I’ve been being an armchair survivalist for the last few weeks now. Alone, Naked and Afraid, The Island… I love that stuff. Me and the Discovery channel are like this (crosses fingers).
This weekend was my turn to play. I threw a few items in a burlap sack; kukri knife, empty water bottle, fishing kit, ferro rod, and a 20 X 10ft polytarp (If I get selected for naked and afraid that is my item for sure!).
My buddy Mike joined me on this challenge and we decided to film the entire experience. On Friday after work we met up and swam to an island on the Columbia River. We had made a shelter on this island in the past, and stopped by to see if it was still standing, or if our hidden location had been discovered. Other people had found it alright… and had turned it into a porto john. I just imagine that conversation.
“Hey look at this cool primitive shelter!”
“Yea bro, let’s poop in it.”
I went around the back of the shelter where we had hidden a cache of supplies from our last visit. Luckily they hadn’t been defecated on. These were random items that had been strewn about. It is amazing how much “garbage” is left around in places like this. For those of you who don’t know the code it goes something like this:
Kill only time.
Take only pictures.
Leave only footprints.
Oh yeah, and pick up your trash.
We continued trekking along to find a new site. I was keen on finding a place with more resources as food had been scarce on my last excursion, (which I completed solo and naked) but that is a tale for another day.
Mike and I agreed we wanted a site close to the water but sheltered from the beach. Campfires are somewhat frowned upon right now as the entire state of Washington seems to be engulfed in hellfire.
After much negotiation we settled on a site and got to work building our shelter. I didn’t have food, so conserving calories played a major factor in our shelter design. We bent two small trees downward and twisted them together into an arch. Then cut a few long poles and secured them from the arch down to the ground, resembling a half cone shape. We draped the poly-tarp over the frame, secured the edges with sand and sticks, and viwala, we had shelter.
Next we would need a fire. I broke out the UST blastmatch and created a tinder bundle. Then Mike sparked our fire to life. Things were going well.
I brought a stainless steel water bottle and two glass bottles I had found down to the waterline, and filled them in a spot that looked to have the least amount of Hanford radiation, toxic chemicals, and fecal matter (Seriously people poop ALL over that island and just leave their toilet paper on the surface). Nasty. We boiled the water over the fire and set it aside to cool while we gathered more firewood.
As the sun was setting I came across a marshmallow that had been left on the ground from a prior camper. I had seen lots of bird tracks in the sand near our camp and this would make excellent bait. I hurried to put together snare, and had set just as the sun faded over the horizon.
So far so good.
For those who haven’t slept on the sand in a survival shelter, I’d like to clue you in on a few details. It kinda blows. The sand gets cold, and is actually quite unforgiving on your back, side, or wherever you choose to reside after tossing and turning for 30 minutes. To cope with the chill I’d scoot hot sand from near the fire under my body to help keep me warm. There would be no cuddling. This was not Brokeback Island.
With shelter, fire, and water covered, our next priority became food. I saw small clam shells scattered all over the beach, but couldn’t determine where they were coming from. I tried to dig under an air tunnel in the sand, no joy. Then a wave came in, and there they were, sitting in the shallows. The clams ranged from the size of a dime to the size of a quarter. I collected as many of the large ones as I could find and put them in an old beer can full of water. We would be having dinner tonight!
The thought that a meal was already procured this early in the day took a lot of the pressure off the rest of the day’s activities. Together Mike and I created a primitive style bow and arrow, tongs for removing our boiling water from the fire, and various other utensils.
I went on a walk to scout for more materials and came across. The ideal wiping leaf. Note, toilet paper was not one of the five items I brought so this was a major score.
I’d been seeing deer sign all over the island; prints in the sand and areas where one had bed down, but what I came across next caught me off guard. There in the marsh was a nearly complete deer skeleton. It had obviously been there for some time as the bones had been picked clean. I salvaged a few of the bones that I could use for tools and headed to the water’s edge. The bones still smelled like death, so I used the sand to wear away the top layer by pressing them in and out of the wet sand on the shoreline and then rinsing them in the water.
A charcoal and sand water purification system
Mike and I went on another exploration later to find even more goodies. We stumbled across a cache of railroad spikes. These make excellent knife blade material for amateur blacksmiths like myself. I was like a kid in a candy store, that has random hunks of used toilet paper lying around.
The day was getting hot so we hunkered down in the shade to work on some projects. I wanted to complete a burn bowl and also had my heart set on creating a basket backpack to carry out all of my new found/created treasures. As I was hunting for basket material I came across a backpack strap that had ripped off someone’s bag. It felt like one of those situations that you see on tv where you go, “No way, the producers definitely planted that.” I can assure you that was not the case, as we don’t have the budget for that. It was too good of a find to pass up. I had to incorporate it into my design. You know what they say, one man’s trash, is another man’s crappy backpack.
I got to work weaving the basket while Mike completed his bow. This took us into the evening which is when it got a little weird. Some guy was BLARING some Kenny G jazz from his boat which just spawned more Brokeback Island jokes. It carried across the water for hours.
As the sun faded away it was finally time to eat! This would be our first food in 24 hours. I put about 1/3 of the clams directly onto some coals to bake and boiled the other 2/3’s over the fire. Mike opted out of eating the clams, as he thought I was sure to end up shitting my guts out all night (Which did not happen). The clams were bland, but I was happy to have some food in my stomach.
The 2nd night was much warmer. We found a tarp on the beach and draped it over the top of our shelter and changed the position of our fire to reflect more heat into our shelter. Mike had brought some emergency space blankets and lined the ceiling so that it would reflect the heat from the fire down on us as we slept.
As usual, we slept like shit. Waking up every time the fire got low, as we’d start to get cold.
By the morning of day 3 we were ready to get out of there. It was real, it was fun, but I was ready for a margarita and some good food. We had killed our challenge and I was very happy with the results. We broke down camp, leaving no trace of all the awesome stuff that had been completed there.
Our snare still hadn’t caught anything, so I pulled it out of the tree, leaving the marshmallow for some lucky creature. I hefted my newly created backpack and we trekked back down the beach to our exfil point, where we then swam back across the river to Mike’s awaiting truck.
Experiences like these really help me clear my head. You forget about the screens and work and stressors, and just focus on the few important things that keep you alive.
As I conclude this story I forgot to mention one thing that you are sure to see in the photos. I made a spear, for no real purpose other than to look like a badass.
Hope you enjoyed the story. Hit me up next time and you can join us on an adventure.