Tag Archives: Outdoors

The Science of Survival: Sit down and have a snack!

22 Aug

It’s very easy for us to get lost in the woods. Science has discovered that people are constitutionally incapable of walking in straight lines when they don’t have markers they know how to follow:

A Mystery: Why Can’t We Walk Straight? from NPR on Vimeo.

So it’s helpful to learn how to track and trail, and how to use natural features as “handholds” so you have a sense of how you fit in the landscape. The technique ranges from dead-simple to highly complex, beginning with the easy part: pick a relatively distant, immobile feature (mountain, bump in the landscape, really big tree on the horizon) and determine which direction you want to go, relative to it. Now, as you travel, just keep that feature in sight at about the same angle to your body as it was when you picked your direction. So if you think you should go straight ahead and there’s a distinctive mountain top off to your right, keep it to your right as you walk. Remember to reassess periodically and pick a new feature, or you will manage to walk in a beautiful circle all around that mountain…

When I teach my wilderness skills and survival classes, I always say the number one thing to do if you get lost or find yourself in a frightening situation is: “sit down, and have a snack.” You need to get out of the cycle of self-doubt and settle your judgement, as well as boost your energy for the challenging decisions you’re about to make as you try to get found or simply stay safe. And if you’re sitting down, you’re resting and you can hydrate, check your map, rearrange your gear, or clean the dirt out of your boots. These are all useful survival activities! Now science comes along to support my advice:

The brain, like the rest of the body, derived energy from glucose, the simple sugar manufactured from all kinds of foods. To establish cause and effect, researchers at Baumeister’s lab tried refueling the brain in a series of experiments involving lemonade mixed either with sugar or with a diet sweetener. The sugary lemonade provided a burst of glucose, the effects of which could be observed right away in the lab; the sugarless variety tasted quite similar without providing the same burst of glucose. Again and again, the sugar restored willpower, but the artificial sweetener had no effect. The glucose would at least mitigate the ego depletion and sometimes completely reverse it. The restored willpower improved people’s self-control as well as the quality of their decisions: they resisted irrational bias when making choices, and when asked to make financial decisions, they were more likely to choose the better long-term strategy instead of going for a quick payoff.

via Do You Suffer From Decision Fatigue? – NYTimes.com.

So while it’s no substitute for the many other things you should know how to do or for pure common sense and survival instinct in terms of getting through a sticky situation in the woods, just remember that science backs it up: when in trouble outdoors, first thing to do is sit down and have a snack.

A Tale of Two Boots (Part 2)

20 Jul

Culture Clash or Delicate Balance?: A Week in the Maine Woods.  Or, “A Tale of Two Boots”

This essay was written by my mother, Daniella Levine, on July 16, 2006 after a few days of hiking on the Appalachian Trail with my brother and me.

A Story in Two Parts: Part One describes our family, against the backdrop of an amazing adventure and terrain. Part Two describes a shifting culture and community against a backdrop of our family’s growing relationship with the place and the times.

Part Two 

Buddy chatted on, about the lumber industry, how many rescues he had effected, how he had snuck into the trail on numerous occasions leaving mysterious notes, baffling the hikers. He bragged that he could find anyone anywhere along the 100 Mile Wilderness, one way or the other.

He had grown up in these hills (part Native American we later learned, and adopted by those of European descent), learned to drive on the lumber roads, hiking the trail. He knew every nook and cranny. He was a trail whisperer. He had joined the military, been involved in a truck crash in Tennessee (the driver fell asleep at the wheel), broken his spine, and ended up with two fused and three artificial discs. Strong pain medication left him listless and confused. He proceeded to Motrin in massive doses, which burned out his stomach. He has difficulty with foods today, but is drug free, because he “just did not like the way the drugs made me feel.” He discovered massage therapy, and now skis all winter with his stepsons and step grandchildren, his greatest joy and release. The snows are receding, thanks to global warming, but he has a favorite place that still gets pretty good snow. He can no longer hike. He moved back to Monson, his childhood home and went to work for Mr. Shaw.

The founder of Shaw’s Boarding House, a thriving Monson business, died a few years later, after building a national reputation as the “not to be missed” way station for the hiking community. Dawn, the new owner, persuaded Buddy that she could not run the business without his prowess as cook and shuttle-driver. Before she even bought the business, she had Buddy write down all the details he had learned working for “Old Man Shaw.” Buddy’s breakfasts were famous up and down the trail, and he was a key component of the business’ success.

The lumber roads are marvelously smooth, and we fly along at 45 mph. Buddy explains the different lumber extraction methods as we drive by: clear cut, select cut. His father still lumbers the old fashioned way, tree by tree, well into the winter. He rates the different companies along the route, which are more concerned about the community, which just want to leach and plunder the land to maximize profit.

I am busily massaging my foot which has gone numb. Buddy suggests a massage. Continue reading

A Tale of Two Boots (Part 1)

15 Jul

Culture Clash or Delicate Balance?: A Week in the Maine Woods.  Or, “A Tale of Two Boots”

This essay was written by my mother, Daniella Levine, on July 16, 2006 after a few days of hiking on the Appalachian Trail with my brother and me.  The idea was that my brother (Ted Cava) and I would through-hike southbound from Maine to Georgia following our respective graduations, Ted’s from high school and mine from college.  Our parents came along to see us off and to join us for the first week on the trail, crossing the “hundred mile wilderness” on foot.  

Daniella is a great writer and directs a wonderful organization that envisions and advocates for social justice and equality in Miami, FL, called Catalyst Miami.  Ted is now a recent college grad and aspiring actor in New York City.  My father, Rob Cava, also appears in the story.  He is a physician at a practice called Miami Medical Consultants.

A Story in Two Parts: Part One describes our family, against the backdrop of an amazing adventure and terrain. Part Two [to be posted next week] describes a shifting culture and community against a backdrop of our family’s growing relationship with the place and the times.

Part One

Our children are extraordinary. Please forgive a mother for starting this way. I could just write this as a story about them, their clarity and insights, their love for the land and nature, their sensitivity, perceptiveness, generosity, clarity and focus. However, instead, so as to not be so OBVIOUSLY a bragging mom, I will describe our experience in the Maine woods through a broader lens, putting our little hike into the context of the local people and their lives, the economical transformation of the region, the search for meaning of fellow hikers, and the importance of community as a building block for social change.

It all started with our daughter, Eliza Cava, so that would mean it really started with her parents (and their parents before them and so on), who raised her to care about the land, people, accomplishment of personal challenge and endless discovery. Eliza has just graduated from college with a degree in environmental education. She loves academic learning, but she loves experiential learning and connection to nature too, and after 15 years of formal schooling, she was ready to get outdoors. She decided that a 2000 plus mile trek on the Appalachian Trail from Maine to Georgia was just the ticket. She persuaded her intrepid younger brother, Ted (also known as Edward or Teddy), to join her, and he met the parents’ requirements to first complete high school (hurray!), get into college, and then to request a one year deferral of admission. His university cooperated in all specifications, so the partnership was formed. Continue reading

The Arctic Irony

20 Jun

A version of this essay without photographs was published in SAGE Magazine in April 2011, and can be viewed as originally published here.

It’s ten thirty at night, and in the bright light the wet caribou comes over the rise and rolls her eyes at me.  Thirty more caribou does and calves follow, knee joints popping and hooves clicking on the loose gravel of the hilltop.  Frozen in place, I watch the caribou walk steadily past, nose to tail, shaking off fur still damp from their river crossing in the valley below.  Brown with lighter spots on top and short, fuzzy horns, the animals are so near and yet seem oblivious to our presence.  Their breath hangs in the air, shot through with buzzing flies.  The enchantment lasts until one nearly steps on my knapsack and the camera inside.  I take an involuntary step forward, my shadow crosses the face of one of the mothers, and the herd takes off—thundering down the slope and across the mountain bowl faster than seems possible.  In their wake, a few long, thick hairs settle down onto the rocks at our feet and we gaze after the herd, watching mothers and babies scatter across the bowl like so many white ants on a dull green background. Continue reading