Lessons Learned: Primitive Cabin Living
My two childhood friends and I ventured out to the “U.P.” in Michigan to spend a week at a very remote lake side cabin in the middle of the Hiawatha National Forest. This proved to be an ideal excuse to grab my bug out bag (B.o.B.) and test my equipment. I learned some valuable lessons while living in the middle of the wilderness with no cell phone reception, electricity, or plumbing. To my dissatisfaction, I found out that I was not as prepared as I originally thought. Hopefully you can also learn from my mistakes.
The idea was to survive off the land and eat what we caught and foraged. However, my forward thinking buddy (and food lover) decided to bring some supplemental canned food items. We soon discovered that no one possessed a can opener. As we stood around our potential dinner entombed in its metal safe, our stomach rumbled. We scratched our heads until one of us brought out our multi-tool which included a can opener that resembled more of a beer bottle top opener. Within seconds the bottle opener tool snapped in two and broke. Next we tried a knife which worked, but not efficiently or safely. I must have reminded my buddy to “be careful” several hundred times as I realized how far away we were from a hospital. Lesson one: Can openers are gold and would make for valuable barter items for those desperately in need. Buy several and buy quality.
Next item of concern was washing solutions and sanitation. Thankfully, we were next to a lake that we took advantage of by swimming/bathing in. All of us are environmentally conscious and refuse to use man-made cleansing agents that could potentially poison the fish and plant life within the lake. We did have access to a hand pump. However, the forest service had signs pleading users not to do any washing or cleaning near the pump due to the fact that the well can be easily contaminated. This made sense to us and is a good point to remember if your bug out location also has a well (and it should). Lesson two: The lake is cold! Buy an old-fashioned pitcher/basin for washing and stock up on all natural soaps. Better yet, learn how to make your own all natural soaps.
We were lucky enough to have a surprisingly clean outhouse fully stocked with toilet paper. I remembered a great online document I had read about how Human waste disposal will prove to be a major cause of sickness, disease, and death when SHTF. The document even instructed the reader how to build a latrine. However, it dawned on me that I was not able to access this online document as we were unable to get cellphone reception. In a SHTF situation, any online documents will be useless. Lesson three: Immediately print out any and all documents that you find of value and keep them protected from the elements…and learn how to dig a latrine.
Due to the changes to our normal eating patterns, our bowel movements also became disrupted. It became obvious to everyone how quickly we went through the stocked TP and it made me ponder what I would do if it were to ever run out. One solution that I utilize at home already is something called “family cloths.” They are dedicated pieces of fabric used in place of TP that are washable. Each family member is issued a different pattern and/or color to lessen the gross factor. We had hand sanitizer, but no sink with running water. Lesson four: Buy/Make several sets of “family cloths” for my bug out location, research the best leaves in my area that could make for a good TP substitute,
Another sanitation issue we came across was cleaning our food utensils and cookware. Our solution was to use the lake sand/water to scrub/wash our dishes. We then rinsed them with well water from the onsite pump. Additionally, by the end of the week we had no more clean clothes left. We had not brought with us a viable washing solution. Lesson five: Build a 5-gallon bucket / plunger system for washing clothes, procure a commercial mop bucket with ringer, or buy an off the grid hand operated washing machine.
My two buddies and I often went our separate ways to explore the expansive isolated forest preserve. One would go off for a run, the other mountain biking, while another found a secluded spot to hang a hammock and read a good book. Without cellphone service, we would not have been able to get a hold of each other. Lesson six: Always bring portable walkie-talkies and always keep a whistle on your person in case of an emergency.
As previously mentioned the area we were in was quite remote and took a long drive on dirt/gravel roads to reach our destination. If our motorized vehicles were affected by a SHTF scenario such as an EMP, traveling those kinds of distances would prove to be difficult. Lesson seven: Mountain bikes would serve as a valuable mode of transportation in the event that motorized vehicles are inoperable. Also, learning how to ride a horse would be beneficial.
We had the luxury of using a large propane stove and tank for cooking. However, we all know that propane is a finite resource and is not sustainable in the long term. Also, boiling water seemed to waste a great deal of that finite fuel. We had a nightly campfire; however we lacked the proper cookware to efficiently cook using it. Lesson eight: If you haven’t already invested in cast iron cookware, do so! Learn how to build a rocket stove out of common objects such as cinderblocks and aluminum cans. Also make a smart investment in a Solar Oven which amazingly cooks/bakes/dehydrates/rehydrates food, pasteurizes/boils water, and even sterilizes medical equipment ALL with just the free power of the Sun!
Our main staple of food was the fish we caught. We tried both fishing from the shore in waders as well as in a kayak and a canoe. Our success was exponentially greater using the kayak/canoe where we were able to gain access to fishing spots not reachable on foot. So therefore - Lesson nine is: If planning on fishing, or traveling on water ways, a kayak/canoe is quiet stealthy solution.
The last lesson I learned was that mosquitoes out in the middle of nowhere are bigger and fiercer than their urban dwelling cousins! They were relentless! A can of “OFF” won’t last forever. And in our case only lasted a single day! Lesson ten: Learn alternative methods to keep mosquitoes at bay! Such as plants that repel mosquitoes like lavender/ marigolds/ catnip/ lemon balm/rosemary, and If you have a hammock, invest in a mosquito net. It can serve multiple purposes.