Saturday, March 23, 2013

Wilderness Survival — Our Story

Our cave, during the warm season. 
It was February. Our breath hung in the air, a lifeless cloud of moisture that only moments before was inside the warmth of our lungs. All the trees looked dead, their gray decaying leaves frozen to the ground. The stream was solid enough to walk on and the stone walls of the cave we moved into were bitter as the inside of a freezer.

We came to live for a year in the wilds of southern Utah’s slickrock country, where the ancient Anasazi once dwelt among these same canyons. Our daughter Sharlene was three years old and our son Eric was just a year. Later in life, when Eric explained to his friends how he learned to walk while living in a cave, he took some flak for making up such a story. But it was all true.

The kids were too young to understand what was happening, or to protest if they didn’t like the idea. But my wife Becky was the real hero in our true-life adventure, supporting my desire to spend a year living in the wilderness in preparation for a career of writing about, and teaching, primitive living and outdoor survival skills. It was my job to keep us all alive and well during that year of isolated research.

This was no camping trip — it was a time to experience a more primitive lifestyle. We took no sleeping bags, no tent, no camp stove, no lantern, no axe, no saw, no expedition gear. All we had were the clothes on our backs, and none of that was anything special.

We each had a wool blanket and Becky and I each took a knife. The rest we made from what we found in nature — handmade traps, stone and bone tools, and such. Much of the time, we lived in an abandoned mine shack, but we also built a wikiup and spent some time testing caves both large and small, a mine shaft and other expedient shelters.

We brought some food — wheat to be ground between stones in ancient style, rice and a few other staples. Local ranchers and their wives who didn’t quite understand what we were up to took pity on us and provided other foods as the year progressed. We were fine with that and gladly accepted their generosity — we weren’t there, after all, to see IF we could find enough food to survive, nor to prove our primitive prowess. We were there to have isolated time to research all that the region offered, and we didn’t intend to starve ourselves or our children in the process. We were four consumers and one provider, starting with nearly nothing in a desolate spot. It was challenging enough, even with the contributed provisions. It was a year of learning not only about outdoor survival, but also about what’s important and what isn’t. It changed our lives forever.

In my book (Rich Johnson's Guide to Wilderness Survival), I tell some stories from our adventure in the wilderness, and from other interesting and/or tragic experiences — ours and others. But mostly, I tell how to survive in the wilds when everything runs amok. Because, if you spend enough time outdoors, the day will come when things will run amok. Guaranteed.

Maybe it’ll happen when you turn around and nothing looks familiar. At first, you chuckle at the situation and feel pretty dumb. But as the minutes pass and the realization sinks in that you really are lost, it is likely that you will succumb to a certain level of fear. Of course, once you’re happily back in camp with your buddies, you’ll never admit to being scared. But right at the moment, your gut turns over in a curious way and your mind races. If you looked at yourself in a mirror, you would see the face of fear, maybe even panic. And this is when things go to pot in a hurry.

Read the book, then get yourself prepared for whatever may come. ‘Cause sure as the sun rises in the east, something is coming, and you might as well know how to handle it when it does.


  1. If I don't buy your book does that mean I'm not prepared?

  2. Nope. If you don't buy my book, all it means is that you don't have my book. You might be very well prepared in spite of the empty space in your library. :-)