Throughout your life, you’ll learn that things just don’t always go exactly as you had planned. It’s just one of the little inconveniences reality likes to throw at us each day. But what happens when things really start to fall apart? Where things have turned so poorly in your life that you practically have nowhere left to turn? Well, I was pushed into just that sort of situation, and I’d like to share a few things I learned the hard way over the course of that fateful year. But first, here’s a little bit of back story:
After a streak of bad luck with Mother Nature, and some behind-the-scenes meddling from a cartoon villain of a landlord, I had found myself without a home. I had offers from family members to take me in, but I didn’t want to be a burden. So where did I go? The wilderness of course! Looking back, there was no way I could have been prepared for the nightmare I faced, but thankfully that was many years ago and I’m now happily back on my feet. So why not look back on some of the horrors I faced for your entertainment?
10. Everything Is Wet All The Time
No matter how hot and dry it got out in the wilderness during the summer months, the ground would always be between slightly wet and completely flooded. If I had just been out there on a long hike, then I’m sure the cool damp ground would have been a welcoming sight after the hot and exhausting walk out into the forest, but this was the place I would be calling home for an extended period of time.
This was a problem because, as I’m sure you are aware, everything you own is currently touching the ground in some way. This meant everything — all of the supplies, blankets and other things I brought out into the forest with me — would be cold and damp by the end of the day. Including the blankets I slept in. While that might be nice when it’s 90+ degrees out, it was a totally different story when temperatures dropped down in the 50’s and 60’s at night. You could go from slightly cold to hypothermic in a snap, and you could never get used to the feeling. No matter how long you were wet for, you would always feel damp and uncomfortable. There was no ignoring it.
9. The Advancing Darkness
I’m not afraid of the dark in the slightest; you might have come to this conclusion when you read about how I decided to pack up a survival bag and live out in the forest for a while. But there’s something you really need to know. The forest wasn’t dark at night. It was impossibly dark, thanks to all the tree coverage that surrounded me. It was so dark I couldn’t see my hand in front of my face, let alone go out and try and set up my encampment or use the bathroom without some form of artificial light. And on the nights where I didn’t have a flashlight or fire? All I could do was lay down and wait until the Sun rose.
I was at least lucky in the sense that the only large things out in the forest were coyotes and mountain lions. But the odds of actually running into one of those animals were so low, that the thought never even crossed my mind. I was prepared for the worst of course, but there are much more terrifying things waiting for you out there if you ever decide to make the wilderness your home. Things you probably didn’t think about on your last camping trip. Things like …
8. The Rats
Remember when I mentioned how dark it got earlier? So dark you couldn’t see. Well the rats can see just fine, and they aren’t afraid of you at all. In fact, they’re interested in you! The smell of food is nearby and there’s a relatively warm dry spot (spoiler: the warm spot is you) out in this forest of dampness. Of course they’re going to rush your camp the moment your guard is down. Only two possible scenarios would follow after the rats found your camp, and neither was all that good.
Firstly, they would go for your food. I always had mine hung up in the air so they couldn’t get into it, but you could always hear them jumping and thrashing about trying to get at it. And even then, sometimes they would climb up the tree and drop down onto the bag if they really wanted it.
Usually though, they would just give up on that, and the true horrors would begin. While they might not be able to reach the food, they more than likely will be able to reach you. I could feel them each night, crawling across my legs and chest, nibbling away at anything they could find. I would routinely wake up in the morning with holes in my clothes and blankets, signs that they were in bed with me as I slept. There was more than one occasion where I grabbed them and threw them off of me into the darkness, but that would only ever stop them for a few minutes at best.
7. Where’s The Fire?
You’re probably thinking, “If it was pitch black and he was being attacked by rats each night, why didn’t he make a fire?” Well, I did make a fire. I made plenty of fires. But here’s the thing: maintaining fires throughout a full night is incredibly difficult, and can even be a bit dangerous if you’re not careful. And since falling asleep is pretty much the opposite of careful, you could never have a fire for an extended period of time unless you gave up sleeping.
There’s also the problem with fueling the fire. You might not be aware of this, but a fire takes a huge amount of resources to keep going into the night. I would have to constantly put more on the fire every half hour or so, just to keep it burning at a nice size. And since you can’t have all your fuel sitting next to your fire, you would have to routinely walk out into the darkness to get more from your pile. Since walking out in the dark is a good way to break an ankle or get lost, I usually only had a small fire to keep me company on the absolute worst nights.
6. Spiders: Nature’s Horrifying Wakeup Call
While I dealt with rats each night, I had a second, equally nightmarish foe to deal with in the mornings. I’ll just put it bluntly: spiders. More spiders than you’ve probably ever seen in one place before in your life. If I’ve learned one very important lesson while living out in the wilderness, it would be to shake everything out before you touch it in any way, shape, or form. I would routinely shake two or three spiders out of each one of my boots every single day.
But my shoes weren’t their only hiding place. I would find them in my pants, my jackets, shirts — even in my blankets. And the biggest ones were always in my blankets. They must have known the closer they were, the more likely they were to kill me in my nightmares. Either that or they knew I was a warm spot, just like the rats. The thing about the spiders though, is that you really shouldn’t kill them all. Sure they’re creepy as all sin, but do you see me complaining about being eaten alive by bugs? No. That’s because the spiders took care of them. I’m grateful, truly I am, but did they really have to nest in my hair in between meals?
5. Going Crazy Is A Real Possibility
While I hate to admit it, being out in these sorts of conditions really did do a number on me mentally. I might have only been out in the wilderness by myself for a few months, but the effects were extremely obvious to me. I never got to the point of eating crayons and killing teenagers who got a bit too close to the old lake, but there were a few scary problems I had to face. Namely, the hallucinations and phantom attacks.
I should probably explain before you attempt to have me locked away. After spending so long keeping my eyes open, looking for bugs or rats that might have gotten into my clothes and blankets, I started seeing them even when they weren’t there. I could never see exactly what it was, but I would see black shapes skittering around my camp and on my body.
But that was nothing compared to the attacks. Having wild, unseen terror animals crawling on you every single night can be a pretty distinct and stressful experience to deal with. The stress was so great that it got to the point that I would feel them even when they weren’t there. My body would always recoil when it happened, and it felt very real each time. Now mind you, I wasn’t on any drugs of any sort. I’ve never taken an illegal substance in my life and I don’t think I ever will, if addicts are having the same sorts of hallucinations I had.
4. Meeting Other People
Imagine living a life where every time someone walked by your house, you had to pack up all of your belongings and move as far away as possible because of the very real possibility that the person who saw your house just might rob you and kill you because they’re totally insane. While I was suffering from some slight mental illness after being out there for a few months, there are people that go decades out in the forests and streets. They aren’t all bad obviously, but these are not the sort of people you want hanging around the area where you sleep alone.
While running into other homeless people was extremely scary, there was also the mostly annoying, yet equally dangerous, possibility of kids finding your camp. As we all know from the news these days, a group of teens finding a homeless person by themselves usually ends poorly for the homeless person. While I was never attacked by anyone directly, I did have a few instances where people would smash up my camp while I was away. I’m positive that it wasn’t another homeless person doing it, because they would usually only steal things. They would never just smash up things they could use.
You probably get sick a lot throughout the year. Random colds and infections attack us every single day. For normal people, a simple trip to the hospital or a few days on NyQuil will usually clear you right up in a few days. Obviously, this is not how things work when you’re out in the wilderness. Of course, you could go to the emergency room and get the help you needed, but there was the problem of getting to said emergency room and back to your camp without any troubles.
First of all, you’re going to be sick and walking through a forest on your own. Even when you are feeling your very best, you can get disoriented and lost for days at a time. When you’re throwing up constantly and in so much pain you can’t see straight, things get a bit more tricky. And then, should you make it to the hospital, there’s the problem of your camp. While it was pretty easy to get back to once I was feeling better, there was always a chance there wouldn’t be anything left to go back to. If somebody finds your camp and you’re gone for hours or days, odds are it’ll either be scavenged or stripped bare before you get back.
2. Going Back To Society
You have to understand, this was a different time period. There once was a time where going out and trying to live in the forest wasn’t viewed as entirely insane. It is insane, obviously. Its just a lot of people were trying it back then, and since I was so fed up with how things were working in the real world I decided to try it too. It simply wasn’t for me though. Mainly because I got really sick after around six months and needed help, which is when I accepted the offer to live with my family.
But getting back into normal life was very difficult. When it came to family and friends discussing my mental situation, they compared it to a person being let out of prison. It is common for people fresh out of prison to have trouble readjusting to society and getting out of the prison mindset. I felt my situation was quite different, however. While those people are coming out of a hostile environment with rules, I was coming back from a solitary nightmare world where seeing people almost always meant trouble, and animals tried to eat me. Kind of different. It made me very cautious and untrusting of everything.
After about a month of healing and rest however, I found a job and started working on getting a home. After that, the forest part of my life was over … for the most part.
1. The Lasting Impression
It has been decades since I left the forest. I’ve got a house, a job, responsibilities — everything the average person has. I couldn’t be any farther from the forest if I tried. But the memories still linger. I’ll occasionally have nightmares where I wake up and I’m back in the forest. I also have a fear of getting lost out in the forest, and can’t be in one for more than a few hours at a time without panicking over the thought of getting lost again. And the phantom rat attacks have never stopped. They don’t happen as often as they used to, but they still happen.
Honestly, if you’re considering dropping everything in your life and just living out in the forest because you think it will be easier or because you have no choice, here’s a tip: DON’T. If life isn’t working out for you, then get help from family and friends. Don’t feel too proud or ashamed to take help when it is offered. The dangers you’d face in the forest are much worse than the guilt you would feel from taking help from someone, and the scars last quite a bit longer.
If you are still planning to do it however, as least get a group of adventurers together. Going it alone is what will really get you killed.