For those of you with short lunch breaks—those of you who are "busy" and making faces at your laughing colleagues who are also "busy" but don't take themselves as seriously—I shall save you some time. Would I be able to survive in the wild? Almost certainly not.
This question is being posed because I went to a Bear Grylls Survival Academy recently in support of a film called The Revenant, in which Leonardo DiCaprio grunts and bleeds a lot across the state of Dakota in the mid 19th century. It's a good film; go see it if you have enough money.
The boot camp was a press trip, so what was originally—I'm sure—meant to be a test of my steely determination and wiles in the great outdoors turned into a slightly awkward team building exercise with people I'd never seen before and will never see again. This is the nature of the press trip, though usually you don't have to attempt to build a stretcher with your fellow journalists.
It took place in the historic grounds of Luton Hoo, a posh hotel that has tapestries on the walls and fat old blokes sat on lovely chairs talking quietly about evil, no doubt. I thought it would be good to rate how competent I was at each respective task out of ten. I'm a pretty honest guy, so you don't have to worry about me being a dick and saying I could smash a wolf's skull in with just my ball bag and an elastic band. Let's begin.
GETTING DIRTY TO CONFUSE AVIAN POISONERS
Apparently if you smear mud all over your face it's harder for mosquitos to smell you out and riddle your body with malaria. I think I got an injection for malaria once when I was a child, so this is basically a fucking useless, messy inconvenience. The event was being run by a bunch of friendly lads who were all ex-military to some degree. As I'd missed out on getting a partner with one of the other content lawnmowers, one of the outdoorsmen treated me to a face mask that I'm guessing comprised mostly of goose cum and rain water. Nevertheless, I took it like a boss. No mosquitos were going to turn me into a statistic. No sir. Not today.
HOW DID I COPE WITH THIS CHALLENGE?: 9/10
PROTECT YOURSELF FROM BEARS
Next up we had to learn how to defend ourselves from oncoming grizzly bear attacks. In the movie The Revenant (out in theaters now; the Telegraph's Robbie Collins calls it "an extraordinary, blood-summoning, sinew-stiffening ride") main character Hugh Glass is mauled half to death by a bear after trying to blow the heads off two cute bear cubs. The advice we were given in this event was to crouch and sort of thrash our hands around. I'll be honest: I think as soon as the bear's claw penetrates my soft stomach tissue and my little organs start to peek out I might just call it quits and let it have me. I had to try to attack the same guy who put the mud on my face. I didn't really want to—I don't like even jovial confrontation with strangers, and he kind of has to be really happy and act like he's having loads of fun or else I'll feel weird. But I felt weird anyway. And I wasn't very good at it either. Perhaps the same sense of awkward anxiety will pervade my near-fatal encounters with the many predators lurking in the lush grounds of this stately home. I hope not.
HOW DID I COPE WITH THIS CHALLENGE?: 6/10
BUILD A FIRE
Next up was a trifecta of tasks, split between the group. They were: build a fire, build a shelter, and gather water. I thought fire was my bag, so I, along with another of my journalistic brothers, attempted to start the fire. After all, as the guides said, there could be "westerners" nearby to save me from my plight. As expected, my proficiency at lighting and maintaining a small fire on damp foliage—even when given all the necessary tools to complete the task—was dire. The guy who I had the awkward slapping game with had to basically do all the work, and was talking to us like a patient yet clearly frustrated elementary school teacher trying to tell a six-year-old not to lick the snot leaking from their nose.
HOW DID I COPE WITH THIS CHALLENGE?: 3/10
BUILD A STRETCHER AND CARRY SOMEONE UP A FUCKING HILL
This is the task that broke me. It was a horrendously stark reminder of my incredible levels of unfitness. I am a pampered, media-class princeling. My email account is full of Uber receipts. I am a horrible, terrible human being and I would die very quickly in the real world. We had to fashion a stretcher from wood and ropes and put my mate from the mud and the play fighting and the fire on it. He was becoming a large fixture in my life, and I began to wonder what it would be like without him. Cold and lonely? Unsafe and frightening? We lifted him on and devised a way to carry him. But this being a boot camp-style situation, we had to run with him. This sent agony through my arms and legs. My lungs were frozen and my body was ready to give out. Everyone else seemed to be fine, and there I was, covered in mud thinking my left arm was about to break under the weight of a not massive man. It was completely pathetic.
HOW DID I COPE WITH THIS CHALLENGE?: 1/10
STALKING (NOT REAL STALKING)
While I was still convalescing from my mild exercise, a new challenge was put forth. We were to engage in the act of stalking, quietly moving through the trees and branches to catch our prey by surprise. We were taught four different stances to help us remain undetected. My favorite was the "monkey" one, because it meant I didn't have to lie down on the fucking floor, unlike the "worm" one seen above. We had to try to sneak up on the action lads without them seeing us, using these techniques. I just went around the long way, thinking every branch I stepped on was loud enough to alert all sentient life in the vicinity. Luckily it wasn't and I managed the feat with expert poise.
HOW DID I COPE WITH THIS CHALLENGE?: 7/10
TOMAHAWK THROWING CONTEST
Welp, I have my prey in my sights, guess I better slaughter it with a fucking tomahawk, right guys? Using a tomahawk is like throwing a knife block at something and hoping the knives fall out in the right place. (It was also the weapon of choice of the native Americans, who feature heavily in the 2016 revenge thriller The Revenant—a film you should go see, currently showing in a theater near you.) Nevertheless, part of my day included a competition in which we had to throw this bizarre weapon at a laminated silhouette of a bear. My practice throws yielded no results. But when it came to the competition, an animalistic urge took over me. I whacked two whole tomahawks into the fucker and won the contest. Here is a photo of me looking smug while the other journalists smouldered with jealousy:
For this I won myself a Bear Grylls Survival Academy Instructor T-shirt. It was a lovely prize, though if I were to instruct the survival of anyone, they would most likely perish before I had finished my third sentence.
HOW DID I COPE WITH THIS CHALLENGE?: 10/10
Back at the magnificently-appointed stately home, it was time to eat some bugs. I ate a water beetle (very salty, fragrant, and dead) and a mealworm larvae (tasteless, alive, and bursts when chewed). Apparently there's more than enough protein and carbs in these motherfuckers to keep me alive for a couple of days. I refused to twist the head off a grasshopper because I'm not too down with stuff like that, but I imagine as my hunger delirium sets in I'd be prepared to tear the throat from a kitten just to have a go at the sweet meats therein.
HOW DID I COPE WITH THIS CHALLENGE?: 6/10
In conclusion, it appears that I, Joe Bish, would not be very good at surviving in the wild. Even with relatively comfortable accoutrements, like wool and batteries and ropes and tomahawks, I wouldn't be long for the maggots.
Shout outs to Hugh Glass, though. He managed it. I raise a glass to you, Hugh Glass, whose story is the subject of The Revenant, starring Leonardo DiCaprio and Tom Hardy, and directed by Alejandro González Iñárritu, in theaters now.
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