The Enid News and Eagle, Enid, OK

March 29, 2014

Bare facts: Could you survive the elements?

By Jeff Mullin, columnist
Enid News and Eagle

ENID, Okla. — How tough are you?

Don’t get me wrong, this is not a challenge to prove your toughness by tracking me down and thrashing me to a balding pulp. And yes, I’m talking to you, lady.

So I ask again, how tough are you?

Now, old Noah, he was tough. His story is now on the big screen in the Russell Crowe opus of the same name. Not only did Noah build the ark and save man- and animal-kind from the great flood, but he fathered three kids after he turned 500. Now that’s tough.

Noah built the ark, which was 450 feet long, 75 feet wide and 45 feet high (give or take a cubit), without plans, without modern tools and without access to either the DIY network or Lowe’s. And he did it when he was more than 480 years old. Now that’s tough.

Just exactly how tough are you? How long could you survive without the creature comforts we have come to rely upon in the 21st century?

One of the many press releases that floods my email on a daily basis was a recent one touting a new western novel. But the eye-catching thing about the release was its headline, which read, “Could You Survive in the Old West?”

Life in the Old West was undoubtedly tough, with none of the conveniences we so take for granted today.

In 1852, Isaac Constant led a wagon train along the famed Oregon Trail. Among those on the trip was his daughter, Lavinia Jane.

“Mother said, ‘I don’t remember how long we had been on the trail when a young man was taken down with cholera. We could hear him screaming with pain. Father took him in charge, doctored him, and soon he was fully recovered. We passed many people who had turned off the trail, administering to their sick and burying their dead, resulting from the ravages of cholera,’” she wrote.

Abigail Jane Scott wrote of her family’s trip to Oregon in 1852. Her account speaks of dealing with snow, mud and various ailments among the traveling party. But despite the hardships, she still managed to appreciate the beauty around her.

“April 12. Passed through some of the worst roads that can be found in this sucker state and traveled 18 miles, are now camped in the suburbs of the beautiful village called Chili. The evening is fine and the scenery around us is beautiful and picturesque enough to cause any intelligent lover of nature’s works to feel contented and happy,” she wrote.

These pioneers battled the elements, disease and hunger. Catherine Leslie Scott wrote of lean times on the Oregon Trail.

“Our provisions were exhausted by this time and for three days we had only salal berries, and some soup made by thickening water from flour shaken from a remaining flour sack,” she wrote.

I don’t know about you, but I am not that tough. I am too used to my climate-controlled comfort, my three squares a day, my TV, my comfy bed, my electric blanket, my smartphone.

Still, there are people today who challenge themselves, who take on the wilderness armed with little more than their wits.

Air Force pilots must go through the Survival, Evasion, Resistance and Escape school. There, they learn to survive on their own in the wilderness should their aircraft be shot down. They are taught how to find or create shelter, how to make a fire, how to locate water and what wild plants are and are not edible.

My idea of survival is staying in a motel without Wi-Fi and finding a decent meal in a place too small for a McDonald’s.

Former Green Beret and survival expert Mykel Hawke told that the key to surviving in the wild is not to get overconfident.

“Most people over-estimate their abilities,” he said. “They over-estimate how easy it is to make a shelter, how easy it is to start a fire and how long they can go without water. Those can all be fatal mistakes.”

Over-confidence would not be my problem. I begin hyper-ventilating when we run low on milk.

Hawke says there are only three things you need to survive in the wild — water, fire and shelter. I beg to differ. I would add a decent room-service menu and clean towels.

Survival TV shows, it seems, are all the rage these days. Cable TV is filled with the likes of “Survivorman,” “Man, Woman, Wild,” “Dual Survival,” “Survive This” and “Man vs. Wild.”

Now there’s a new one, “Naked and Afraid,” in which a man and a woman are expected to survive in the wilderness for three weeks, dumped in the boonies with no food, no water, no shelter, no toilet paper and no clothes.

The very thought of it makes me itch.

Actually, this concept is not exactly unprecedented. In 1913, a Boston newspaperman named Joe Knowles stripped down to his jockstrap and marched into the Maine woods to prove that a modern man could survive with nothing. He filed stories chronicling his adventures over the next eight weeks, writing them on birch bark. When he emerged from the woods, he was clad in the skin of a bear he said he had killed.

The whole thing turned out to be a hoax. Knowles, the so-called Nature Man, spent the time holed up in a log cabin with his manager.

I daresay I would not make it on any kind of a survival show, save perhaps “Naked and Afraid.”

For me that is an everyday condition brought about when I step out of the shower and catch a glimpse of myself in a mirror.

Mullin is senior writer of the News & Eagle. Email him at