The thought of diving alone is close to heresy to some divers who certified under certain agencies and horrifying to non-divers who have only “know” two things about diving, “Those ‘oxygen’ tanks are big” and “Never dive alone”. For the first, those are air tanks and contain air and not oxygen, and the second I will focus on in detail.
SCUBA diving actually started as a solo sport. You could go to your local sporting goods store or hardware shop and purchase the equipment. All one had to do was find a reputable air source, often at a sporting goods shop or later in shops that specialized in SCUBA. It wasn’t until the need to train divers on the hazards of diving that sales (from a liability standpoint) of equipment was only sold by manufacturers to established shops that also provided training.
Soon training agencies started popping up with established courses for dive training. Buddy diving was part of this curriculum. Buddy diving was essential in the early days of diving when equipment had many failure points, diving knowledge in the recreational aspect was still in its infancy, and often times new divers needed a buddy to help bail them out. The buddy rule was established prior to inflation devices, advancement of the single hose- two stage regulators, submersible pressure gauges, and movement from the spring operated (J-valve) system.
While in New Jersey, I was trained in solo diving. Every wreck dive that is done in the North Atlantic- even if you are with a dive buddy winds up being a solo dive. You drop to the end of the anchor, give the OK signal, and then due to visibility, tightness of spaces, not wanting to silt out your buddy, or because there are slightly different objectives, you are on your own. Because of that I was trained to resolve issues on my own, manage gas (air/nitrox/etc), and provide redundant systems. I have a back-up for everything on my gear including air.
As an instructor, I dive alone even with students. I cannot realistically expect a new diver to be prepared to rescue me, in fact if I am not solo diving with students in tow, I am putting them in danger in the unlikely event something should go wrong. In fact, its not limited to students, any one including my wife or daughter that is not as a minimum certified in SCUBA Rescue I cannot count on for rescue.
When in a dive shop in 2016 preparing to go to Hawaii, I checked into a dive store to reacquaint myself with diving. I noticed that PADI now offers a “Solo” certification. I talked to the owner, showed them my dive log (volume 20- with a smidge over 12,000 dives), talked philosophy, techniques, etc and went on a dive with them. I now hold a Solo diver card. $75 for something I had done on about 9500 dives.
I dive alone because of many reasons. The places I want to dive, when I want to dive, and the elements I dive in are not the clear and warm waters others like to dive in. I am in Idaho and finding dive buddies is almost impossible. Many of the sites I am going to are not interesting to others. Most divers (and this is not ego) I would not trust to help me and when I’m in the mood to look after other divers I have a few folks that are still learning and need help, those people I love to dive with. When I dive alone its my chance to be still and observe. I can watch a motionless catfish for 15 minutes and never realize the time that has passed. I also dive in my secret spots where I like to find treasures, so I don’t dive with others since I would be giving away my secret spots.
I am trained, I am confident, I am competent, and I am able to dive alone. I realize it’s not for everybody and I would not endorse it for most divers I know. There are dives I don’t do alone. New environments I am not familiar with, advanced diving techniques, and anyplace I don’t have a direct ascent to the surface all are dives I do with a buddy.
Solo diving is not as renegade as is used to be and many in the field are coming to terms with it. But like many urban legends such as eating then swimming will give you cramps, chocolate gives you zits, a lady dried her poodle in a microwave, and the business man who woke in an ice bath to find he had is organs stolen, the diving (and non-diving) world needs to ask themselves as to why we still believe buddy diving is the only way to dive and solo diving is so against the grain.
People really don’t know who I am and most of my friends now don’t know who I was and from the pit I emerged from. There are times I still battle the two who live inside of me. One wants to do the right thing, play nice, get along with others. There is another that at a moment is ready to pounce and thrive on destruction. Jekyll and Hyde.
In 2006 I received some very disturbing news that I believe to this day grounded me forever. Prior to that I walked a very confident and often cocky walk. I had been humbled a few times and think that at the time I was on a more humble path.
For 13 years of my life I knew I was in the top tier of my profession. On top of that I never allowed anyone to mess with me. I wasn’t afraid to speak my mind, stand up for myself, tell others where to put it. I never backed down from an opportunity to go toe to toe and if violence was the answer I gladly took my licks but made that the other guy knew he had been in a tussle. I once put a guy nearly twice my size down in the parking lot of a small stop-and-rob store on the south-side of Ft Worth and even turned to his buddy to ask if he wanted some.
I was well trained and did a few deployments to some not-so-nice places in my military life that only added to the confidence. I wasn’t a braggart about it- but the walk was different. I even looked for a way to begin making amends with several guys I had been stationed with over the years and when my apologies were rebuffed- I only stepped up the @$$ persona as a wall to build up around me.
As a kid I was picked on and when I went to ground combat training and then got selected for special assignments and schools, I found that I could put down the bullies if provoked and come out as a winner. But this only caused me to quickly spark if some ex-football jock decided to screw with me. The monster would come out and I took care of stuff.
In 2005 I felt that all of this was behind me. I felt I had put Hyde to rest and go along and be a nice guy. The dilemma I face now is that the easy-going folksy guy gets pushed a bit. Real life is a lot like high school all over again except you don’t get sent to the principals office for punching a bully in the face and shoving his head in a locker and we all know standing up to a jerk in a meeting at work and bashing his ego with well placed wounding words has more dire consequences than getting placed in detention for a week. (As a ground combat instructor my mission was to make young punks cry, puke, or quit the first few days of training.)
Face it, I used to play hockey in one of the most violent leagues in the southwest and even wore a kilt to see who wanted to make a dumb@$$ comment and then back it up. There was a point in life I was a real jerk. I didn’t go loooking for trouble, but when I found it I thrived on it. I did all this while sober because it was a tactical advantage.
Perfecting my skills in survival and bushcraft help to manage the two inside me. It allows for the calmness of Jekyll and provides a retreat when Hyde wants to counter punch with words or actions. As a side not, Hyde gets pretty pissed off when Jekyll is getting screwed with and disrespected for his expertise. Keeping these two in check is difficult whether its at work, following my passions and avocation, relaxing at home, or out running errands.
I have a kid on my block that races his car up and down the street. Jekyll says stay calm and at most talk to him. Hyde is seriously thinking about draining the oil out the block into a gallon jug and let him fry his engine…or better, launch a rock with a slingshot as he zooms by. Then there is my neighbor who shoots off fireworks at 3am. Currently he is a candidate for some pretty malicious actions. Hyde wants to return fire with a homemade grenades, but Jekyll wusses out and says, “Let it go”.
I struggle often with the peace that people don’t know who I used to be and how much a jerk I was. Yet I sometimes secretly wish they knew and understood the monster that lies beneath and would just not poke him so much. Until then I am left alone to fight the two that live inside, Jekyll the meek wussy and the monster ready to drown people in their own spittle, Hyde.
The 2015 Kids Camp is in the books and here we are in 2016 already planning for next August. What a great year we had. Fouty-four kids and their parents came out for a full day of survival and bushcraft training- all for free. It is the highpoint of what has been both a difficult and productive year for us.
Driving away from the site I was thankful for another successful year that could not have been done without supporters such as Cabela’s, Sportsmans’ Warehouse, Scooters Youth Hunting Camp, Abundant Life Baptist Church, Boise Army-Navy Store, Idaho Department of Fish and Game, Power Engineers, and our commited volunteers and individual supporters. It took committed parents to spend the day with their kiddos watching them learn how to survive in the woods if they get lost.
Several parents praised us on our “expertise” in survival and I found myself correcting this by stating, “Our expertise is really in passing on information where we are learners who have worked towards mastering various parts of the discipline.”
“Expert.” This is a label I quickly shun. I know of maybe a handful of people I would place that label on, and I’m not one of them. Something I think we do better than anybody though is teaching the skills we have mastered in a way that almost anybody can comprehend and begin to apply. If we are experts, its in teaching, and not just kids, anybody.
Part of this is helping others understand where they fall short on mastering a skill or technique. I want to focus this post specifically on providing feedback in the learning aspect and since we just had a weekend of kids learning and hopefully parents. In fact I hold a special session for the parents on coaching and providing guidance to their kiddos. One of the things that has helped my team in teaching is “our” feedback model. This is really a model I was taught as a young instructor in Texas by a mentor I am just going to call “Q”. Those who knew this fine Master Sergeant know exactly why I’m keeping his identity a secret.
While this is not the complete teaching model, its actually the second step of the coaching process after the learner (your kiddo) has made several attempts and is either successful or needs some additional work. If you use this method, don’t expect to be an expert with it (it took me 30 years of coaching and teaching).
Here is the model and I will provide a few examples at the end. It is a 7-step model and works when your kiddo is successful or not. You will see me outline the model and then provide an example of how we use it in the survival training environment and then perhaps leverage it in your own life. It not only works in the field, but also at home and work. So here goes…
What is it you want to coach them on. Give them some idea of why you are providing the feedback. “Hey let’s talk about the way you set up your shelter”. “Can I help you with some tips on starting the cotton ball on fire”
What you specifically notice.
“I noticed the guy-lines on the shelter seem to be a little loose.” You’re turning your wrist up when you are moving the striker down the ferro rod.”
Your kiddo needs to understand specifically what the impact is of doing something incorrect.
“When the guy-lines are loose, it will cause the shelter to flap and won’t keep you covered. It will also cause the ground stakes to beak away from the dirt.” When you turn your wrist up on the ferro rod, you don’t get as many sparks.”
Here you have to let them talk, vent, come up with ideas, etc. Let them speak. You just might find out what the barriers are for them.
With adults I will try to get suggestions from them. With kids and teens I will make the suggestions for them
“Let me show you how to tie a timber-hitch, that way you can tighten the rope on your shelter if it comes loose again.” “Keep your wrist pointed down and grind the ferro rod all the way to the tinder.”
This is where you gain street-cred, well in this case bush-cred. If they get it right, then praise them with what they did well. If the device is broken, in the wrong position, doesn’t fit the kiddo, etc you need to support them with repairs, replacement, practice, etc.
“Your right, the line keeps stretching out of shape, lets get some better para-cord. “ “Hey, there you go, you’re getting really good sparks now!”
In the simplest form it is getting done what needs to be done to be successful and making sure they can repeat the process when they really need to in an emergency.
“Hey those lines work really well. Let me see you tie that timber hitch again.” “Great job on getting that cottonball lit, let’s do it again to make sure we got it.”
Hopefully this gives you a glimpse into our world of helping a participant master outdoor skills.
An interesting note on our Kids’ Survival Camp is that we REQUIRE parents to stay on site so they can not only share in the little victories of their kiddo, but also know where they need to work. In addition, we are often times total strangers teaching your kids to “play dangerously” for a change. You should stick around to see what they are doing. A good friend reminded me late last week when we saw several parents trying to opt out of spending the day with their kids at our camp, “They (the kiddos) want your presence not your presents.” I think the same can be said for co-workers, spouses, employees, etc.
Ok—going to vent because I’m tired of people with elevated egos dying in the outdoors simply because they entered the back country with the wrong mentality, lack of training, and/or the wrong gear for the environment and wind up in a survival situation. Quite honestly I’m not as upset about them becoming a statistic or a case study, but rather influencing others with their poor attitudes towards preparedness. Only 50% of those placed in a survival situation will walk away and have a story to tell others about. The remaining 50% will be dead, injured, or vanish without a trace.
I was challenged in a class the a few weeks ago on how survival training is really “irrelevant” to outdoor skills. This came from a grizzled and well seasoned guy in the back row sitting with his arms folded across his chest. It only took a few minutes for the agitator to realize he picked an argument with the wrong guy. Here are the stats, but don’t take my word on it, do the research on your own.
Much of this comes from the research I do on lost person behavior. I look at around 500 cases a year and really study at an in-depth level about 50 of them. I eliminated kids and focused on just adults in my conversation. For the sake of this specific argument, I included hunters, photographers, rock hounds, hikers, and generally adults between the ages of 18-65 engaged in some outdoor adventure. I eliminated (except where noted) those with memory loss, Alzheimer’s, and other issues of memory loss or disassociated disorders. I couldn’t remember if in my original argument if I included those who work in the outdoors, so I threw in what I could remember at the time and for the sake of this entry, include those who work in the back country such as guides, surveyors, forest and lumber workers, fish and game/conservation officers etc.
For clarity, I need to include that in the cases I studied, those who were rescued or recovered were more often than not, inadequately equipped and not trained or well prepared for the circumstances they wound up in.
Also, the question around “Where were they when they were found” often comes up in discussions, yet better question, “Where were they not?” They weren’t close to trails, roads, or other common routes. Most wound up in a panic state or took panic actions such as running or walking faster. This is common in adults since large muscle movement provides a rhythmic state, which (falsely) reduces panic. Walking fast or running is to adults what rocking is to a child in distress. Most made the attempt to fix the situation on their own or find themselves, which often makes the situation worse.
Panic also leads to poor judgment, poor execution of decisions, and emotional reaction. Panic comes from the amygdala. It’s the small part of our brain that controls flight, fight, freeze, feed, and …well procreation. The amygdala can save a life in most situations, but it can also cause death. Ask SCUBA divers what the main rule is when you are out of air that you do not do….its shoot for the surface while holding your breath even though the amygdala is wanting you to conserve air in your lungs. Shooting to the surface while holding your breath will cause lungs to over expand and you die. Thanks lizard brain.
Victims in my research also show undeveloped or at best poorly developed direction finding skills and may not have map and compass or at least navigation training. In several interviews I have done, hunters and hikers claim they have internal compass and navigation skills. There is absolutely ZERO evidence that supports internal compassing. In fact, what many claim is an internal compass is really the ability to read clues and signs in the backcountry. I discuss this more in another write-up.
Pride and ego are another factor in my interviews and research. The one single party that claims they do not need training for survival or preparedness is backcountry large game hunters. In several interviews I was told several times “I grew up in the woods”. While this was true for a few (less than 1%), most who had “grown up in the woods” when surveyed actually spent less than 27 days per year in the backcountry. For this reason we never say hunters are “lost”, we say they are “geographically embarrassed.
Barry Mitchell in his excellent work on lost person behavior noted the following:
- 40-50% are adequately equipped
- 50% followed a trail or drainage at some time while missing
- 30-50% move at night
- 90% are found within five miles of IPP (Our research notes hunters and back packers will travel up 8 miles once they realize they are lost)
In William Syrotuck’s ground-breaking work on lost person behavior noted:
- Frequently located near natural boundaries and vegetation inter- faces – forest edge, stream, steep slope – and navigation aids – walls, fence-lines, shelters etc.
- Sometimes wander away from regular tracks and trails and become lost
- Need to identify ‘magnets’ that may have attracted them
Here is why we believe training is needed by all outdoor enthusiast and why I get upset when we are undervalued. According to Syrotuck:
- Fatalities………………… 43%
- Injured …………………….. 3%
- Unhurt……………………. 37%
- No Trace………………… 17%
The numbers speak for themselves. If you are outside you need to train and equip yourself for the adversity. As outdoorsman we are going further in the backcountry, rely on our electronic devices, more unfit, and a host of other disadvantages that keep us from coming home when it all goes wrong.
Adventure IQ (www.AdventureIQ.com) offers workshops and seminars to better equip yourself for survival situations.
A shelter can protect you from the heat of the sun, insects, wind that either zaps warmth or moisture from your body, rain, snow, hot or cold temperatures. It is the center-point of your Comfort Zone and gives you a feeling of safety and well-being. It can help you maintain your will to survive.
In the rule of 3‘s, we discuss the need to protect yourself from exposure. You can go three days without water, but only 3 hours in extreme cold or heat conditions. In some areas, the need for shelter may take priority over your need for food and possibly even your need for water. As an example, prolonged exposure to cold can cause excessive fatigue and weakness (exhaustion). An exhausted person may either develop a “passive” outlook, thereby losing the will to survive or make decisions that further jeopardizes their situation.
One of the most common errors in making a shelter is to make it too large. A shelter must be large enough to protect you from the elements, but also small enough to contain your body heat, especially in cold climates.
6 W’s of Creating Shelter in You Comfort Zone
When establishing your shelter and your Comfort Zone, understand the first shelter may not be your permanent shelter. When you find yourself in a situation, you often need to take immediate action and get under cover. Intense heat, driving rain, or waiting the night out may all be reasons you move to protect yourself by sheltering, and then moving or creating a shelter in a Comfort Zone. When you go to set up your shelter and establish a Comfort Zone, use the 6W’s to help you establish the area you’re going to call home.
The 6 W’s include:
Weather- You can quickly die of exposure. Let’s make sure you set up to protect yourself against the elements.
If it’s hot and you have to get out of the sun, then set up a tarp that you can crawl under for protection. Even if you only put it up 18” high, you will benefit from the cooler space that sits at the 12” and below area.
In colder weather, keep your tarp low so it can capture heat from either your body or the fire pit you establish. If it looks like rain, make sure you can figure out a way to stay dry or even use your shelter to capture water to drink later.
Wood– If your not building a shelter with it, your creating fire for warmth, cooking, comfort, or purifying water. You can also use it for making tools and other creature comforts. Look for areas where there is a good supply of wood before settling in to establish your Comfort Zone.
Water- Even if you don’t have water in your Comfort Zone, either know where it is or how you are going to procure it. In some cases, you may need to move your Comfort Zone to where you can obtain water.
Widow Makers- That which does not kill you will make you stronger, unless you’re that guy in Utah that had to cut off his arm with a multi-tool. Widow makers are anything that can turn your rescue into a recovery operation. When setting up shelter look for overhanging branches, potential rock slides, a boulder that just needs the nudge of cold-night air to slip, or anything that could hurt or kill you. Avoid these areas at all cost.
Wingers- Anything that buzzes in the air and bites or stings needs to be avoided if possible. Fly’s carry disease, Bees and Wasp leave nasty stings and can be an extreme danger, and Mosquitos cause ailments such as Malaria. To one degree, the smoke from your fire can minimize the issues of flying insects but when selecting a site try to avoid areas of insect concentration.
Wigglers- Anything that crawls on the ground that bites, stings, sucks, etc. Ants, snakes, scorpions, eve centipedes. Some of these you can avoid by not building in their nest, others you just have to keep an eye out for. Before you go out, do a little research on the threats in your area. Don’t overlook the tick threat in your area as well.
If you have attended my workshop on shellers you know I’m a fan of keeping a tarp and light-weight tent stakes in your pack–saves time and calories over making one from scratch.