This article isn't on my actual experiences at Standing Rock. I'll put that together later. This is simply on some of the personal lessons which really stood out for me.
The world is HUGE. SO much bigger than we think.
I only drove halfway across the country from Reno NV to Cannonball ND. At an average of 80 mile/hr it took me 22 hours of driving each way. That’s almost 3,600 miles total!
Along the way there was so much empty space. To pass the time I was listening to Dan Carlin’s Hardcore History (an excellent podcast deeply reviewing historical events). One of the episodes covered the “Cold War” and the devastation a Thermo-Nuclear Bomb could create. The average (non tactical) one could do 10 miles by 10 miles of destruction. America has like 2,000 nukes, but lets generously say that half of them are non-tactical. That means they could do 100,000 square miles of devastation.
To compare, America has 3.797 million square miles of area. That means our nuclear arsenal could at best destroy 2.63% of our landmass if we used it with the goal of doing as much possible damage.
Now I’m not advocating for that, but America is a small part of the world. Worldwide landmass is 196.9 Square Miles! All the nukes in the world could only damage less than 1% of the worlds land.
We think in these tiny boxes of our cities, but they are truly tiny boxes. The world is big. Incredibly big.
The only city which compared between here and ND was Salt Lake. Most other cities were small like towns. None were as pretty by far. Driving into the Truckee Valley and seeing the Glow of the City in the light of the Casinos was… beautiful.
Of course… That perspective MIGHT have been tainted by an odd feature of Google to send me on side roads around cities instead of through them. ;-)
Running Water?! Holy CRAP, YES!
At camp we were lucky. We had a truck, lots of water containers and a spigot only ¼ mile away. An average of once a day 3 of us would go, fill and carry 1,000 pounds of water to the truck and then to the kitchen. How much is 1000 lbs of water? About 120 gallons… Most people in homes use about 20 gallons/day. We were using an average of 1-2 per day per person.
This morning I woke up at home and after doing my morning business I went to make breakfast. When I went to make coffee I spent a few moments marveling that I could have as much water as I wanted by simply pulling the handle… and it could be hot or cold. We only appreciate things when we don’t have them, but running water is probably the most amazing part of civilization that we don’t appreciate.
Indoor Toilets? Wonderful, but not as big as you’d think.
At camp they setup a unisex composting bathroom in a long military tent. We had about 10 stalls for everyone which surprisingly worked out fine. All tents were stove heated and the toilet tent had a large stove. At the temperatures of camp (20-40 average) the stove was barely enough to keep stuff from freezing sometimes, but despite the initial shock of cold seats (everyone was asked to sit to minimize the mess) it wasn’t too bad. The composting system was convenient and worked well when people followed the incredibly simple instructions to use the toilet normally and then cover your mess completely with sawdust from a bucket beside you. It wasn’t smelly and the grossest part was that instead of a sink to wash your hands there were containers of alcohol desanitizer which did the job pretty well.
Surviving and Living Well… Small differences, huge importance.
I came poorly prepared for the cold. My jacket wasn’t up to the task and my clothes were for dry weather cold like in Reno. Wet weather cold… its hard to describe the difference, but if you have experienced it you know what I mean. I brought my bug out bag with my emergency mylar blankets and bags, and I always carry fire, knife and a light. The normal sleeping bag wasn’t rated for the cold, but I figured that between that and the mylar bags I should be ok.
Now I knew that if things truly didn’t work out I could go buy the right stuff at the local 24 hour Walmart. This was as much of a test of my theories and preparation plan as it was a question of convenience.
What I learned was that my basic plan could help me survive, but survival and living well are a HUGE difference. Most of the others wore clothes better suited to the cold than I. Most of the others used sleeping bags better suited to the cold than I.
My first night had been in the 40-60 degree kitchen tent, and I had been perfectly comfortable on a cot with a blanket below and another one above my sleeping bag. I knew this night was going to be 34 so I just used the same setup. I woke up at 2:00am shivering in my tent with very cold feet. It took me about 10 minutes to realize I NEEDED to get up and fix this. I went to my car, got an emergency Mylar Bag and put it around my normal sleeping bag. I ended up being comfortable that night and the next with that combo. Wednesday morning it was 22 degrees out and I woke with cold feet which I took as a warning.
My goal for a long time was to ensure personal and family survival in emergencies. After experiencing this trip I think that’s a great START, but survival is not a goal, survival is a minimum acceptable standard. The people who were there with good boots, warm clothes, overalls, cold rated sleeping bags and coats: those were people who were living well in hard circumstances. They caused me to change my acceptable preparation point a few notches higher.
Trying to start a Wet Wood fire is 10 times harder than a dry wood fire.
I though I’d had wet wood in the past. We had wood which had been rained on. I’d put it in the fire and after a few moments it was dry and burning. In North Dakota I learned what wet wood really was. Wet wood is so wet that when you try to burn it both sides have steam come out for 20-40 minutes as all the water inside pushes out the ends. Wet wood not only doesn’t burn well, but trying to burn it cools your fire until its dry. Starting a fire with wet wood is an exercise in frustration unless you have dry kindling, dry wood to start or some sort of fuel to keep heat on it long enough to start some coals in the woods middle even as the sides are venting steam.
Stove Fires vs Camp Fires
Camp fires follow a rule I’ve used for a long time. From bottom to top stack: Small stuff, bigger stuff, bigger stuff, big stuff, logs. It works. When I don’t have Small stuff through big stuff I tend to array the logs in a way that they’ll reflect heat to each other and light them with lighter fluid. If the wood is dry enough the coals reflect heat to each other and you have a core heat which grows until you have a good coal bed.
Stove fires… same principle, but different application. In a stove fire, up is to the back. Plus, you have a small space to work with (especially on small stoves). Instead of vertically stacking for reflection I ended up learning to stack 4 logs so that there was a log below, two logs side by side with about 1-2 inches between and a log above. I’d put small fuel (or lighter fluid) into the tiny gap and start the fire… if I had dry enough wood (see above) and enough small fuel I could get the area in the tiny gap to have coals I could blow on enough to start reflecting good heat back and forth. The stove would draw the air from the front of the stove to the back so the “heat tunnel” I’d made would eventually have a solid fire coming out the back of the stove which made for some beautiful sights. Unfortunately it meant that most of the head from the fire was heading out the chimney too, but until I could get a good hot fire reflecting off the edges of the stove it was the best I could do. Stoves really do need a good bed of coals, and until you have that you are basically wasting fuel.
Great Events are basically lots and lots and lots of small events.
It’s common for us to see great things as being “larger than life.” Unfortunately that makes great things seem too big for a normal person. Some of us dream of being part of something great, but we perceive this gap between being a normal person and doing something “great” that we don’t know how to cross.
One of the things that hit me about the NODAPL protest and law enforcement response was how it was made of so many small things. People being people. You had all the same dramas we all know and experience. Injustice, theft, lies, help, kindness, joy, music, faith… it was all stuff we understand, but in the context of the pressure cooker of History and lots of people involved and watching they events took on a greatness.
Becoming great doesn’t mean somehow becoming super human, but it does mean getting up every day and doing something worthwhile and exceptional no matter how little, because eventually that small exceptional action will build into something great.
A Super-human is a normal human who just keeps going.
I met a young lady who was 22 but had visited Asia, Europe, Australia, Africa and more. She had mechanic experience, was a certified dive instructor, herbalist and had done seeming many jobs under the sun (many of them sea based). She had life experience of people 4 times her age. Why? Because they just kept doing new things. Instead of settling into what she knew too long, she’d always head out on a new adventure.
The human experience is broad. It is possible for any one of us to let go of what we know and are comfortable with and go experience something new to us which is completely common to other humans. Do that enough and we will have incredible breadth and depth to our understanding of ourselves, our world and our fellow humans.
It is tempting to be the same person in new circumstances though. Once we have something we are good at its tempting to rely on that because it is valued. However if you want to truly experience new things become a neophyte. Do something you’ve never done before and learn from people who are good at that. Do that enough and you’ll have a broad foundation of skills and experiences which will result in you seeming super.
You’ll know you are getting there when you go into a new situation and you have enough life experience to cobble together a plan of action when people around you are utterly overwhelmed.
Awo Fa'gbemiro aka Scott