Survival - Lost in the Woods - Part I

Being lost in the woods is something that has always scared me.  Heck, being lost, period, has always scared me.  When GPS was made available to the public, I was among the first to purchase one.  I have about 3 different GPS devices now, including my Android smartphone.  But, many people do not think ahead when heading out into the woods.  In fact, some are so ashamed of being lost, they actually try to hide from their rescuers.  Most of the time, it is hunters who are shamed into hiding from rescuers.  

Today, I am having a person who experienced first-hand the stunning reality of being completely lost in the woods, post his experience on David's Musings.  What makes his story even more remarkable is that he was only 11 years old when he was lost for 3 days and 3 nights.  Theodore "Ted" Danielson is going to tell his story on this blog.  He also is going to tell you what he did to survive.  Most are common sense ideas.  But, in the remote possibility that you get lost in the woods, these ideas could save you until you are rescued.  Here now, is Mr. Danielson...

I appreciate the opportunity to post on David's Musings to relate my story and my ideas on how to survive if you find yourself separated from your hiking party as I did, or if you just happen to venture out on your own.  In July of 1967, I joined my father, two of his co-workers and two members from our church for the ultimate hiking trip.  We started out on the Appalachian Trail in Springer Mountain, Georgia which is the start of the Trail in the south.  The Appalachian Trail itself is over 2,000 miles long, extending all the way to Maine.  We had no intention of going that far.  We had planned this on the week after July 4th of 1967.  My father had a week's vacation and we had decided we would hike the Trail.  Our goal was to make it to some place in North Carolina.  I don't recall the exact name of the place.  My father is deceased now and I have no idea where the others in our hiking party are these days.  All in all, it was just going to be about 75 miles which would have taken us to the North Carolina border.  There my mother would meet us and we would all drive back home to Montgomery, Alabama.  Mom did not want me to go on this hike.  She felt I was too young.  But, I kept whining and insisting.  She eventually relented after my father and two co-workers assured Mom that I would be safe. 

We left on an unusually cool July Saturday morning as I remember.  Summers are tortuously hot in the deep south.  So, we set out on our hike.  We met many other hikers along the way.  We had quite a few supplies and used a cart to carry most of them.  We also had backpacks. There were supposed to be points along the trail for us to stop and relax.  I never got that far.  We stopped after about ten miles because I was tired and others felt we needed a rest.  I was thinking I had made a mistake.  I had to go relieve myself.  My father told me not to go far and to keep in shouting distance.  So, I went off in the direction of some thick bushes for privacy.  I finished urinating and noticed the most amazing sight; a small buck about 50 yards from me.  I froze and watched.  He looked right at me and started slowly walking off further into the woods.  I had never seen a deer that close.  My father was not a hunter and, subsequently, neither was I.  So, I followed him.  He seemed to be in no hurry.  I thought that was odd.  But, then I remembered the large numbers of people who came down the Appalachian Trail.  Still, I thought he was acting oddly.  Knowing that the hiking party was in no hurry to finish up the day's hike, I followed the deer.  Yes, it was a mistake, but I was a young boy who was not familiar with the dangers of a wooded forest. I honestly didn't think I had gone that far.  The only smart thing I did was not take off my backpack while we stopped. That helped save my life.

I don't know exactly how far I followed that buck.  But, I soon discovered, I had gotten turned around.  That is when panic sets in for you.  Like anyone, I quickly lost interest in the deer.  I went back the way I thought I had gone.  But, it just led to more bushes, more wooded area.  I screamed loudly for my father several times.  But, got no answer.  Now, I knew I was in trouble.  I kept going in the general direction I thought was right.  I realized I was going in circles, a sure sign of being lost.  Now, I was frightened beyond belief.  I am not sure what I was more worried about; being lost or the thought of my father being angry with me for defying him.  It was getting late and I kept yelling as loudly as I could.  I thought it was unbelievable my father couldn't hear me.  But, it is entirely possible I had gotten so far away, he couldn't hear me.  It is also possible he had gone off in the wrong direction to look for me.  I was positive my father was looking for me now.  I was just stunned how I had gotten so far away in such a short time.  Now, I had my backpack that was loaded with some food, a canteen of water, matches, some MRE's, a small hatchet and other stuff.  I was thinking I had enough to survive for 2, maybe 3 nights.  But, I could not last that long on one canteen of water.  It was hot and humid.  I was drinking just enough to keep my throat wet.  I still thought my father and the rest of the party would find me that first night in the woods.  So, I decided I would make a "lean-to."  I did not want to sleep out in the open air.  

I made the lean-to and thought I would not be in it for long.  Turns out, I was in that lean-to for 3 nights.  The first night, I started up a large fire.  Here is something to remember, if you think you have enough wood for the night, get two more piles just like it.  You will be amazed how much wood you can burn though in one night.  I had my grandpa's old cigarette lighter that he wanted me to have upon his death.  I really wished my late grandfather was with me.    I ate one of the 5 MRE's I had.  It was lousy, I remember that.  But, it was full of calories, which is what I needed.  The big problem was water.  The next morning, when I woke up, I saw flocks of birds over some tall pine trees.  I remember what my grandpa taught me, if you see flocks of birds staying in one area, there is bound to be a water source somewhere.  He was right.  I found a small stream about 100 yards from where I had built my lean-to.  So, I drank all the water in my canteen.  But, I realized I needed to boil that water from the stream.  How was I going to do it?  Luckily, the canteen was made of steel.  I did not know how much heat it could take before it would pop a thread.  Again, I was blessed beyond belief as that old canteen took a lot of heat.  So, my routine was to boil water, drink as much as I could, and yell every hour (I also had my grandpa's old railroad watch)  One of the things grandpa also told me was to stay in one place if I was ever lost out in the woods.  We frequently went hiking deep in the woods in Mississippi in back of his old log cabin.

So, this was my routine for 3 days and nights until I was found about 11PM on the third night of being lost.  I have purposely left out all the details of each night.  That would take up more space than the two parts that I had promised the owner of this blog.  I was found by Georgia Emergency Rescue.  I had heard a helicopter over head and, apparently, they saw my fire.  My father was so happy to see me, he did not say one word to me in anger (that came about 3 days later).  My father never took me hiking again as a result of this incident.  That was my punishment.  He and the rest of the hiking party would complete the Georgia-North Carolina Appalachian Trail the next summer.  I was left at home.  I cried about it.  But, I had no one to blame but myself. 

In the second and final part, I will give you ideas on how to survive if you find yourself lost in the woods.  I have become something of an amateur survivalist since that incident so many years ago.  The second part of this series will be posted Friday morning.  If you have any questions on this post, please feel free to ask.

Ted Danielson                 click here for part II


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