My friends and acquaintances know I spend a good deal of time outdoors so I’m often asked about funny and unusual experiences. Here’s a few from my Air Force days as a survival instructor. I’d love to hear some of your stories. These are true stories:

Finding salt in the wild

I was a few years into my term as a US Air Force Survival Instructor when 4 fellow instructors and I volunteered for an assignment in Texas to teach wilderness survival to a group of ROTC students. Our portion was a 3 day-2 night basic survival course, it was mid-July and temperatures were hovering in the high 90’s.

Survival tasks can be hard work and so everyone would quickly become soaked with sweat. At the end of the day, the instructors would walk back to a centralized instructor camp with our supervisor, where we would eat and hang out together. The instructor and student camps were located on a remote section of an Army base that had scrub bushes, juniper trees, and typical desert plants. The first night we tried sleeping in tents but it was too hot and none of us got any sleep. Our sweat-drenched shirts, which were hung on trees to dry at night and in the morning, revealed dried white streaks from the large amounts of salt in our sweat.

The second day was just as hot and sweaty as the first. So when we got back to the instructor camp we decided we would sleep out in the open. We set up our cots in a circle, separated about 5 feet from each other, with no shelter. It felt great under the stars and everyone was looking forward to a good night’s sleep. As someone who spent a lot of time outdoors, I was used to sleeping without a tent and usually so tired that I didn’t give too much thought to bugs or animals.

I slept really hard that night, and at daybreak when my boss called out to wake up, he mentioned that he had a weird dream of an animal licking my face and back, and I kept shooing it away. As he said this, I too remembered having a similar dream and said so. Then we all got up, looked around, and found a cluster of dear tracks by my cot. It wasn’t a dream after all. Many animals in the wild lick rocks for salt. This deer got it’s salt from me.

Bathroom breaks in the middle of the night

A group of friends and I were camping in the Olympic National Forest in the winter. We each had our own shelter about 40 feet away from each other. Sometime during the night I got up to urinate. I was hot in my 0 degree sleeping bag, so I was wearing only a t-shirt, boxers, and socks when I put on my boots to go outside and walked 6 feet to the nearest tree. Still half asleep I turned around and started walking back towards my tent. My tent wasn’t directly behind me and I ended up walking past it. After about 20 feet and still half asleep, I turned again and continued on.

Within about 30 seconds the cold and realization that I had not found my tent, jolted me wide awake. It was virtually pitch-dark and with a twinge of panic, I froze. Then the thought of my friends finding me frozen with just a t-shirt, boxers, and boots hit me. I calmed myself down and started feeling for my prints in the snow to backtrack. After about a couple more minutes of not making progress and getting colder I decided to yell and wake people up before I got further from camp. My friend Jim woke up, put on his flashlight and asked what’s going on. At that moment, I realized where my tent was in relation to his and ran to it, mumbling that I simply got lost when I went to pee. I didn’t hear the end of it, as my friends made fun of me all morning.

Afterwards, I found out that getting lost at night in the wilderness when reliving oneself has been associated with climbing and other hypothermia deaths. I now get fully dressed, wear a headlamp, and don’t veer off too far. If on a glacier or climb, depending on the exposure, I even clip into the rope.

Favorite Outdoor pranks:

To have fun and keep things interesting, my fellow Survival Instructors and I used to have some favorite pranks and jokes to play on students. Here are some of the favorites:

1. Set a pile of Milk Duds or Raisents next to a dear or rabbit trail. They work best in snow and with kids. Get the person you’re playing the joke on to walk with you past the area. As instructors we would stop the group for some impromptu instruction and say “Look, what do we have here?” Let them guess, it helps suck them in, they’ll guess deer, rabbit, or some other animal dung. We would respond with “yes, it’s deer dung and the deer doesn’t digest all the nutrients completely so you can actually eat it, to get some nutrients.” At that time the instructor would pick up a few Milk Duds and start chewing (not that I know from experience, but I don’t think dung would be “chewy”—won’t it be more realistic to swallow them whole?) them. Try and keep a straight face while doing this and watch the reaction of your target. After swallowing ask them to try it. Sit back and enjoy the show till they figure out it’s not really dung.

2. Another setup prank is to purchase a dead fish from the grocery store and using clear dental floss through the gills, tie it to a small rock and place it in a creek. Just as the last scenario you bring your target by, place your arm in the creek and say “You can catch fish using the tickling method if you’re very still, patient, and fast.” After a few minutes, knock the fish out, grab it and smack it against a rock to simulate killing it. Some people will fall for it, others will realize the fish was already dead.

3. If there’s a naïve city slicker on the trip with you, tie a pineapple to a coniferous pine tree in a forest, climb up about 10 feet, knock it down and convince them that pineapples grow on coniferous pine trees.

4. Here’s a favorite: Squeeze some Fire Ribbon (a clear flammable paste) on and around a pebble. As you’re walking by, pick up the pebble and say “If you have a good eye and you find fire pebble you can use it to start a fire.” Take it and use flint and steal to spark it and get a flame that would last about 10 seconds. Your audience will be amazed and you can have fun watching them try to start rocks on fire for the rest of the trip.

I hope you enjoyed these stories. Look out for more in the future. I’d love to hear your funny or unusual outdoor experiences. Don’t hesitate to reply or add comments to this post.

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