Tag Archives: big bend

Using Survival to Improve Your IQ

I have always said that survival and bushcraft helps to make our brains better. It offers problem solving, creativity, the creation of new neural pathways, and building of social skills. The human brain is fascinating and even as we get older we still need to keep exercising our brains. Building and expanding the super hiways of knowledge and skill not only keeps life more interesting, but can actually reduce the onset of age related disease such as Alzheimer’s

This morning I found this great article and it happens to be from my Emergenetics instructor, Dr. Geil Browning, who is also the co-creater of Emergenetics. Please take a look at the article later, in the mean time I thought I would expand on her viewpoints into our world of survival and bushcraft.

Below I have used Geil’s ideas for building your intelligence and converted them into how survival and bushcraft training can work as an activity base to build better intelligence.

Seek Novelty

While some programming of our body is “hard wired” into us at birth through DNA, we also create new neural pathways every time we experience something new and different.

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Survival and bushcraft training place you in a novel experience from the start. In my early studies with Dr. Jon Johnson of Team Leadership Results, he focused on how new and novel experiences are a platform for creating the experiential learning environment. Setting up a shelter in the woods, starting fires with new methods, and simplifying your gear to 8-12 items for a weekend hike are all part of a new experience. Taking a class in firecraft, wild edibles, or even 18th century sewing are examples of new experiences that will help build new neural pathways.

Challenge Yourself

When asked, most of us would agree that its’ life’s experiences that teach us the most. We need to learn new things every day of our life just to sustain ourselves.

The pathway along which information travels through the neurons of the brain is a neural pathway. A neural pathway created through life’s experiences. Imagine you lived in the woods and you had to walk from your cabin to a near by stream, but there isn’t a path. As you meander through the woods to the stream each day you begin to form a small path. Pretty soon, the path is wide enough you can ride a bike for faster access. Not only have you built the pathway, you have created a mini-highway to travel on. You know it so well you could navigate it without thinking about it. The only way to make it more challenging is to do it at night, or in the snow, or even walking backwards.

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Once you have acquired skills such as making fire, navigating using a map and compass, or purifying water by boiling it, you need to continue to not only practice to master, but rather challenge yourself through the use of different methods, tools, environmental challenges or by handicapping. I make on average 5-7 fires a week using various methods, none of which include matches or lighters. When I fell down the stairs a few months ago and had my arm in a sling, I challenged myself to build fires using only one hand, and at that, my weak hand to produce fire. To challenge your own fire skills you don’t need to launch headfirst into a wall, but you can try to create fire in the rain (or turned on sprinkler system), purify water without your normal kit, or navigate in the dark.

Think Creatively

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Survival and bushcraft training builds your problem solving and creativity skills better than many other methodologies. The more opportunities we have to solve basic issues in the outdoors and experiences we endure, the more we learn and grow. For the most part these experiences are a benefit even if we fail and don’t feel we had a successful or positive experience.11051824_813188598758137_1437814250976477492_n

Some of the best experiences I have had is when things were not going as panned and I had to think of new options. In 2003 I lost all my water while on a trip into Big Bend National Park. I had to find creative ways to make shade during the day so I could hold up when temps were soaring, find or extract water from plants and rock crevices, and navigate at night when it was cooler.

Another way to push creativity is by making your own gear. Anoraks, sheaths, and ditty bags are just of the few items you can start with to push your own creative skills.10425395_813166015427062_457774323447097901_n

Do Things the Hard Way

I get harassed allot for not using matches and lighters and that gasoline and flares make fire faster. But pushing myself to make fire by friction grows new pathways in my brain. I would take this one a bit further though and say to learn to endure discomfort as well. Having solid skills is one thing, applying those skills when the conditions are challenging are a step better.

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Networking

On the surface we think of survival and bushcraft training as a solo endeavor. There is a whole network of people just like you who want to increase their skill level. Working through simulated problems, learning together, and even challenging each other builds strong friendships.

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Here is a link to the original article by Dr. Browning:

http://www.inc.com/geil-browning/increase-your-iq-5-things-you-should-be-doing-every-day.html?cid=sf01001&utm_campaign=Thought%20Leadership%20Publications&utm_content=16339312&utm_medium=social&utm_source=facebook

Big Bend Biking

I still believe that when I die, I want my ashes spread over the various trails in Big Bend National Park. I owe my life to this place. This is where I have so often gone to seek solice. It is where I nearly died, where I learned to live, and it had incredible memories for not only me alone, but also with my wife.

While living in Texas we had made several trips to both the National Park, as well as Big Bend State Park. Don’t let the word “park” disuade you. This is a fierce place where you can quickly find yourself at the mercy of the elements.

Because we have spent so much of our adult lives away from family, Melissa and I have made it part of our tradition to travel on either Thanksgiving and/or Christmas. This is out of the norm for both of our families that draw closer to home during these dates. Because of the geographical distance, it just isn’t possible to get all of us to all of them in the brief period we have for time off. In addition, because of my time in the service, I was often away during the holidays and either drew close to my own family or my military family as we all did with my others being so far away. Melissa and I have had some incredible places all to ourselves including a beach at Thanksgiving, diving in Balmorea on New Years, Mountain Biking Fossil Rim Wildlife Refuge on Our anniversary, and of course, Big Bend at Christmas.

A year before my near death trip to Big Bend, I took Melissa there for Christmas. We left on the day after Christmas from my folks house in Austin. Abby was developing a bit of a cough so my folks asked that she stay with them while Melissa and I traveled the 10 hours west to the Chiuauan Desert.

Winter in the desert can be more than chilli. When you take off without your jackets, it can be downright miserable. Somewhere in the re-packing, the bags containing our jackets were left in Austin. After getting to Big Bend, we opted to drive the 200 mile round trip to buy jackets at the nearest Walmart. Instead we moved our campsite from the shadded Rio Grande Villiage to a sunny site 50 miles west in Terlingua.

Over the next few weeks, me armed with my new Raliegh M-60 and her with a modified Raliegh commuter bike (I beefed up with new shocks and mountain biking tires), we assaulted several trails, traversed into Mexico, and explored several out of the way places. Together we worked our way around the Big Bend area map on our mountain bikes, including a few 30+ mile trips down trails filled with miles of washboard roads, hours of baby head rocks, and endless washouts that would consume our tires. We had much of our belongings packed into a couple of trailers for some of the trips. Together we explored old ranches, rode to abandoned homesteads on the banks of the Rio Grand, and spent hours just riding in silence.

One of the disturbing aspects and one of the moronic decisions made by park authorities in the 1960-1970’s was the tearing down of buildings that had been errected prior to the park’s inception. The idea was to let the park return to its “natural” life, forgetting that there is a historical and archeological aspect to its life as well. Still, there are a few old outpost that still survive.

At the time, l was in great biking shape. I had been racing on the weekends, riding with my buddies all the time, and occassionaly commuting about 100 miles per week. Melissa was in decent shape at thetime, but needed breaks every few days. As a compromise, she would drop me off on a dirt road like Dagger Flat Road in the morning and meet me in the afternoon. This allowed her to pursue her love of history, wild life observation, reading, and just napping. In the evening, we would meet back at our camp and share the experiences of our day. In addition, camping close to Terlingua, we had access to real showers.

We also made sure to reward ourselves for tough days we rode together. I remeber after an incrdibly tough day of biking from Castolon to Buenos Ares and back, we rewarded ourselves with a huge dinner at Tivos. In fact, one evening after a few days of hard core biking we rewarded ourselves with both Tivos and the (can’t remember the name) local Itallian Resteraunt.

Melissa grew up around horses, and since she had been so good about climbing back on a mountain bike after breaking a collar bone, I could mount a horse. While there, we also took a horse packing trip. We signed up for a group horse packing tour. Melissa and I were the entire group. The guide was in a great mood, had no other plans for the day, so he took us to several of his secret spots. I also think that since Melissa is great with horses and I easily adapt to any adventure, he was enjoying our company. I was pretty worried about saddle sore, so I packed a pair of road bike shorts ( the tight spandex) that I covertly wore under my military cargo pants. The horse trip was really cool, and our guide and I would converse on history, philosophy, and politics of the Big Bend region. We capped of the day (late afternoon) with a hot meal at one of local hook-ups. Highly recommend….especially if your wife is really into horses.

We did venture into Mexico, and I will cover that in another post at some point.

New Years marked our last night in the desert. We hung out at the recreation center in the RV park and met up with a couple and their teenage son who had been traveling the US from Germany. I enjoyed the dialog since living in Germany was and still is one of the most influential periods of my life.

The following morning we packed our camp, loaded the car, took one last tour through the park and began the journey home. We stayed the night in a VERY nice hotel to recover. That evening we soaked in a hot tub, ate a real meal, and while she romantasized the trip, I planned the next.

Big Bend is an incredible place, and spending the holidays touring it with my bride only magnified its wonder. We would make several trips to the area for various holidays, and each one special.

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Spinning Wheels

 

Bike Racing in Texas

From 1998 to 2007 I was a bike commuter. I did everything by bike. At one point I commuted 36 miles round trip to work. As a family we did our grocery shopping by bike. Riding 5 miles to the store with panniers, and bike trailers, we took care of our dietary needs. One trailer held Abby, the other a huge ice chest. We attended hockey and football games, the Fat Tire Festival, and took in some great movies- all a 30 mile round trip. I have hunted bear by bike, planned entire vacations, and even moved across the country to be in better biking conditions.

Riding in Ojanaga, Mexico...the crossing was...interesting

Bikes are simple and efficient. I believe in so many situations bikes are better than cars. Traveling around the world I have found that where more people have used bikes instead of cars, the environment seems to be a much better place for it. I have found that people are healthier in spite of other contributing factors to bad health. They are without a doubt more physically fit, and with the exception of the stress placed on them by cars, are mentally healthier.  

I often hear about cars complaining about bikes.  Not going to start a rant, but the fact is everyone benefits from fewer cars. Fewer cars mean less traffic, less pollution, and fewer  traffic deaths . Since I enjoy hunting, the pollution in my city has an effect on the woods I roam. I enjoy the beauty of the landscape and know I am doing my part to preserve it. If you don’t believe the effect pollution has on the woods, check out recent pictures of Shenandoah National Park now and what it looked like 30 years ago. Devastating.  To be a hunter means I am a conservationist, which means I care about the environment.

My journey through biking began like most, that first bike as a kid. This granted freedom, adventure, and independence. Later in high school I began commuting 15 miles each way. In between that commute I also participated in track, cross-country, and football. I wasn’t out to become a super athlete, I only wanted to avoid trouble on the school bus.

When stationed in Germany, my bike was often the most reliable means of getting to work each day. 12 KM back and forth with a 45lb ruck with all my gear for the day tucked in home-made panniers. My cars (yes plural) were always breaking down so I became proficient on the bike.

Several years later I was introduced into mountain biking by a boss and I instantly fell in love with it. I devoted hours to weeknight rides, weekend trips, and vacations that would include several weeklong treks in some of the most remote regions of the south and southwest.

 I took bikes with me on business travel so I could explore areas like Mobile, Tucson, Chicago, and other cites and country sides. I shipped my bike ahead of me and it was ready when I got to the hotel. For me it was much better to do some exploring along the Gulf of Mexico than hanging out and drinking in a bar.

The other advantage, I could eat whatever I wanted. I tipped the scales at a consistent 155, a weight I would love to be back to again.

In 2005 we moved to Boise to get closer to biking. The first year I commuted by bike for the majority of my work and week days. I was also really big into restoring old bikes, including a 1953 Columbia and a 1968 Raleigh. I was also building bikes for people who for one reason or another lost the ability to commute by car. I was in great shape and felt very complete. I also completed a season of bear hunting all by bicycle. With my longbow mounted to my handlebars and gear pulled behind me in a trailer, I peddled my way through April to June in search of a big brownie. I also hunted a deer season as well, at least until both bike and hunter were snowed in.

 I think it was during this time though I began to lose focus….and gain weight. I went through some staggering depression in 2006-2007 and after the initial weight loss gained 55 unwanted pounds. I lost motivation to build, repair, or ride any bike.

This last weekend, the desire to bike has returned. Once I get a rack built on my Jeep, I plan to trek across some of the most remote regions of Idaho. Already feeling better and dropping 20 lbs through swimming, going back to the bike is a natural step for me.

Portait of a Deadman

"Portrait of a Dead Man"
When I took this, I honestly thought it would be one of the last pictures of me alive. Then I changed acceptance to commitment

In the fall of 2003 I decided to do a overland trip by mountain bike in the back country of Big Bend National Park. Don’t let those four letters, (P, A, R, K) fool you. There are areas in most of our national parks that are rugged and desolate. Big Bend has many of these. People die here, and I was almost one of those statistics.

I’ve never really shared this story in whole with anybody, and as I blog, I still may not….we will see.

Throughout 2003 my soul was undergoing some radical changes. I was beginning to live from my heart. I was regaining that masculine love of the outdoors that had become vacant and dormant for a season. I was becoming more of a leader in my home and fighting for the hearts of those I loved. I attribute a great deal of this to the work of John Eldridge in “Wild at Heart”, a book I bought on a whim and actually altered my entire life.

My plan was to bicycle from Rio Grand Village on the east end of Big Bend to Castolon, on thewest side of the park using the old River Road. This trip would take me down rugged back country roads through the old Mariscal Mining district, the Dominguez Trail, continuing on the River Road’s west side, and eventually to Castalon, where I would rest and then make the trip back the same way I came.

Rio Grande to Fresno (Mariscal Mines)

As an avid biker I was physically well prepared for the trip. At the time I was riding up to 200 miles of trails each week. I was riding a 2003 Specialized Stump Jumper with a Yakima trailer. I headed out with tent, food, and water. I knew I would have to resupply so I had supplies dropped for me at Castalon and knew which watering points were known to be active. I planned to have two days water with me at all times.

Fresno (Mariscal Mines) to Castolon

The trip began questionably from the beginning. For starters, after arriving at the park and camping in Rio Grande Village, I failed to get any sleep at all. There was a “star party” going on. I stayed up until sunrise with several astronomy students learning various stars and constellations.

The second moment of failure was when I found I could not park as close to the trailhead as I expected. I had to add additional miles to my already long trip. I had planned to do the entire route in 5-7 days, so I saw the setback as a minor inconvenience.

A larger inconvenience though came at the hands of nature. I knew there had been a flood in the area a week prior to my trip, and in fact was counting on that to fill the springs and arroyos that I would need for water.

What I failed to realize is the damage flash floods can do to the roads and trails I would be pulling a 60 pound trailer on. I struggled miserably with the load and at times had to push my bike through river gravel that would vary between 3 to 8 inches in depth. It took nearly a full day to get to my “planned” lunch stop at the fork between Glen Spring and Mariscal. At this point I was exhausted and dehydrated. I spent the evening trying to rehydrate and take in some energy.

Dragging water and other supplies. Only thing missing in the pic is my water bladder that also worked as a head rest...for a time.

My body immediately rejected the Top Ramen noodles I had prepared. I set up a tent and tried to rest my aching muscles. The only thing I could keep in me was dehydrated ice cream my wife gave me as a joke.

The next morning I felt better, even though I didn’t rest well. I was able to eat some oatmeal, and my urine was returning to clear, signaling that I was rehydrating. I loaded up the tent and returned to the trail. At the fork between Fresno and Solis, the road became a bit better. I no longer had to deal with as much gravel and was able to pick up speed.

I had over-estimated my water needs so I was doing okay in spite of not hitting my next refill point. The trail still required more effort than I had expected and I pulled into Fresno around 3 pm. I decided to stay there even though it put me a day behind schedule. Again as I tried to eat I couldn’t keep anything down.

I set up my tent and decided that I would rest and then re-evaluate the trip when my head was not pounding. It was when I was pulling my tent out of the trailer I discovered in horror that at some point my water bladder had busted. With exception of a tiny bit in my bike mounted water bottles, nearly all my water had either escaped the trailer, or was captured in my tent, clothing, etc. I immediately started consuming as much water from the soaked items I could. I knew at that moment my world was going to be different and if I was going to make it out, I would need to be thinking clearly. I knew this was now a life and death situation.

Looking at the map I had two options. Continue west towards an intermittent spring about a day (on the map) and take my chances on water being there, or head back two-days to where I knew water would be. From what water I could not drink, I was able to fill two bike bottles with water and a partially filled Camelback. Technically it was a lot less than I had been consuming per day. (I had been consuming 1-2 qts per hour…. I now only had water for a few hours, not days.)

At 3 am as the sky was dark and temperatures dropped below freezing, I began my trek back towards civilization. I walked bike and trailer along the path on a moonless night with only a small headlamp I brought along for reading and other camp duties. At the time I was an avid night rider and spent most of my time on the trails after dark when the trails were vacant. I had purposely left all four of my trail lights at home to save weight and remove the temptation of traveling at night, where I felt I was more prone to injury.

As the sun rose in the east, I began to ride for a bit before the temperatures began to climb. The desert is odd in that even-though we had sub freezing temps at night, it would quickly climb to a blistering and mind altering oven in just a few hours of daylight. When I began to feel the increase of the suns rays on my body, I stopped and created a shelter using the bike, tent, and trailer. The wind was picking up and I was concerned that the combination of heat and wind would steal away any moisture my body was trying to conserve. I laid myself under the lean-to, tried to conserve energy, and when not sleeping, kept myself busy studying the map and writing in my journal.

Around 10 pm I began my trek again. I had a bit of rest and in spite of having less than a water bottle left, I felt ready to go. The temps had only dropped into the 80s at this point, but I wanted to get moving. At this point I was pushing through the thick gravel again. I know I wasn’t as aware of my location and surrounding as I should have been but I remember that I resolved to keep to the right side of the road. This way, if I went down the wrong fork, I would wind up at the river. If I stayed my course, even in the confusion, I would be headed back to Rio Grand Village. Somewhere around midnight I drank my last drop of water.

At 645 the next morning I knew I was going to live. I was out of water, severely dehydrated, and barely moving on the bike. It was in a gulch that as I passed through I was gifted with thousands (and thousands) of Monarch Butterflies migrating along my path. I can’t explain it, and maybe it was a private moment for me, but I knew I was going to make it.

Pressing on through the heat I finally made it back to Rio Grande Village, although I have no idea what time it was but knew it was late afternoon. I walked into the store near the camp ground and drank a Gatoraid before paying for it. I think the clerk could tell what was up and never even questioned me. I spent the rest of the day and evening recuperating and the next morning I headed home.

I lived because I had a bit of training and most of all I decided I was going to live. The difference between survivors and non-survivors is having the ability to crawl with-in your self and decide to live. The last stage of dying is acceptance. The last stage of surviving is commitment.