The Hunter-Gatherer Experience

The last three days was an interesting sort of journey filled with pain and learning that I wouldn’t pass up for anything. I hope to do it again.

Rather than calling it a walk-about, I’d say it was a 3-Day Hunter-Gatherer Experience. We hunted, we gathered, and we walked. Then we walked some more. Calling it a walk-about misses the root.

Here follows a quick overview of the events. Hopefully I’ll post more later.

Friday morning brought with it thunder, lightning, and rain that bordered on hale. Luckily, we were doing some incredibly dense bush-whacking, which covered us partially from the rain. The sun came out and cleared things up at around noon (watches weren’t allowed, so I don’t have much of an idea about time), drying our band of 11 out just in time to cross a river. Here begins the saga of the 3 days of wet feet, socks, and boots. The river was only about crotch deep, but had a fairly strong current on the opposite bank. Instead of doing it one by one, we crossed in two lines, parallel to the river. The largest person in each group was in the front of the group with a walking stick, so the rest of us could move in his eddy. We all grabbed the person’s waist (or pack) in front of us and pressed down, helping to stabilize them. I think this is probably the safest way to cross a steam. We succeeded without incident. There was a nice beach on the opposite bank, so we hung out there for a while and practiced flint-knapping. I discovered I’m horrible at it, and have much better luck just finding pre-chipped rocks along the walk. We sloshed on for a while, stopping every now and then to ring out socks (which didn’t help at all). At one point we had to climb up a waterfall, who’s side was all loose, saturated clay. That was an interesting climb, but it guaranteed us all our first solid layer of dirt covering our whole body. Oh, it made my feet wetter, too. Speaking of wet, we also had to cut through a couple swamps, which didn’t help things much. The emphasize of the experience was on wandering, so the instructors didn’t want to take hours to build shelters, only to move on to another the next night. As such, we brought two tarps. Camp that night consisted of the two tarps tied between trees in an A-frame, which a few hundred ferns used for insulation on the bottom. All 11 of us snuggled up close to each other for body-warmth (it really makes a world of difference – even touching in only one spot). Dinner, by the way, was cat tail. The stalks were pretty tasty raw, and the roots not bad when roasted, but now whenever I hear “cat tail” mentioned, or even just think of them, I get a queezy feeling in my stomach as if I’m about to throw up. They didn’t sit that well with me. Other than that, we had snacked on some salmon berries, mint, and a little hemlock throughout the day. Hunger wasn’t a problem for me, or any of us. In fact, had our feet been dry, it probably would have been a comfortable night (all of us tried to dry our boots and socks out around the fire, but that didn’t help much). All in all, I’d say we covered about 7-8 miles that day through the roughest terrain of the journey.

Saturday was hell day. Left over cat tail wasn’t terribly appealing that morning, so none of us had any sort of breakfast. I’d have to guess that we covered about 20 miles that day. Our leader, Johnny, was some kind of ninja. If it wasn’t for the long braided hair, beard, and tendency to walk barefoot, I’d swear he was some kind of retired Special Forces – there was just no way any of us could keep up with his pace. That day he made me push and exceed my body’s limits. Luckily, we fished for an hour or so in the afternoon and caught 7 trout for dinner. A little later on down the road, we caught 4 gardner snakes. That was the first time I’d ever decapitated, skinned, and gutted a snake. It was also the first time I’d ever eaten raw snake egg. They taste like a buttery egg yolk, but squirm a little in your mouth. With the prospect of meat for dinner, the band’s spirit raised a little, but, as I said, Johnny pushed all of us (including the other two instructors) to our limits with his pace. By the time we arrived at what would be that night’s camp site, the majority of the group had injured themselves in one way or another. One of the guys vomited up a serving of salmon berries. I felt as if I was on the verge of vomiting from fatigue, but didn’t. It’s really quite amazing how something as simple as a fire can make one feel infinitely better. As soon as the flames jumped to life, my illness went away and I felt only tired. Though none of it really looked appetizing at the time, we feasted that night on trout, snake (which tastes a bit like jerky), and beaver (a unique meat, that somewhat resembles duck). Meat did a good deal to boost our spirits further – specifically the beaver. The fire was successful in drying my socks and boots that night, so I slept much warmer than the previous night (but still cold).

Sunday we didn’t have far to walk, so we spent the morning and early afternoon around camp chatting and working with bow drills. We didn’t have time to make our own, but two of the instructors had brought theirs for us to use. Everyone was able to get a coal and flames, which was amazing. It tired my arm a great deal, but isn’t as hard as it’s made out to be. I’d like to take a class in just that so that I could learn more and make my own set. Brunch for me was left-over beaver ribs. The day’s journey did require us to walk through another bog, which meant I once more had wet feet. The last hour or so I decided that going barefoot would be easier, though my blisters don’t quite agree with that decision now. At the pickup point, the van driver brought us some watermelon and cooked us up some miso soup, which was incredible. I really have a new appreciation for food after this whole thing. When I got back to my car, even the warm Clif bar in my glove box was delicious.

Now I’m home, indulging myself in large quantities of food that hopefully will not make me vomit, and attempting to nurse myself back to health before I take off for Thailand. My feet are blistered, I have a few bug bites scattered around, and, worst of all, my hands are covered in blisters and other wounds. It’s hurting a deal to type this, so that’ll be all for now.

More later.