Survival skills on display
A friend of mine and I were chatting about the upcoming tour in Alaska and she suggested I have adventures like the couple on the Discovery Channel show ‘Man, Woman, Wild.’
The TV show basically shows off survival skills of Mykel Hawke, a former US Army Special Forces survival expert, and his television journalist wife, Ruth England. They have to start fires with sticks, eat plants and insects and it’s all set in extreme conditions like the frozen tundra of the Arctic or a danger-at-every-turn rainforest.
He calls her darling a lot and while you feel they’re in the mix, it’s easy to note there’s a whole TV crew within arms reach.
Anyway, it’s a lot of staged drama – but my friend likes it. I said I had true adventure, like during my 2010 tour from Austin, Texas to Wisconsin. Below is a retelling of the experience.
West, Texas – The Senate in Austin passed a bill to legalize noodling, an old southern tradition where Texans catch catfish with their bare hands. Noodling actually involves catching a catfish by finding its underwater den, sticking your hand inside the hole, and when the fish latches on to your arm with its mouth then you haul it out.
One comment among lawmakers during debate on the bill – would noodling with your feet be legal?
On Saturday, I had a nice surprise while sitting outside a grocery in the small town of West, Texas.
A pair of teens, Taylor and Bailey, asked me about the tour and then invited me to go fishing.
We kept it old school, and used poles.
Taylor was a high school junior who wore skinny jeans, a tame Mohawk and liked punk rock.
Bailey was a high school senior, had green spear earrings and a bit of a wanna-be-rebel attitude.
Both were naturally good hearted. We got to the fishing hole in Taylor’s old Plymouth. We had to rearrange a bit – in order to push my bike in the trunk I had to agree to hold a chair in my lap in the front seat. We also ALL had to lean forward in the vehicle while going up a hill. “Added momentum,” according to Taylor.
Topics of discussion that afternoon ran the gamut from music, to college, to dreams of moving to Colorado.
While fishing we reeled in about a dozen healthy bluegill and then Taylor said, “You can spend the night at my house.”
The whole setup felt so comfortable, I didn’t hesitate to say yes.
We drove about seven miles to the small town of Aquilla, Texas where there was a welcome wagon of seven puppies.
My first red flag popped up when I entered the home and there was the “sweet smell” that uncles Cheech and Chong just left.
And there was Taylor’s mom; I think this was the first she was hearing of her house guest.
It was about 7:30 p.m. and there was still some light left; I grabbed my gloves and headed for my bike.
The drama started as Taylor’s mom came out onto the porch and yelled, “It’s OK Hun, you can stay.”
Then she doppled over to my bike and with glassy eyes explained how she wasn’t sure if “that-damn-Matt’s going to shine around” and she just didn’t want any trouble.
Turns out “that-damn-Matt” was a kid who grew up in the house, but later got into some personal trouble and now was on the run from the law.
Taylor and Bailey were extremely reassuring – everything would be fine – and there was fish to eat, so I reluctantly stayed.
With everybody hungry, the homemade fish dinner quickly changed to pizza and ice cream.
I felt like I was at a party for a five-year-old.
With the edginess on the evening subsiding, we relaxed with a bit of King-of-the-Hill therapy, and I was ready to turn in for the night.
Taylor showed me to my bedroom. “How do you like this bed,” he said pulling on the metal-pipe headboard. “We got it out of an insane asylum.” The bed was industrial.
“Just kidding,” said Taylor. “We pulled it off the curb.”
Taylor had a unique personality, he liked to kid. When we were having pizza, he didn’t take any. After a couple minutes, I asked him if he was eating. “Yeah, I’m just waiting. I put poison on the pizza and forgot which half……. just kidding,” he said and loped into the kitchen to grab a plate.
It was prickly humor and it made my eye twitch.
I retired for the night to my One-Flew-Over-the- Cuckoo’s-Nest bedroom. Within a half hour of going to bed my fingers started cramping, I guess I was clutching my pepper spray and flashlight too tight. I flipped the covers on the bed to get more comfortable and heard something like a battery fall to the floor. Managed to find it right away; my bad – it was a bullet.
I stewed; it was one more stake in my flagging morale. I finally brought it to Taylor who was still watching TV. “You found that here? Swear to God we don’t even have a ……” and he stopped mid-sentence.
“That-damn-Matt,” said Taylor.
After a lot of consoling, Taylor and Bailey said everything would be fine. I needed a beer, or 12. I went back to bed and looked to lock the door, but there was no lock. Matter of fact, there wasn’t even a doorknob. An orange sock hung through the hole. I shook my head, put my faith in prayer and pepper spray, and lay down for the night in front of the door.
This was now crazy with a side of crazy.
My friends asked if I thought about leaving, and I did, every hour – 1 o’clock, 2 o’clock….
At 2:30 a.m. I heard the front door slam and shot up in bed.
I listened and before I knew it my bedroom door opened and I was face to face with “That-Damn-Matt”.
I stood up and in that moment Matt went wide-eyed and found religion. “A lady in my bedroom – Thank you Jesus,” he said with a heavy drawl that sounded like Spicoli swallowed a Texan.
Then he let go a low Beavis-and-Butthead laugh.
That-damn-Matt looked 12 years old. He had a round face, shaggy bowl haircut, and said he was ready to party. I was taller, Matt was quick to point out I was older, and I was in no mood. I quickly set my boundaries using my no-nonsense voice, which included dibs on the bedroom. I turned, closed the door and flipped the sock-lock in disgust.
I spent the rest of the night with one eye open and making frequent surveillance trips with my water bottle to the kitchen. During one trip I grabbed a fillet knife off the counter and slept with it under my pillow.
At 5:30 a.m. I left with the thought, it’s all part of the adventure.