Emergency: This Book Will Save Your Life - Neil Strauss (2009)
Part IV. SURVIVE
That night, as if in retaliation for my cynicism, the temperature dropped to 44 degrees and rain began falling in cold sheets. I noticed a student with a crew cut and his shirt off standing halfway outside the lecture shelter. He was smoking a cigarette with a faraway look in his eyes. He seemed completely oblivious to the elements. I envied his tolerance, strength, and centeredness.
I distinctly recall the night that followed as one of the worst of my life. I was sick to my stomach from the three meals of stew they’d served that day and spent half an hour in the outhouse before returning to my tent. I kicked my muddy sneakers off outside and crept into my spinnaker-cloth cell. A few wet spots had already formed on the floor. I quickly inspected the tent but couldn’t figure out where the leak was coming from.
Then I took the old man’s advice for staying warm and snug. I put an empty water bottle next to my sleeping pad, peeled off my clothes, and quickly slipped naked into my ultralight sleeping bag. I brought the BlackBerry, my only lifeline to the modern world, into bed with me so the rain wouldn’t damage it.
Though I pulled the sleeping bag drawstring as tight as possible, I couldn’t get warm. The thin layer of down didn’t provide enough insulation, and my body couldn’t generate enough heat to compensate. When my knees touched each other, they felt like snowballs.
Half an hour later, not only was I colder, but I also had to pee. I reached for the water bottle and felt wetness. When I switched on my flashlight, I saw that my sleeping bag, raised a few inches off the ground by the pad, had become an island floating in a shallow lake. I’d clearly done something wrong when putting my tent up.
I raised myself to my knees, lowered the sleeping bag carefully beneath waist level so it didn’t fall into the lake, and unscrewed the cap on the plastic bottle. To make sure I didn’t miss, I pressed my dick firmly into the opening of the container and then released. Instantly, droplets of warm liquid began hitting my hands. I couldn’t understand why this was happening. Maybe it was performance pressure. I stopped the flow, readjusted, and started again.
This time, it was worse. The urine streamed down the outside of the bottle and into the open sleeping bag below. I stopped again. I didn’t know what to do. It was too wet and too cold, and I was too naked, to go outside. Besides, the ticks would be crawling all over me in a second, burrowing their Lyme disease-infected heads into my private parts.
No wonder I’d sworn off camping when I was a child.
I had no choice but to continue. Maybe I’d been pressing the bottle too tightly against myself. I lowered the container a little and emptied the rest of my bladder onto the sides of the bottle, my hands, and my sleeping bag.
It’s moments like these that make a man believe in God. Because someone must be laughing somewhere. That night, as I pulled my wet, stinky sleeping bag around me and cinched myself inside, I was a sitcom for the universe.
I fished for the BlackBerry and called Katie to complain.
“I fucking hate it here.”
“I’m wet, cold, naked, and covered in urine.”
“My tent’s leaking. It sucks.”
“You should get a bigger tent, like for six people. With a wood floor.”
Maybe I shouldn’t have called her. I wasn’t in the mood to humor her cheerleader fantasies of what life was like. “Have you ever even been fucking camping before?”
“No. I don’t want to get bitten to death by mosquitoes.”
“Then let me tell you about the fucking ticks. You’ll love them. They suck your blood and give you diseases that make your face freeze.”
I proceeded to have a complete breakdown—whining, sniveling, yelling into the phone. I was pissed at Tracker School and every smug moccasin-wearing motherfucker in it. I was pissed at Justin and his lightfuckinguseless gear. I was pissed at nature for creating rain, cold, and ticks. And soon I was pissed at Katie for nothing that was her fault.
By the time I was done with my harangue, the water level had reached the top of the pad and begun dampening the bottom of the sleeping bag, making its thin layer of insulation completely ineffective. On top of everything, I was so worried about Lyme disease that I kept trying to peel off my moles, thinking they were ticks.
Eventually, I lay there, in my 44-degree urine-soaked cocoon, and just gave up. I made the guy from Into the Wild seem like Grizzly fucking Adams in comparison.
I was forced to conclude the inevitable: I was a sniveler.
This whole attempt to learn survival was starting to seem like a pipe dream. I was addicted to the three C’s: comfort, civilization, and convenience. If the shit hit the fan, I would be the first to get sucked into the blades.
All those stories about Tom Brown living in the woods for weeks at a time at the age of eleven, with nothing but the clothes on his back, seemed impossible.
I rolled onto my side, pulled my knees up to my chest, and heard a splash. I ignored it and tried to go to sleep, despite my bladder’s sudden push for more relief. Like a trapped houseguest in a bad vampire movie, I just needed to survive until the sun rose so I could be safe another twelve hours—until night fell again.