Struck down by a bad case of the flu, I almost bailed out on my Trump-inspired survival course. But then I realized: A post-apocalyptic world filled with bad hombres waits for no common cold.
I'm here because it's the US presidential election next week, and Trump could win. As Clinton's campaign continues to be plagued by issues regarding her use of a private email server, Trump is making gains: One recent poll gives Clinton a mere one-point lead.
In that context, going on a survival course in preparation for a Trump presidency looks more and more like an extremely chill and rational thing to do. The Republican presidential hopeful has shown himself to have poor impulse control. When reaching for the nuclear launch button, who knows what else he might accidentally grab?
To use a sex analogy, Trump is that creepy guy you're fucking who's probably shooting blanks, but you stick a condom on just in case.
Plus, I'm not the type to fare well in a post-apocalyptic scenario. I have no expertise with a deadly weapon, and cannot run far or fast. Being a woman of Middle Eastern descent, I'm also the wrong ethnicity and gender—Trump's policies aren't exactly known to favor women or Muslims. I don't know how to forage for food or fight off a mob of Twinks for Trumps. Coming on this survival course snaps a metaphoric prophylactic around the Trump presidency and says, "Fuck it, unending nuclear winter—I'm ready for you."
Read more: Learning How to Orgasm Without Any Touching
Assisting me in my attempts to avoid capture is Gary Johnston, who's leading my survival training. Johnston is the founder of Jack Raven Bushcraft, which runs immersive bushcraft courses in the Kent countryside.
Usually, survivalists—my research indicates—present as misogynistic types who like to collect pocket knives and masturbate into condoms, according to this fun survival thread. Not all survivalists, I learn. Johnston is a legend. He has kind eyes like a wise owl and is sexy in the way that only truly practical men can be sexy. I'm inclined to trust him because he has crumpled up hands, like empty crisp packets. You should never trust a man with tiny, plump little hands.
Most importantly, though, Johnston is a reality TV fan. "You watch all these survival shows and the boys always end up doing worse than the girls," he opines. "Have you seen that show Naked and Afraid? Well the bloke in that got sunstroke and the girl looks after him." Most things, I learn, can be related back to Naked and Afraid.
Johnstone collects my photographer and I in an SUV at a rural railway station in the Kent countryside and drives us across a field full of squabbling pheasants. Deep in woodland, it's time to begin training. Incredibly, it turns out I've been training for a post-apocalyptic nuclear world my whole life, without even realizing. "If you look at the statistics, in a survival situation you'll typically have three days before you die or get caught," Johnston explains. "Anything you can do to conserve energy will help you prolong that time. So it's about thinking of the easiest or laziest way of doing things." Being a corner-cutting lazy slob is actually an asset for my survival CV.
First, we learn about grab bags. Any good survivalist has one ready to go in case of emergency: They're filled with all the basic essentials you need to survive on the run, but light enough to carry.
It's important your grab bag is unobtrusive: "It's a bit like Fight Club," Johnston advises. "You don't talk about your grab bag. This is not the time to advertise you've got useful things on you. You want to be a gray woman, just blending into the background." He recommends getting something cheap looking: This Ivanka Trump backpack should do the job.
Here are the things you need to put in your grab bag: Medical kit, a fire-starting kit (more on this later), a pen knife and a bigger, carbonized steel knife, food, string, a stove and a metal pot to boil water in, a compass and map, head torch, a waterproof poncho, binoculars, water purification tablets, an emergency bag, a tarpaulin, and super-strong weed to take the edge off the stress of the apocalypse (kidding, the smell would attract attention).
Counterintuitively, you don't want to fill your grab bag with food. "You can go three weeks without food. It's not something you really need to worry about." Any food you take needs to be high energy: chocolate bars, nuts, and oatcakes.
"A knife is probably going to be your most useful tool," Johnston advises. "Me, I'd prefer an axe, but I'm used to them. Don't tie your knife to a stick like you see in movies, that's just dumb. If you want to attack someone just sharpen the stick and use that instead."
By this point I feel like I may be a little in love with Johnston, so I do what I normally do when I'm testing men I like: I bring up the topic of menstruation.
Johnston is unfazed.
"You'd probably want to put some tampons in the bag, otherwise there's a moss called Sphagnum cymbifolium, or blood moss, which is absorbent and has antibacterial properties," he responds matter-of-factly.
Rubbing two sticks together is an amateur move.
Once you've got your grab bag ready, you need to have a plan in place for when everything turns to shit. If you're reading this to the whistle of air raid sirens with news of the Orange One's presidency securely broadcasting from the basement of Trump Towers, you're fucked.
"If shit happens and you think, 'What do I do?' It's already too late," Johnston warns. "Have a plan in place. Get out of built-up areas, and get away from people. That's where the carnage will be initially. Bear in mind that lots of other people will have the same idea, so you can bet the entire transport infrastructure will be blocked up."
Remember the scene in Deep Impact where Elijah Wood overtakes all the people who will shortly die stuck in traffic on his nifty moped and manages to get to high ground? Let that be your guide.
Preparation over, it's time to go foraging for food. At this point I wrote down a list of herbs and plants you're able to eat, but you don't care about that really, do you? Basically avoid mushrooms and red berries and you'll be okay, until you starve to death, when you won't be.
Here's a picture of Willow, Johnston's adorable Labrador instead.
"There's an acronym: protection, location, acquisition, and navigation," Johnston explains. "Protection could be physical protection—getting away from a built up area. Or it could be protecting yourself against the elements by putting on a waterproof coat. But the most important thing is normally to get a fire lit."
Starting and maintaining a fire will mostly stop you dying a cold, damp, miserable death. Apparently, rubbing two sticks is an amateur move best left to the bros on Naked and Afraid. The stuff in Johnston's fire starter kit is mostly crap you have in your handbag anyway: Cotton wool, Vaseline, or anti-bacterial hand gel, lighters, and matches.
Like rolling the perfect joint, building fires takes practice. "I always say, 'Don't let the first time you try something be the time your life depends on it,'" Johnston intones seriously, wad of cotton wool in hand. "Practice in advance." In order to build a fire, you need to collect a fuck-ton of wood ("three times as much as you think you need, then more if it's wet"), as well as kindling (little dried out twigs, basically).
Arrange your wood in size order from smallest to biggest. Lay down a bed of medium sized twigs (It's important to have your wood off the ground), then form a "V" shape on top with two overlapping, slightly bigger logs. Put kindling across the "V" shape. Now, get your cotton wool and smear it with Vaseline or anti-bacterial gel (they make the cotton wool more flammable.) Poke the cotton wool into the middle of the "V" shape, light it on fire and—hopefully—the flames should go up. Once the fire's burning, pile the biggest logs on top of it.
Word of warning: My fire looked massive and only burned for about 15 minutes. You're going to need a lot of wood.
The main thing I learn in the course of my day with Johnston is that survival is fucking hard. That's not intended to sound trite: Working as an individual, rather than in a unit, makes everything infinitely more time-consuming and difficult.
"If you can have your escape plan in conjunction with other people—ideally ten to 15—that's optimal," Johnston advises. "This lone wolf survival thing isn't going to pay off. There's the physical element of it—as in there's lots to do—so having someone to share the workload with is going to help. But it's the emotional and mental side of it as well, having that support network."
Finally, Johnston and I make a shelter. We unpack the tarpaulin, find two sturdy trees and tie it between. Pegging the base of the tarpaulin to the ground with two bits of wood, I tape the reflective blanket to the back of the tarp (to reflect heat off the fire) and sit on an unfurled emergency bag.
It's okay, with the fire on my face and Willow for company—until the fire dies out and I'm cold and achy again. Clearly, life on the run is not a sustainable option, although I'd still rather take my chances in a post-apocalyptic world with a pointy stick than hole up in a bunker with senior Republicans.
I resolve to encourage all my US-based friends to vote Clinton.
Safely ensconced on the train back to London, I reflect on something Johnston said. "The more time I spend out in the woods, the more I realize that you just can't do these things alone. You have to be part of a community."
In a post-Brexit, Trump-dominated political landscape, it's easy to feel like we're all moving further apart. Isolationism, suspicion, and distrust of our neighbors are the guiding principles of our modern world order. But, as a species and as a nation, we're only truly great when we work collectively. Like coming together on November 8 to use pen and paper—not fire and pointy stick—to defeat an orange-hued malevolent force once and for all.