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Experiencing ‘Alone’: Part II Survival and preparedness: The tactical tools and psychological approach to staying alive

By AARON BRENIMAN

Published on June 17, 2017 12:37AM

Workshop participants at Hug Point during the Experience “Alone” wilderness living and survival skills workshop held near Nehalem.

Photo by Aaron Breniman

Workshop participants at Hug Point during the Experience “Alone” wilderness living and survival skills workshop held near Nehalem.

Alan Kay demonstrates producing fire using the hand-drill technique, one of many tools available in a survival scenario.

Submitted photo

Alan Kay demonstrates producing fire using the hand-drill technique, one of many tools available in a survival scenario.

Workshop host Nicole Apelian, who finished fourth in the second season of History’s “Alone.”

Submitted photo

Workshop host Nicole Apelian, who finished fourth in the second season of History’s “Alone.”

Nicole Apelian squeezes the herb-infused oils used to make her all-purpose healing salve during a salve-making presentation.

Photo by Aaron Breniman

Nicole Apelian squeezes the herb-infused oils used to make her all-purpose healing salve during a salve-making presentation.

Workshop topics included trap building, setting and fine-tuning triggers to allow for passive energy food collection during wilderness living and survival situations.

Photo by Aaron Breniman

Workshop topics included trap building, setting and fine-tuning triggers to allow for passive energy food collection during wilderness living and survival situations.

Alan Kay stokes the fire during evening conversations on survival, preparedness and reflections on life after being on the ‘Alone.’

Photo by Aaron Breniman

Alan Kay stokes the fire during evening conversations on survival, preparedness and reflections on life after being on the ‘Alone.’

Workshop participants collect muscles from Hug Point.

Photo by Aaron Breniman

Workshop participants collect muscles from Hug Point.


This is part II of our Experience ‘Alone’ series. Part I focused on the duo who ran the workshop; this installment focuses on the workshop itself, recently held near Nehalem.

When I first saw History’s hit show “Alone,” I wanted to know more about the contestants, what they learned and how the experience changed them.

The show features 10 contestants dropped off in the remote ruggedness of Vancouver Island, British Columbia, in a who-can-stay-the-longest reality survival competition. Contestants bring limited survival equipment and film themselves.

When I learned that two of the show’s contestant were hosting an “Experience Alone” wilderness skills workshop deep in the foothills of the Oregon Coast Range, just outside of Nehalem, I knew I had to get there.

The contestants: Alan Kay, a former Georgia corrections officer and self-defense instructor, who outlasted the other nine contestants in the show’s first season; and Nicole Apelian, a scientist, mother, educator, expeditionary leader, safari guide, herbalist and traditional skills instructor who finished fourth on Season No. 2.

Apelian splits her time between the Nehalem property and her Portland home. Diagnosed with MS in 1999, she found a deep connection to nature as a path toward healthy living.

“The last 15 years I’ve been doing pretty well, and I still have episodes. Things still creep up, and what I usually do is go back to the woods,” she said.

During the immersive five-day workshop, I and the other participants deep-dived into survival psychology.

“I think we’re capable of so much more than we give ourselves credit for,” Kay said. “We don’t realize how strong we really are. We’re survival machines.”


Fire starters


Guests converged on the property: A mother from Vancouver, Washington; a former marine and safety consultant, also from Vancouver; a yoga instructor and student from Wyoming; a survival school owner from South Carolina; and a primitive skills instructor from Sandy, Oregon.

We spent the first night huddled around the wood stove inside the Soapstone cabin getting to know each other, eating and drinking tea and wine as rain pounded the tin roof. The conversation lasted for hours; Kay and Apelian told fascinating stories of their time on Vancouver Island.

The next morning, during a downpour, the pair went through fire-making techniques, including the use of a hand-drill and bow-drill; selecting and drying tinder; and collecting and feathering wood.

As Kay demonstrated the hand-drill, smoke emerged quickly and a tinder was soon lit.

“Man’s controlling of fire began all of it,” he said. “Industrial Revolution, technology, smoke food, hides — it all rapidly began to evolve with harnessing fire.”

For the rest of us, it wasn’t so easy. Our hands were soon torn and blistered. The smoke came easily enough, but maintaining consistent speed and pressure proved more challenging than any of us expected.

At last, we had a spark and our tinder flared. We smiled at each other, feeling accomplished.

But Kay warned: “Just because you can, doesn’t mean you should. Can I rub sticks together and make fire? You’ve seen me do it, but it sucks. So we use what we can carry to be prepared.”


Tides, shelter, traps


The weekend’s best weather came during our Hug Point excursion, when we collected muscles and identified plants, tools and other items of value in an intertidal zone.

Apelian pointed out tidal marine life and flora, while Kay focused on resources that make such environments so rich in survival situations: washed up rope, trash such as water bottles, floats and other plastics, for example.

Both leaders stressed the importance of a multifaceted diet. On the show, they ate fish, kelp, seaweed, crabs, mushrooms and various plant life, and banana slugs. (Yes, banana slugs.)

In their respective seasons, Kay and Apelian lived in lean-to shelters, a skill that takes years to master.

“If you’re learning how to do this stuff when you really need to, it’s too late,” Kay said as the group built shelters among the massive stumps of hundred-year-old old growths that dominate the north end of the property.

We also built deadfall traps, which typically incorporate logs or rocks and are baited using a trigger to trap small rodents, squirrels and birds.

Compared to hunting or fishing, trapping can be a vital food source while conserving your time and energy.

“Traps are great for passive food collection,” Kay said. “It’s a numbers game: You place some traps, go to sleep and conserve energy, collect fuel or water. Traps strangle, mangle, tangle and dangle.”

The workshop’s goal, Apelian said, is to make people feel more confident in survival situations, whether in the woods or in a natural or man-made disaster.

“I want them to have the tools in their toolbox,” she said. “There’s no substitute for actually getting your hands dirty and doing the hands-on training.”

Aaron Breniman is a writer, outdoor enthusiast, search-and-rescue member and communications consultant living in Portland, when he’s not backpacking, fishing or chasing sunrises. Follow him on Twitter at @aaronbreniman or on Instagram at @akbnpdx.









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