Smooth, fist-sized stones work very well as a toilet paper substitute. I would know because I had to wipe my ass with stones for nine days. Avoid the jagged stones or learn the hard way. If you use rocks smaller than your fist you may get poo on your hand. Take off your underwear and pants completely before pooping in the desert. You may accidentally get crap on your clothes and that’s just embarrassing. Not that I would know. I’m just sayin’.
This was one of my first lessons in my primitive living skills course. My instructors: Mark Dorsten, Director of Field Operations & Logistics at Aboriginal Living Skills School, and Cody Lundin, Founder & Main Instructor of Aboriginal Living Skills School, and star of the Discovery Channel TV show, Dual Survival. The other tribe members: 10 men. I was the only woman. Most of them were from the South. Several of them had a military background or a military mentality at the very least. I was raised by a single father in the Marine Corp so I felt right at home. What I wasn’t prepared for was all the farting.
In late September 2013 my husband, Dean, and I drove to Prescott, Arizona to partake in a primitive living skills course called The Ultimate Abo. No cell phones; no electronic devices allowed. We spent the first six days making all of the things we would need to survive the last three days of the course. We made bow drill sets, which we would used to make our own fire. We used hot embers to make bowls; cottonwood to carve spoons; notched willow branches and parachute cord to construct our packframes. We cut, dried, and tied cattail together to make mattress pads. We spent an entire day weaving several feet of jute which we would later use as straps for our packframe, and for some of us, a canteen strap as well. We cleaned and carved gourds to make our own canteen complete with cork. We learned how to process the inner fibers of branches to make cordage which would serve multiple purposes including the making of a dead-fall trap. We were expected to hunt, gather, and forage for our own food on the last three days. We ate cattail, dandelion greens, parasitic oak; and went clamming and grass hopper hunting. With the help of another tribe member, I caught and ate a mouse!
One of the most important things I learned was how to properly hold and use a knife. It’s incredible how much pleasure one can derive from making things using only a knife and some branches. My biggest victory was making fire. I was just about to give up because everyone else in my group had successfully made fire with their bow drill sets and tinder bundles. I struggled. I found it near impossible to use my bow drill set, because I wasn’t strong enough to get my spindle spinning…or so I thought. It wasn’t until the fifth day when one of the other tribe members noticed that my cordage was tied rather tight on my bow. He adjusted the tension and I gave it another go. Booyah! I was creating smoke in less than a minute and soon after that I had a fat ember in my tinder bundle. I carefully and steadily blew until I had a flame. I was so overwhelmed with happiness that I started to shake and cry, and as a result I blew out my flame. Quickly, I regained my focus and produced another flame. I had made fire.
This was my favorite trip of the year. It helped me achieve my goals of being more self-sufficient and independent. The camaraderie of our tribe, even if only for 9 days, was so nourishing. We were a team. We depended on each other to work and function as one unit. We had to share in all of the responsibilities from fetching water to cooking meals to gathering firewood. We all had different strengths and weaknesses so every one of us was a valuable asset to the group. This experience brought my husband and I closer together, because it brought out the very best in us.
At night, around the campfire we didn’t talk about personal stories, hopes, dreams, or goals. We talked about food. The Southerners of our group started talking about Cracker Barrel and it didn’t stop until well after the trip was over. If we had turned it into a drinking game and took a swig every time someone said the name Cracker Barrel we would all be dead from alcohol poisoning. But thankfully, we did not. And on the evening of the ninth day, our tribe went to the local Cracker Barrel and ordered every breakfast item, buttery biscuits, and Chicken n’ Dumplins.