I moved to Toronto when I was 22. It was 2005 and I had just finished my film degree in university and now had dreams about “making it” in the big city. I would become an established actor or maybe start my own production company focusing on online video advertising, still a novel concept in 2005.
These dreams quickly fell apart when I realized that, unlike in university, I needed a job to make ends meet and nobody was too interested in hiring a skill-less grad with a film studies degree. My paltry savings diminished, and I faced a very real problem of not being able to cover my rent or afford food.
My family was also poor, so I couldn’t go to them for money, and I realised that if it got bad enough I wouldn’t even be able to get back home. I had nightmares about having to sleep and beg on the streets. I’d wake up, put on my one suit to go out for interviews at call centres and sleazy sales jobs, and on the walk home I’d be eyeing alleys and benches that might be ok to sleep on if I got kicked out of my basement apartment.
One day I woke up and had a revelation. Instead of fearing what I thought was inevitable, I should embrace it and make the most of it. Maybe I would have to go to the streets, but I figured I’d be happier in the woods, and being in Canada, the woods weren’t too far.
Growing up reading books like hatchet and My side of the mountain, I had a fondness for the adventure of survival in the wilderness. I decided to learn wilderness survival training as a way to stay positive in my off time when I wasn’t applying to jobs and going to interviews. I figured if it really came down to it, I could learn how to survive in the woods on my own and probably be happier than in the city anyway.
I binge watched everything I could find on survival training.
The best I could find was a British program called Bushcraft by Ray Mears. It was instructional and to the point, no fluff. I watched everything by Ray Mears and he became my guru.
I got books from the Library and started practicing making small dead-fall traps and snares at the park. I’d practice knots, first aid and sewing when I was home, I was obsessed. I even spent several weekends alone at my friend’s old camp outside the city practicing and getting used to the solitude.
The stress finally left me and I felt supremely confident that no matter what happened, I would be alright. It was so exhilarating and freeing, I nearly cried.
My money eventually ran out. I spent my last $25 on a Bowie knife and small hatchet from a thrift store, a tarp and a cheap hammock. I had $2 leftover that I spent on a lottery ticket. I was ready.
I got home and packed my bags. Wrote an apology note to my landlord for leaving without notice and drank my last beer I had saved. I sat there and smiled. I wasn’t scared, I knew I would be fine. This would be an adventure at the very least.
I scratched the lottery ticket. Winner, $2000. What?
That couldn’t be right, I checked again.
The ticket was a $2000 winner.
I laughed, I couldn’t believe it.
The $2000 was enough to cover my rent, bills and expenses for the next couple months. I found a job shortly after and never had to resort to moving back to my hometown as a failure.
Although I never had to leave for the woods, The truth is that there have been several other moments since then where all the negative things going on in my life have came to a head.
All the stress, all the worries and all the problems reach a boiling point and I have to stop and remember “There’s always the woods.” and this has given me great relief. It’s provided a mental safety net in my life so that when things hit rock bottom and I think of all the consequences of my failures and bad actions, I know I’ll still have that there to protect me.
I believe learning wilderness survival training is a necessary requirement that all men should go through. I believe it strikes something in us that is both primal and comforting. To know that if everything in your life was stripped away, all the comforts of modern society, you would have the necessary skills to survive.
I believe self sufficiency is a core pillar of masculinity and is something that is SEVERELY lacking in today’s culture. Everyone is overly concerned with being successful and cool and well liked, which only causes more stress and disappointment when you fail to achieve it to the extent you had hoped.
So stop stressing about what happens if you don’t “make it”, get off social media, pick up a book, sharpen your knife, and go camping alone.
It will change your life.
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