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I was convinced I could spend the night anywhere in the wilderness. Name a place — any place — and I could handle it. So what if I just had surgery on my right shoulder and had the equivalent of one and a fourth functioning arms? So what if it gets down to 15 degrees at night? So what if there is going to be nobody within a mile of me? I was practically Survivorman.
Without a sliver of doubt in my mind that I would last the full night, I set out to spend the night in the woods. This wasn’t a typical camping trip with your mom, sister, dog and infinite supplies type of deal, either. This was for “all the man cards,” so to speak.
I set out on my ordeal with a walking stick in my left hand and a sling enveloping my right. I set up camp under a cozy hill near the end of the property. This would be my five-star hotel for the remainder of the night. At the bottom of my hill, I would spend the next 45 minutes digging a 3’x3’x1’ hole into which I would build my fire. This was the most degrading part of the night, because a normal person would have taken five minutes to dig a hole that size. But for a cripple like myself, I had to use an unbearably awkward motion that took almost five times as long. It took me awhile, but I did it. Poorly, but I did it.
Once my uneven hole was built, it was now time to start my search for firewood. Lucky enough, there was a large pile of sticks about a quarter mile down the property from my hill. Unfortunately, that pile of sticks was much farther away from my hill than one would think. I made a few treks, each one ending with me tripping, getting angry, kicking the air and having to pick up all the sticks again.
Coming back from my third trip to the stack of branches, I noticed there was a stack of hay 30 yards from the pile. My Survivorman-like instincts told me that this would be a perfect fire starter. I grabbed a couple handfuls of hay and skipped back to the bottom of my hill as happy as Matt Cassel after pulling a miracle touchdown out of his ass.
With my hay on the bottom, my precious twigs next and then my larger stumps on top, it was fire time. I lit the dry hay and it caught fire as quickly as you can read the Declaration of Independance. Let’s just say my lighter was broken the first 20 times I tried to turn it on before the hay finally lit. Once some of the hay succombed to the flames, I needed to replenish it until the twigs caught fire. Once my twigs combusted, the rest of my wood burst into flames. Looking at my beautiful fire, I was the happiest man west of the Mississippi. At that moment, I sat in my Costco chair and realized that I stood a chance of surviving.
Until 11 p.m., I passed the time sitting in my chair, singing Robert Earl Keen’s “Five Pound Bass,” to myself and reenacting the movie “300” with my Buck Knife as my sword. I was feeling pretty good roasting my three pieces of beef jerky over the flame for my three course meal. I was thoroughly enjoying myself… ignoring the fact my pile of firewood was slowly diminishing.
The time to trudge a quarter mile back to the pile of wood had come. It was time to leave the cozy spot below my hill. I set out, holding my buck knife in my only working hand for protection against nothingness. My imagination was getting the better of me — whenever I heard anything, whether it be a gust of wind, or a twig breaking in the distance, it was a bear. A big, brown, hungry bear ready to eat up a crippled 16-year-old boy. It didn’t matter that I knew there are no indigenous bear species to Kansas. It was still a bear.
Carrying my wood back to the fire, I was still petrified that something was out to get me. That, and the fact the temperature outside was starting to plummet, caused me to be unable to feel the fingers of my stub arm. My night was becoming worse.
When I finally got back to the safety of the bottom of my hill, I sliced my middle finger of my left hand with my buck knife — another sign that maybe my Survivorman-like instincts are not very Survivorman-like. So now, not only was I crouched around my fire, convinced a bear would pounce on me, I also had a gouged finger, bleeding all over the place…tight.
Consumed by my terror, I was in a world of my own, only thinking about what was out to get me and the blood gushing out of my finger. What I didn’t realize was that my Patagonia ski jacket’s sleeve was too close to the fire, and was morphing into a black crust. When I did finally notice, my thoughts went something along these lines: “Are you kidding me!? This sucks five times beyond any sucky thing I have ever done in my life. Not only am I freezing my stub off, but you can see thebone on my finger, and I’m going to be a midnight snack to a 500 pound bear any second. That and I now have a jacket with a cauterized sleeve that smells like burned cat poop. I have the survival skills of a young child.”
Meanwhile, the solemn cry of a coyote rang from somewhere far across the trees into my frostbitten ears. I was done. That was the final straw. Bon voyage.
At that point, I didn’t care if I would be mocked for the rest of my life for not staying the entire night. There was nothing on this earth that could have convinced me to stay in those woods for another five minutes. I packed my bags, peed out my fire, and half sprinted back to the farm house. I probably looked like a loon, having to hold my arm at my side so I wouldn’t jar it.
My night in the woods had come to an abrupt conclusion. It became apparent that I fit in the wild about as well as a pork chop in a Synagogue. Maybe I would have lasted if I had two unimpaired arms, but I didn’t. All in all, I lasted a total of seven hours. My night of sure manliness and vigor turned into a complete failure beyond all proportions. The night was worse than what my confidence-blinded self could have ever expected. In other words, it was utterly miserable.
So, if any of you brave souls of Shawnee Mission East plan on sticking it out in the woods by yourself for a night in mid-January, please don’t; especially if one of your arms is unable to bend far enough to touch your chin.