*Heads up! A few well-placed f-bombs below.*
My husband and I watch that show on the Discovery Channel called “Naked and Afraid.“
We’re fascinated by the whole thing. We marvel at how people are able to survive in some obscure jungle for 21 days straight with nothing on their backs or feet.
No food, no water, no shelter. Nothing.
When we watch, we always talk about what we would do in every given situation, because, you know, we have so much experience and could totally do it. It’s easy to be an outsider looking in, solving their problems with our own delusional and unproven survival strategies. Of course we wouldn’t drink that sketchy water! Of course we would eat all those bugs—they’re a good source of protein!
But could we do any of it for real?
We decided to do a little experiment to find out if we had what it takes to survive…naked and afraid.
We agreed to attempt to survive one night alone (because, you know, one night is totally the same as 21), stranded in our backyard (a dangerous, sort of desolate location if you count the dead grass), without food, water or shelter. And yes, we would do it completely naked.
Let’s get one thing straight. Whenever I’m naked, I’m afraid—period. That’s just a fact of life for me, and this challenge would prove to be quite daunting. My husband has no issues whatsoever strutting around the house bare-assed like it’s his job, but alas, I do not possess such confidence.
In accordance with the show, we put into place two major rules:
1. No clothes, and we couldn’t go back into our house for any reason.
2. We were allowed one survival item each.
My item was a big sleeping bag (having already formed the brilliant strategy to just zip that sucker up and wait it out). After giving it some thought, my husband chose a six-pack of Sierra Nevada, which technically doesn’t count as one item, but he tends to know exactly what he will need in any given situation.
Next up was determining our PSR, or Primitive Survival Rating. This is based on predictions and observations of survival fitness in skill, experience and mental strength. With my childhood camping experiences on Lake Candlewood (where my parents did everything while I played with my Barbie Camper inside our big family tent), my PSR came in at a definitive 1.8. I’m mildly familiar with wood gathering, and I know a snake when I see one. My husband, a sturdy tall person who enjoyed a bit of day hiking in his younger years, received a rating of 3.0, mainly because it seemed about right. He can’t start a fire without matches, and has a higher-than-average aversion to being uncomfortable.
In our new roles as survivalists, we smartly decided to wait until after dinner to begin what was sure to become the “adventure” of a lifetime. Here are our notes from the field:
Hour 1. 75 degrees. Dusk.
After second helpings of burgers and macaroni salad—a meal designed to help us get through a long, dark night—we stripped down and retrieved the items we were allowed to bring. A quick tickle fight ensued that came recklessly close to ending in tears and hard feelings. As the sun began to set, we set forth into our backyard, not knowing what to expect or where the night would take us. Our backyard is fairly private. I mean, for the most part. We tried not to worry about it too much. I wrapped the giant sleeping bag protectively around my body and began to think, “boy, this is going to suck.” But I knew we had no choice but to become familiar with our surroundings. I had high hopes that our instincts, survival skills and intestinal fortitude would serve us well.
Hour 1.25. 75 degrees. Still dusk.
Almost immediately, we both felt dehydrated. My husband popped open two Sierra Nevada’s, patting himself on the back over his choice of survival item. We trekked precariously through our backyard, toward our detached garage, where we happened upon a small cluster of lawn chairs. My husband’s survivalist instincts kicked in, and he suggested that we lay them on their sides, creating a circular “base camp” shelter for the evening. I painstakingly untied the cushions and laid them inside the circle. This would become our bed for the night.
Hour 1.50. 74 degrees. Darkish.
I was exhausted, but the real first order of business for me was covering up. While my husband was busy putting the final touches on our base camp and twisting the cap off his second beer (and lying there on the sleeping bag like Burt Reynolds posing for Playgirl), I ventured off into the wilderness behind the shed. I deftly wove a pair of panties from the tall ornamental grasses that border our backyard. Everything was damp, and the air, rife with the unknown, was abuzz with bats and bugs. As I made my way back to camp, I couldn’t help but think about protein. And let me tell you, when your last meal was a little under two hours ago, everything you hear in the woods becomes a viable source of protein.
Hour 1.75. 74 degrees. Darker.
The arguments began. “Okay, now what?” my husband asked as we sat there, polishing off beers in our makeshift shelter. “I don’t know,” I sighed. “This is boring. I want to watch TV,” he moaned, and then, slapping his forearm he exclaimed, “something just fucking bit me!” His combative social skillset proved detrimental to the task at hand, which was to just simply sit there. But we both knew that tapping out was not an option. And bickering now would only expend the much needed energy reserves required for our treacherous extraction journey come morning.
So, we sat quietly and pondered life. There are certain truths one realizes when faced with survival circumstances. My truth is that I don’t like to be naked. Not one bit. My husband’s truth is that he doesn’t like missing a Red Sox game. And, as he would later lament, he couldn’t even get updates.
Hour 2. 73 degrees. Dark.
No one talks about the boredom. No one wants to tell you about the extreme mental toughness needed to spend time alone in your own backyard, with nothing but a sleeping bag and a six pack. People don’t mention the fear and gross factor involved when “eliminating” in the woods. Nothing prepares you for the sudden “chill” in the air when the temperature quickly drops two degrees. Or when the weird noises ensue, like a dog barking in the distance or the wind making dead branches creak. But, snuggled inside our sleeping bag, we waxed poetically about our lives and how truly lucky we are. We have two great kids, a nice family, awesome friends, and a marriage that is aging well. We nostalgically spoke of the past, and shared some thoughts about what the future might bring.
Mindful gratefulness indeed comes when two people sleep under the stars together. As we inhaled the sweet summer air, we listened to life echo around us and simply let ourselves be quiet and still for a little while. That night, we were just a couple of people “braving the elements” together—quite naked for sure, but clearly unafraid.
Hour 8. 65 degrees. Pitch Black.
Still struggling to get some sleep at three a.m., we had a good laugh and shamelessly called it quits. I had to run in the morning, and my husband had a baseball game. Our sports take precedence over silly, sleep-depriving experiments. Entering our house was like entering paradise. The warmth. The dry air. Our cell phones. Water. The toilet. Cheese and crackers. These are all the smallish big things that are too easy to take for granted.
On the actual show, the survivalists always lose weight. This is one of the things about being a survivalist that appeals to me. I hopped right onto the scale and learned that even through that whole traumatic ordeal, I had somehow gained a pound. Meanwhile, my husband, (who knocked back four of the six beers), managed to lose two. Though I demonstrated expert-level skills in panty-weaving, my PSR dropped a half point. My husband’s PSR, on the other hand, improved one whole point for bringing the beers.
Author: Kimberly Valzania
Image: Author’s Own
Editor: Toby Israel