"Thurviving" in the Woods

A time Mother Nature wasn’t on your side...

Dan Nederhoed | 8/15/23

It was my turn to use the hatchet we brought on our 4 man camping trip. Well, aspiring men. My friend Joey and I were 18 and my brother, William, and his friend Cody were 20. We didn’t know better at the time, but the hatchet was dull and my swings were not chipping through the 9 inch tree trunk very well. 10 swings later, I passed the hatchet to Joey, as I pant for breath and roll out my shoulder to make sure any soreness doesn’t linger.

All four of us were aspiring wilderness men. Inspired by Bear Grylls’ intellect, creativity, and resourcefulness, we were on this trip to use our hands and limited supplies to survive, no thrive, in the Manistee National Forest of West Michigan. We wanted to live off the land and make our shelters with minimal modern amenities. My brother and Cody had done a similar trip the year before that ended up, per their definition, being a raging success. They led the team this year and outlined our plan of action. The first step of our “thurvival” was to catch some fish for our dinner, which was why we were trying to chop the tree down. It was our only chance to get access to the little, marsh surrounded, lake we found from our google map aerial view.

“All we have to do is create a little dock!” my brother said, an hour before. “It will be easy. Then we catch a few fish and feast like champions.”

“Ooh! And we can chop off branches and push them into the lake bed for walking sticks! Maybe, peel some bark and use it to tie sticks together and we can make handrails along the dock!” I said.

My brother and I always had big ideas. This one was not going to come to fruition though. By the time we chopped the tree down and got it out into the water, our fishing time was running short. We still needed to set up camp before it got dark. After walking out as far as possible on our newly constructed dock (hand railing to come with a later phase), my brother and Cody concluded our fishing option was not feasible. The cattails and shrubbery extended further than we expected and the dock didn’t get us far enough out. Not wanting to be defeated, Joey, took his turn walking out with his fishing pole and tried to cast into the water. “Not even close” he called out.

Hungry and frustrated, we made our way back to my parents GMC Yukon and our camp site.

We all pulled out our hammocks, string, tarps and sleeping bags. No tents for us young cubs. The set up was simple. Hammocks first, the string a few feet above that, and the tarp draped over the string to keep any potential moisture off of us. Last we checked, no rain was scheduled, plus, the clouds did not look like rain was coming. We would be good for the night. After eating a lightly salted fire roasted potato, some warmed canned beans, and fireside chats of adventure, dreams, and wild animals, we all settled into our dry and warm hammocks for the night. Overhead and out of sight, dark clouds began to form and roll towards our camp.

I was first woken up by the sound of large raindrops hitting my blue plastic roof. I then realized the dampness of the top of my sleeping bag. The large storm was fully on top of us now and it was coming down hard. The string that held up my tarp and the strings of my hammock were soaked and water was running down them both to where I was still trying to figure out if I could stick out this second test of manhood or if I should run to the safety of our Yukon. That decision didn’t take long. I hate loosing but I hate being cold even more.

“Will! Joey!” I called out. “Are you guys up?”

“Yuuup” they both responded.

“What do you think?? should we all cozy up in the Yukon?”

“Yea, I think we should. This rain is not going to let up and we don’t need to get sick on the first night out here” my brother said.

You didn’t have to tell me twice! I was now racing to get to the Yukon first so I could secure the best spot possible and minimize how wet my clothes got.

“Who locked the door??” I yelled!

“What?? Ughhh” Looks like Cody is right there knocked out” Will said. It turned out, after our conversations about wild animals, Cody got scared. He laid in his hammock terrified that a bear would come out of the forest and personally target him. And being a man of action, he decided to get up, leave the three of us as bait, and secure a safe space in the passenger seat of our Yukon, locking the doors to ensure no especially intelligent bear could open it and get him while he slept.

The cold rain drops poured on our heads soaking into our shoulders and pitter-pattered-on the car exterior. The noise of the rain on the car drowned out Will’s fists banging on the windows and his voice yelling at Cody to “WAKE UPPP! COOOODDYYY!!!”

After what felt like forever, Cody finally heard us, and, while laughing at us for being stuck in the rain, he let us into safety. Will, being the oldest and the leader, sacrificed by taking the driver seat. While Joey and I got the prime spots in the back of the yukon. We folded down the seats so we could lay fully out and nearly flat. Ahhh, dryness and warmth.  Modern amenities felt so good!

The rain kept pittering and pattering on the roof of our Yukon as the storm slowly rolled past our half built dock and now empty hammocks swinging freely in the wind. Nature 2, under prepared kids, 0.

In the morning, we packed up. “We made a mistake picking this location” Will said. “This lake sucks. I want to be able to fish”. 

“Yea, you’re right.” We eventually all agreed. “Lets go to the spot we were at last year, Cody?” my brother asked, and looked inquisitively, with his eyebrows raised, at the rest of us.

With only a little bit of pushback from Joey, who still wanted to try to make this location work for us, we decided to cut our losses. We packed up the Yukon and drove away, leaving behind the brush covered attempt at a dock, cold and wet coles in our fire pit, and a little bit of my ambition to master the wilderness. I still thought Bear Grylls was really cool and the people that are like him. Though, I learned I didn’t want to put in the practice to be one of those people. Good food brought from a supermarket and a dry and warm place to sleep would be my minimum from now on.