for rescuers to spot than a person wandering on foot through the forest. But after such a long time with no rescue, it would be understandable for anyone to want to leave the vehicle behind and attempt to hike out. That's especially true if you had not left information with anyone back home that you would expect to initiate a search if you didn't show up.

Lauren made the decision to stay with the vehicle, and that probably saved her life in this case. But there was a lot of luck involved, because she had left no "flight plan" with friends, and no official search was taking place to look for her. She might easily have died alone in her car later in the winter, if not for the fortunate arrival of the forest service workers on snow mobiles.

On the other hand, she probably would have died if she had left the vehicle in an attempt to hike out for self-rescue, because:
  • she would have been exposed to the bitter cold
  • her clothing would have become wet
  • she would have been expending caloric energy she couldn't afford
  • she would have been increasing her need for water consumption
  • she would have been exposed to frostbite and hypothermia
  • in all probability she would not have survived
Maybe there's something we can learn from this incident.

Friday, December 16, 2011

Knowledge vs. Wisdom

I recently watched a TV program called Dual Survival that features two very knowledgeable guys from different backgrounds placing themselves in a variety of survival situations, then showing how to handle the challenges. Good show, and a good source of survival information. But one of the biggest messages I took from the show is how knowledge needs to be balanced with wisdom.

Both of these fellows have a commendable depth of survival knowledge. One of the men comes from a military background, so his approach is what you might expect from a military mindset — challenge nature, push hard, keep moving, hoo-rah!

The other guy refers to himself as an extreme naturalist who gave up wearing shoes 20 years ago so he could be more in touch with the earth and nature. His approach to survival is to cooperate with the natural elements, move slowly with caution, and utilize all the natural resources.

Like I said, the program is well done, and I can recommend it as an entertaining source to gain survival knowledge. But there is a huge difference between knowledge and wisdom. Wisdom is the proper application of knowledge, and even with all the knowledge in the world you can still make foolish choices.

As I watched several episodes of this program, it became clear to me that going to extremes in one's approach to facing survival (or even general life) challenges sometimes defies wisdom. For example, insisting on living so close to nature that you shun wearing shoes or other protective clothing is (in my opinion) a departure from wisdom. This fellow obviously fancies himself a native, but if you understand the ways of most native cultures, it is clear that they use footwear and clothing appropriate to the season and environment. Clothing is the first line of defense against the elements, and there is no rational reason to fail to provide that level of protection to one's self.

It is true that some primitive cultures go nearly naked and shoeless, but those are exceptions to the rule and only in "friendly" environments. And as soon as those cultures are introduced to more protective clothing, they adopt it as their own. Adaptation is a key point for survival, and natives are quick to adapt new methods when they see that they are an improvement over the old traditions. Some purists see this as an intrusion of civilization on primitive cultures, but you don't see the natives complaining about the upgrades.

Now, I understand that the fellow in question is trying to create a persona for himself as he teaches primitive survival classes. That's a business decision, and it might actually even reach into his personal preferences of how he wants to live. Whatever floats his boat…

The trouble I have with it is that he parades this on a public forum such as TV, and it will undoubtedly influence some viewers into thinking it's okay to disregard the fundamentals of survival when it comes to clothing. Without a doubt, it makes good TV. What it doesn't make is good survival doctrine.

I'm not saying the man is not knowledgeable. It's obvious he is. It's the wisdom I question. And, by the way, I'm not alone in this. His partner on the TV program repeatedly declares the "extreme naturalist" sidekick to be nuts.

In my world, colored and flavored by both Special Forces military training and years of primitive living study and experience, I want people to understand that going to extremes in any direction might tickle your fancy, but it might also be foolish. Gain knowledge and experience, then apply wisdom. That's the best formula I know for survival.

Tuesday, December 13, 2011

Great Reading For Only 99 Cents!

If you like political thrillers with a dose of outdoor survival threaded throughout the story, I've got some good news for you. I have reduced the price for my two novels, Code Name Viper and The Container. For only 99 cents you can now download each of these exciting novels from Amazon's Kindle Books division. The best news is that Amazon gives away their Kindle reader application for computers, iPads, iPhones, Blackberries and other smart phones, so you don't actually have to own a Kindle device to be able to access the whole library. Just download the free Kindle app on your digital device or computer. It takes only a minute to set yourself up to be able to read anything in the entire Kindle collection.

Of course, I think my two books are "must" reads, but I may be prejudiced. But if you're willing to risk 99 cents, you can decide for yourself. So, here's the synopsis of my two books.

Code Name Viper is all about a government conspiracy in the depths of the intelligence community, and how it threatens the lives of those who uncover the well-guarded secret. Imagine what happens when the director of a black-ops government intelligence agency goes bad and then tries to cover his murderous past by hunting down and killing anyone who discovers his secret? Mark Benton and his pregnant wife find out how deadly it can be to get in this man's way. Now they're running for their lives, with a murderous spy on their heels. Filled with survival, escape and evasion technique, this story has a twist at the end.

The Container is right out of today's headlines, a survival thriller that will keep you wondering who's going to live and who's going to die. Husam al Din is an al Qaeda warrior on a personal jihad, hoping to die on a suicide mission while delivering a biological weapon to the U.S. aboard a shipping container. Josh Adams is the intelligence agent trying to stop al Din. The action takes you from Pakistan to the Gulf of Mexico in a race to prevent a biological nightmare. This one will keep you on the edge of your seat.

Click on the book image to open the link in Amazon. 

Happy reading! 

Saturday, December 10, 2011

Could You?

My wife and I used to visit an elderly lady who was totally blind. She lived in a two-story house all by herself. Nobody came to fix her meals — she wouldn't hear of it. She had a staunchly independent nature and wanted to do as much as she possibly could for herself. The only thing she couldn't do was drive, so friends would take her grocery shopping from time to time. Other than that, she got along just fine on her own.

Her house was a model of organization, as you might imagine. In order for her to be able to operate, everything had to be in its prescribed place. And that was a lesson to me.

Now the question — the way your house is organized, could you find everything you need if you suddenly were without the ability to see? Could you, without fumbling around in a frantic search, put your hands on a pair of socks, pants, shirt, shoes, coat, gloves, etc.?

Could you walk through your house without stumbling over clutter?

Could you find the exact can of soup you want for lunch, locate the can opener, find the pot to cook it in, put your hands on a clean spoon and bowl?

I know people who can't find their car keys or sunglasses with their eyes wide open. I have been in homes that were such a clutter disaster that it looked as if the place had been ransacked by burglars or tossed by police looking for a stash of drugs. If there was a sudden emergency in the middle of the night and the electricity was knocked out, those people would be helpless.

Part of being able to "get out alive" from any emergency situation depends on a high degree of organization. You need to know what to do, when to do it, and be able to either put your hands on the right equipment, or improvise. If you have to search through your backpack for the bear spray when the grizzly is bearing (pun intended) down on you, you're not well enough organized. If you can't put your hands on a flashlight from the comfort of your bed, you're not well enough organized. If you can't put your feet into a pair of shoes without getting out of bed and walking across a possibly glass strewn room, you're not well enough organized. If you can't escape your burning house, totally blinded by smoke, without stumbling over clutter, you're not well enough organized.

We can all take a lesson from the old blind lady. Get our house in order. Know where things are, and be able to access them without forming a search party. Be ready for whatever emergency might befall us, without having to search blindly for appropriate clothing to allow us to safely escape into a stormy night.

Could you do that now?

Friday, December 2, 2011


One of the readers of this blog recently made a comment that leads me to believe I need to clarify the function of a PLB or SPOT Satellite Messenger.

What the reader said was that he doesn't go places where he is likely to get lost — as if I had somehow given the misconception that the SPOT is merely a GPS device. It isn't. That is not its function. This is a device that can notify either your friends/family that you are OK on your journey, to alleviate their worry, or to show them your GPS coordinates through a tracking mode so they an see your progress as you travel, or (and this is the big OR) to call in the search and rescue team if your life somehow becomes at risk.

I don't use my SPOT to keep track of where I am. I use it to let others keep track of where I am. I still use a map and compass, common sense, dead reckoning navigation techniques, and occasionally I'll pull out my GPS to verify my coordinates and mark them on the map. For me, the joy of the backcountry is in the simplicity. But in this day of inexpensive and reliable technology, there's no reason not to have a backup system that can save your life.

After all, I never made a parachute jump that didn't also include a reserve chute. Only had to use it once, but on that day I was mighty happy I had it.