Most of us like to think we'd make it through many life-threatening situations just fine. After all, you've seen the Discovery channel, you've watched disaster movies and you've got a good logical head on our shoulders. You should be just fine, right?
But that's like thinking you'll be good in a fight because you've watched a Jackie Chan movie; whatever "techniques" you think you've learned are more likely to get your dumb ass killed.
For whatever reason--plane crash, riptide, sailing misadventure, a bad case of Ocean Fury--you find yourself in the middle of the sea with nothing but miles of water around you. And, to your horror, here comes that heavy string music and a circling fin slicing through the water.
Luckily, from multiple websites and news stories about shark survival you remember the Shark's Achilles Heel: Punches to the face. Specifically, the tender nose area. You wind up to belt that fishy bastard in the schnoz, and make your testicles proud.
First let's look at a shark. Can you find his nose? Yep, it's that incredibly narrow point in front that drops precipitously into a slimy, downward sloping ramp right into his 5,000,000-toothed mouth.
Take into account the fact that you're bobbing around in the water like a buoy full of meat, facing off against a lightning-quick predator with several million years of practice in eating things that punch it in the nose, and you'll see that chances are your fist will just deflect down into that aforementioned gaping hole of teeth like Boba Fett into a Sarlacc Pit. Now if your plan to defeat the shark is too feed yourself to him until he grows tired of the taste of you, you're off to a great start.
But experts say that even if you hit the shark-nose punching lottery, you won't have scared him off, just dazed him, giving you a minute or so tops. Now, if this particular shark is suffering from ADD, then great: You're in the clear now. He's off to chase a shiny thing or update his twitter feed 82 times an hour. But if not, all you've done is managed to piss the shark off and give him a minute to ponder how revenge is a dish best served in a blood-filled bag resembling you.
It's 3 O'clock in the morning, and you're sleeping off a bender that would wound the pride of Bukowski. Suddenly you wake with a start when the house begins to rumble. Your pants feel moist and warm with urine, (though you can't remember if you peed yourself before or after the earthquake began). No time to ponder urine-based philosophical questions, man, you need to survive! You scramble for the nearest doorway, congratulating yourself both on your level-headedness in a stressful situation as well as the foresight to pass out so close to a doorway.
Other people aren't so lucky
It's true; doorways can be lifesavers in an earthquake... if you own a 150-year-old adobe home. You don't? You live in a late-model cookie cutter bungalow? Too bad, had you possessed more discerning taste you wouldn't be sucking on hellfire now, Sparky. Because of the particular construction style on old adobe homes, the doorways are substantially stronger. This fact became apparent when locals noticed that the only thing left standing in the rubble of these buildings after an earthquake was the doorways. In any other home you may as well stand beneath an anvil with a coyote cutting the rope. Most doorways are just as weak - if not more so - than any other point in the house.
Except for this safest doorway ever. Which has no bothersome home attached.
So, what should you do? Diving under a table is your best bet. Of course, that's again assuming a strong, well-built table. If you live in the modern age you probably bought your table at IKEA, which means it's still sitting in an unassembled pile in the closet because they gave you the wrong Urgnblott and they can't order any replacements because there was a strike back in Trrnlbord at the Fyjrnwuld plant where they make them. You make a silent pledge to donate some god damn vowels to the Swedes, right before you kick their balls to death. You are then crushed while contemplating Swedish balls. It is not a good way to go.
It's a beautiful and serene day in the Pacific Northwest, which of course means it's pissing down freezing-cold rain, the kind with those fat droplets that hit you like a personal insult. And oh, did you hear that? Thunder. Awesome. Seeing no immediate shelter, you lay down as flat as you can, knowing that this makes you less likely a target for the lightning. You close your eyes, and think of California.
This guy had the right idea. We were the fools all along.
Despite the sound of it, when lightning strikes the ground it isn't actually "grounded" (you win again, words!); rather, lightning that strikes the Earth radiates in circles from the point of impact. By lying down, you offer these lightning ripples the maximum amount of contact with your body, which leads to burned internal organs, and cardiac arrest.
What you should do is run for lower ground like your ass is on fire (which it may soon be) and then scrunch into a tiny ball with just your feet touching the ground. The running improves your chances, because lightning has trouble hitting a moving target (even that bitch Mother Nature has to aim), while the scrunching minimizes your size as a target and offers the least body to ground contact. It also allows for maximum ease of transition to fetal position crying if you do make it out alive.
Ahh, nature! The earthy vistas, the painterly landscapes, the chirping of the birds, the snakes biting your groin - oh. That last one is not so good. That looks to be a pretty vicious snake bite, in fact. Not willing to die stupidly like an animal in the forest (you prefer to do your dying smartly and in the city, like Oscar Wilde) you point to the wound in your intimate place and ask your friend politely to "suck it out." You somehow manage to refrain from appending the words "hard" or "whore" to that statement, so your friend obliges.
If your hiking buddy happens to have any kind of open sore in or around his mouth, he too will get a nice dose of poison and the two of you can then die together, just like a frightened, gay, boot-wearing Romeo and Juliet! If your friend doesn't have a bunch of open sores (and really, you probably shouldn't be running around the woods with people who have frequent open mouth sores) and if he doesn't accidentally swallow some venom, he might take a little poison away from you but he'll be giving back a lot more in the form of bacteria. The inside of your mouth is hands down the dirtiest part of your body. Especially yours, pervert.
To side step all this unpleasantness you could instead: Keep calm (a speeding heart rate speeds the venom through your body); use a suction device if one is handy (what you and your buddy are doing in the forest with an unexplained "suction device" is between you two); see if the wound discolors and/or swells-that's your sign the snake is venomous; get medical help and take the snake with you. The genus of snake informs doctors which anti-venom to use. Don't risk your life to capture the snake, though; a snake can still bite an hour after its death.
Damn, snakes are assholes.
It's the first snowfall! You throw on your polar bear jammies, grab your mittens and bound outside. You innocently frolic and skip your way through the winter wonderland, hurling snowballs at imaginary foes and just generally cavorting with the reckless abandon of a Disney character. But when the endorphins wear off, you look up and see nothing but an army of identical snow-covered trees. You're lost.
Stranded. Your child-like joy has likely doomed you (again). You're going to need shelter, food and water soon. But wait a sec; you're surrounded by water in convenient powdered form! Well, shove it in, big guy!
If your goal is to preserve your frozen corpse, packing it with snow is a terrific idea. Yes, the snow will turn to liquid when you eat it, but mostly it'll rob your body of precious heat. Instead, stuff the snow in a container and put in between layers of your clothes (not directly against your skin) so your radiant body heat might melt it without directly leeching the heat from you.
Also, be at least a little discerning about the snow you consume in the woods: That's where the Pope shits. Wait... was that right? We forget how that joke goes.
If the visionary film Waterworld taught us anything, it's that it is totally okay to drink your own pee. So when the bombs start to fall, you don't need to worry about irradiated water supplies; you know to just lean back with a lovely pee cocktail in your hand and let out a sigh of satisfaction, for you've beaten the end of days...
How do you think Arnold did it?
...by dying. Funny thing about urine: Your body doesn't want it. That's why your body politely asked it to leave in the first place. More specifically, it's the salt in your pee your body needs out. Salt dehydrates the body and by introducing more of it in recycling your urine, you'll dry up faster than Kevin Costner's career (Caution: Low flying zingers!)
Kevin who now?
Instead of squeezing juice out of your own salty udder, maybe you should hit up that glowing pond after all. Sure, you'll die that way too, but at least it's dignified; nobody will put "drank too much of his own piss" on your tombstone.
Jesus, according to that title you're lost in the desert now? What is it with you and traversing into the wild without supplies? Did you feel bloated before taking that treacherous nature hike? Seriously: Bottled water=Not expensive. Fine, let's see if we can keep you from killing yourself, AGAIN. Well, didn't you once hear you can get water from a cactus? Let's try that.
Not from cacti
You lop off the top of the nearest cactus to find not aqua, but mushy green innards. Well, that's gross. But that's just like nature, isn't it? Always fuckin' you when you're already properly fucked. Ah well, you must be able to squeeze some liquid out of that, right? You do so, gratefully downing the putrid, life-saving fluid....aaaaand that's when the vomiting and diarrhea begin!
See, the alkaloid-rich mash inside cacti only makes you sick, thus dehydrating you even faster. If you really need water, you could consider constructing a solar still (like the one shown here) which collects water using controlled evaporation and the sun to pull moisture from the ground and...aw, hell, who are we kidding? You're wandering off into the snow, getting in fistfights with sharks, and we actually had to convince you not to drink your own piss up there. You're dead and a half by now. The best you can hope to do is leave a hilarious corpse. Try to die giving the double bird; archeologists finding your corpse in the future will probably get a laugh out of that.
You can read more from Cole at his site.
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For survival advice from people that have actually been there, check out 7 Fatal Injuries (That People Somehow Survived). Or find out how we're trying to give it back to Mother Nature, in Man's 6 Most Ridiculous Attempts To Take On Mother Nature.
And stop by our Top Picks (Updated 1.15.2010) for instructions on how to survive David Wong breaking into your house.