Like any relationship between parents and their grown offspring, Mother Nature and humanity get along best when they don't have to see each other very often. Weekend visits and the occasional longer holiday trip seem to be enough for people to appreciate the majesty of nature while still avoiding the inherent guilt of not doing enough for their Mother in her old age. On the other hand, the biggest difference between your real mother and Mother Nature is that if you overstay your welcome in the wilderness, it will murder you.
Probably. I won't pretend to know what your family dynamic is like.
Each year, due to ill-preparedness or accidents, scores of people get lost for days in the outdoors, and many of them end up dead, because nature is full of terrible things like sharp rocks, snow and indifference. Even the most knowledgeable outdoorsman can die while lost in the woods, because he is surrounded by circumstances beyond his control. That's why, instead of preparing you to survive on your own in the wild, I want to at least help you avoid dying in the most embarrassing ways possible. There are a handful of mortal threats in the outdoors that no one talks about and that are wildly humiliating. So if you ever find yourself lost in the middle of nowhere, you may not survive, but you can certainly avoid having your last sensation be utter shame. Here are five deaths to avoid if you can help it.
Every wilderness guide has to go through some rudimentary first-aid training for emergencies that arise out on the trail, and hands down the least glamorous way they're ever taught to save a life is by digging rock-hard feces out of someone's ass with a finger. The process is called "digital extraction of fecal impaction," and the impaction part of that equation is something that happens almost exclusively on hiking and camping trips.
The problem is a combination of dehydration and a refusal to poop in the woods. People who are accustomed to sitting on toilets don't like the idea of egesting any other way, and so they'll make a decision not to defecate during an entire trip. That, coupled with prolonged physical activity every day, limited amounts of water and the sudden change in diet to camping food can all conspire together into a hardened mass of shit too big to birth.
"It sounds crazy, but I'm really going to miss it when this is all over."
Worse, all of those elements are exacerbated when you're lost in the wilderness. Strange foods, no water, long days of walking and the addition of stress can cause fecal impaction in three or four days. At best, it's extraordinarily painful; at worst, the lower bowels will be completely blocked and lose circulation from the pressure, in which case you can die. So even if you manage to build a shelter, find a food source and carve out a life for yourself deep in the forest until rescuers come, you can still be killed by your own shit.
There's a reason the Fortress of Solitude is really just a glorified snow cave; even an alien superhero who can deflect bullets and change the rotation of the Earth refuses to fuck around when it comes to hypothermia. Snow caves have saved several lost climbers and skiers, sometimes for up to 13 days. So if you're in the middle of nowhere during a blizzard and you have the tools to dig a snow cave, you have a significantly better chance of survival. Except after sinking two or three hours of work into carving it out, it's a special kind of humiliation if the cave ends up killing you instead of the cold.
If it wasn't below zero, I bet your faces would be so red right now.
Snow is a surprisingly good insulator of heat, but it's also a good insulator of gases. The last step in building a snow cave and the one that's easiest to forget is punching a baseball-sized hole in the ceiling so you continue to get fresh air. Without it, you can die of a carbon dioxide buildup just from breathing throughout a night or carbon monoxide poisoning if you're using a portable stove. Without ventilation, it's essentially like running a car in a tiny garage. Even if you remember the hole, it's not as simple as curling up and going to sleep until morning; fresh snowfall and even wind-blown snow can block the vent, so it needs constant upkeep. Without this step, which is arguably the easiest part of building a snow cave, you're essentially just burying your own body so that no one else has to.
If you happen to be lost in the wild along the Pacific Coast of the United States, the good news is that you won't have to fend off wolves or grizzly bears each night, but the bad news is that you might have your head crushed by a pine cone. The Coulter pine is a tall conifer tree that grows along the mountains of California, and its pine cones are the equivalent of bricks with claws. The cones are usually around 16 inches long and can weigh over 10 pounds. Additionally, each cone has hundreds of sharpened hooks circling around it, which means there's no best way to have one fall on you. Loggers in the area nicknamed them widow-makers because they're so dangerous.
And since Australia hates being outdone when it comes to deadly anything, their bunya pines can produce 22-pound pumpkin-sized pine cones.
Or more accurately, the size of a human head.
Incidentally, these come close to killing or maiming people constantly. So if you are already doomed in the wilderness of Victoria, Australia, do your best to be bitten by a snake or something equally horrifying, because if anyone stumbles across your body after you were killed by a pine cone, it's hard to imagine they won't be at least a little disappointed in you.
Even if you read Hatchet as a kid and used that information to fashion a bow and arrow out of branches and your shoelace, that doesn't automatically mean you'll be eating some animal by nightfall. When trying to kill most animals, deer in particular, you're more likely to end up swallowing your own teeth and nose cartilage than any deer meat. That's because deer don't want to die any more than you do, and because now you've made one angry.
"You dummy, did you not see that my head is made of weapons?"
We generally think of deer as nervous creatures that bounce away at the slightest sign of danger, but depending on the time of year, deer are notorious for attacking people; the bucks go into rut in the fall, and the does are more aggressive in the spring to protect their fawns, as a result, they're more than willing to kick a human in the face if they suspect he or she might be a threat.
So unless you can kill a deer with one shot from the arrow you just made from a twig, there's a better chance you'll end up in a bleeding pile of broken bones than the deer will. And while there have never been any documented cases of deer eating people, they are opportunistic carnivores that eat other animals when they have the chance, so it would be particularly embarrassing to have your broken body tasted by the same deer you thought you were going to eat.
Making a fire while lost in the wilderness is not only one of the best ways to stay alive, but also one of the surest ways to help rescuers find you. Unfortunately, if you're in an area where you can easily find enough dry grass, bark and wood to create a fire, then you're essentially standing in a giant pile of kindling that's ready to ignite. Lost hikers setting signal fires are rarely careful about creating an enclosed fire pit first, understandably, because they just want to be rescued as quickly as possible. But as a result, they've also accidentally burned down huge chunks of forests. So while it's difficult to get a fire going out in the wild, it's shockingly easy to burn yourself up in one after you get it lit.
"I'm right here! See me? Next to the tree!"
Fires built for warmth inside makeshift shelters are just as dangerous. Even an expert in outdoor survival like Les Stroud accidentally burned down his lean-to during the Alaska episode of Survivorman. That's because the walls and the ceiling of your shelter are probably made of dead wood you found, which is like sleeping inside a tinderbox. Even if you keep the fire small, you'll have to huddle in close, which only increases your chances of setting yourself on fire or, at the very least, melting your synthetic clothes to your skin. So really it's lose-lose.
Of all the humiliating ways to die in the middle of nowhere, inadvertently starting a forest fire is probably the worst, because you're taking charred piles of wildlife with you, and possibly even a few homes, depending on how embarrassingly close to civilization you actually were.
For more from Soren, check out 5 Internet Prescribed 'Cleanses' That Made Me Immortal and The Most Appropriately Endangered Species on the Planet.