The Daily Star, Oneonta, NY - otsego county news, delaware county news, oneonta news, oneonta sports

June 23, 2007

Call of the wild can be mild


There are these two guys on separate TV networks who make a big deal out of finding ways to survive the most horrendous conditions nature can throw at them.

I’m fascinated by these shows because one never knows when one might find oneself lost in a Costa Rican rain forest without a machete.

The fellow on the Discovery Channel is an Englishman named Bear Grylls.

I am not making that up.

If you’re in Africa, real, real thirsty and drinking the fluids from elephant dung is your idea of a refreshing beverage, then Mr. Grylls is your boy.

Believe me, it takes a lot to gross this lad out. If your bandana (made, of course, from tearing up your T-shirt) gets a bit warm in the desert, he recommends taking it off, peeing on it and then putting it back on.

Mr. Grylls is quite adept at pulling himself out of quicksand and finding just the right vines to use in making a raft.

But Grylls always takes along a film crew. That means if things get too rough, somebody carrying a camera can always hand him a sandwich and a beer.

The Science Channel’s Les Stroud _ or as he prefers to be known, "Survivorman" _ makes Grylls look like a momma’s boy.

Stroud not only has to survive for a week without supplies in swamps, deserts and arctic ice floes, but he lugs his own cameras around ... all alone.

It takes a real man to schlep 50 pounds of camera equipment around the Sahara with nobody there to suck out the venom if you get bitten by a cobra or something.

I, of course, can relate to roughing it without benefit of a camera crew.

I know the exhilaration of being one with nature, of abandoning creature comforts, of straining every sinew while pitting my wily survival instincts against whatever flora or fauna I might encounter.

It has been some years now, but the memories of harrowing camping trips with my daughter Penny are still fresh.

One can’t be too careful out in the wild, so we were meticulous in our planning, precise in our respect for the environment, and proud of our ability to live off the land.

Here’s how we did it.

We would drive to a campground, making certain it had full bathroom facilities and good lighting, and hope to heaven that the girl’s mother had remembered to put our tent and sleeping bags into the car.

We could have checked to make sure everything was packed before we left home, but we preferred to live on the edge.

Most of the time, the tent had made the trip with us, and it was the work of only a few minutes to have the campsite set up to our liking.

We didn’t bring along any food. No, that would be too easy. As the pangs of hunger gnawed at our innards, we realized that if we didn’t want to go hungry, we would have to hunt down our meal.

This we would accomplish by virtue of a journey in the family car to the nearest Chinese restaurant.

Nature is often cruel. But there is, after all, predator, and there is prey. If man is to survive, he must remain on top of the food chain.

So, we brushed aside any regrets about the fate of the unfortunate chicken, celery, noodles, onions and water chestnuts that had to be sacrificed to go into the chow mein that provided us with such vital sustenance.

By the time we had eaten our fill, night would be descending, and one never knows what dangers might lurk in the darkness. If we were to somehow become disoriented and not find our way to the campsite, it could be very, very bad.

Fortunately, the highway signs were routinely accurate, and we always managed to safely navigate our way back.

Our tent was always a cheery sight, especially from our car, in which we would more than likely sleep rather than have to contend with the icky bugs and hard ground so prevalent in even the finest canvas accommodations.

Bear Grylls and "Survivorman" might not approve of how we did things, but then again, I’ve never acquired a taste for Bear’s elephant dung juice.

And I doubt I ever will.

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Sam Pollak is editor of The Daily Star. He can be reached at spollak@thedailystar.com or at (607) 432-1000, ext. 208.