I enjoyed my wilderness diet profusely and could feel its positive impact on my overall wellbeing quickly. Yet there was this one food related thing that kept defeating me both physically and mentally from the start to an end – sugar cravings.
I craved sugar in the wilderness more than anything and was dying to have something sweet in my mouth often. Prunes and almond butter did satisfy this craving, but being domino foods, I found it incredibly difficult to stick with proper rationing. I only had limited supply of both and knew I couldn’t have more than one prune and one spoon of almond butter after each meal if I were to avoid running out prematurely. I could not do it.
Domino foods are very treacherous. You start with one, and must have another. The sensation they leave in your mouth makes you want to continue and that power can trick you into breaking any pact you made with yourself. As a result, I unintentionally depleted my valuable sweet tooth resources long before completion of my three months long withdrawal. It taught me how desperately addicted to sweets I was.
After 3 month in the wilderness, and knowing I wanted to do this again for at least a year, I realized that my biggest challenge of all will be to overcome craving for sweets. I would never in a thousand years fathom sweets as a possible holdback. If you asked me prior to my three months in the wilderness what I thought were gonna be the toughest challenges to overcome, sweets would have never even appeared on that list if I’d made it a hundred points long.
Now that I look back at my hermit experience, I’m surprised to realize that none of what common sense would dictate as the most probable causes of concern, such as solitude, deprivation, harshness of the environment, or similar were able to defeat me. At the end of the day, it was the most unlikely thing I would never give a second thought to that did me in.
Out in the civilized world, you’re never too far away from a vending machine or a place selling Snickers bars, or cookies, or carbonated beverages, or ice cream, or cheese cakes. With all these goodies available on every corner, satisfying sugar cravings takes zero effort so one doesn’t even realize how deeply addicted to sugary things we get.
It takes complete withdrawal with no chance of getting an easy sugar fix to realize the extent of this addiction. I learned it the hard way and found three month not long enough to have the sugar cravings overcome. As of right not, sugar cravings remain the most difficult to admit and find a solution to holdback I’ll be faced with on my upcoming long term wilderness experience.
When stranded in the wilderness, the most prominent concern of an unintentional survivalist is “what will I eat?” The fear of starving to death irrationally takes over from more rational fears. While each survival situation is different, truth be told – starvation is one of the least severe threats to a person in the wild.
As the rule of threes would have it – you can die in three minutes without oxygen or when bleeding profusely (making the need to treat injuries the #1 priority), you can die in 3 hours from exposure to elements (making the need to have shelter and fire the #2 priority, though this priority changes from situation to situation), you can die in 3 days from dehydration (making the need to find source of drinkable water your #3 priority, though this also changes from one environment to another), but it takes more than 3 weeks to die from starvation (making procurement of food one of the least pressing needs in a survival situation).
The rule of threes is well known to the survivalists, medical professionals and other people in the know, yet even though it makes the procurement of food look like a waste of energy when more urgent needs put one’s life at stake, it’s important to realize that even though starvation takes while to kill you, it will leave you weak both physically and mentally and weakened body and mind won’t keep a person alive for very long. Especially not when they’re on their own devices, with little chance of help from the outside sources.
Still, it’s necessary to realize that unlike water (unless you’re in a desert), procurement of enough food to keep you going in the wilderness is an ongoing struggle which requires a great deal of time and energy and needs to be repeated day after day. Water sources, on the other hand, are much easier to find, they do not try to flee from you and once a plentiful source is found, your hydration problem is solved, and it is solved indefinitely.
As an important note, I would only briefly mention that if you’re stranded in the wilderness involuntarily, signaling should be one of your top priorities and should be on your radar long before you even start thinking about procurement of food or water. Unless, of course, you do not want to be found – kind of like when I went into the wild.
My withdrawal into the wilderness was not meant to be a test of my wilderness survivalism skills, even though any stay in the wilderness IS, ultimately, a test of wilderness survivalism skills. Still, I went into the wild to seek answers to deeper questions, to reattach my connection with Mother Nature and to enjoy company of celestial beings, whose company can only be enjoyed in absence of men.
What I Ate in the Wilderness
Since I had a car at my disposal, I stocked up on food before disappearing from the civilized world. Freshly caught fish was to be my source of animal protein, but I brought with me a supply of dried organic pinto beans to use as main accompaniment with the fish. Aside from being very nutritious, beans are loaded with fiber and slowly absorbing carbohydrates so I’d never lack energy and wouldn’t feel hungry. I used beans the same way you’d use rice. I didn’t have salt or any other spices or seasoning, yet I found the taste of beans boiled in nothing but pure water as delicious as ever.
I also packed in a large bag of organic garlic, which lasted for almost whole three months. Garlic is packed with vitamins and contains compounds known for their antibacterial, antiviral and antifungal properties. To satisfy my spicy tooth, a sack of Thai hot peppers was an absolute must have, unfortunately my spicy tooth made me go through them way too quickly leaving the resource depleted shortly after first month.
Another amazing survival food I took with me was organic almond butter. I packed in 5 large jars yet even though I originally thought I was being ridiculous taking so much of it, I went through all of it in less than two month. I started with two spoonfuls three times a day – after each meal – but after one whole jar went empty on me shortly after one week, I restricted the intake to one spoon after each meal. Still, I spent all almond butter long before whole three months were over. There is a lot of goodness and a pile of energy in every single spoonful of almond butter. I strongly recommend it to help with survival when one doesn’t have to carry their food in a backpack with them.
To further help keep myself healthy, I also packed in a huge bag of dried organic prunes (or dried plums, as word prune implies it’s a dried fruit already). This antioxidants rich preserved fruit makes for an amazing desert after meals. Problem with delicious goodness of prunes (which is the same with almond butter) is that they are so tasty, you can’t have just one. I had enough prunes to last me three months if I only stuck with one after each meal. I could not do that.
As a backup in case of emergency, I also brought with me dozens of granola and protein bars. I ate half of them in the first week and a half of my stay. The initial week was the most difficult time when junk food and sweets withdrawals kept me in a state of vicious torment. Diet composed of freshly caught fish, organic beans and garlic however made dealing with withdrawals easier and soon I found myself feeling so internally clean, a mere thought of junk food made me feel sick.
Positive Change in Diet
Cold turkey change in diet left a very positive impact very quickly. I felt much more energetic and healthier within first two or three days. The overall wellbeing of my physical body, just from this immediate change in diet was profound. I heard my body speak to me of how relieved it was having had the burden of awful diet lifted of its shoulder.
I wished I had access to fresh vegetables, as with them, I could make it even better, but alas, it wasn’t the case of this experience. I will, however attempt growing my own garlic, onion and kale when I withdraw into the wilderness next. I’ve been educating myself actively on gardening and feel ready to take this challenge on. I may even attempt to grow Enoki mushrooms which can be grown in small places indoors.
The biggest challenge with wilderness indoor gardening would be to succeed in growing anything at all in winter, when daylight is limited and temperatures extreme. I’ll give wilderness indoor gardening my best try long before winter comes and will rely on trial and error to teach me the ins and outs of it so hopefully by the time winter comes, I’ll have a chance to succeed.
I think the three months in the wilderness was the time in my life when I had the healthiest diet in my life and it did leave its mark. Falling back into the junk food craze was… sadly – easy. My reintroduction into the civilized world didn’t go without stress and peer pressure which resulted in my clogging the digestive system up with crap food very quickly. The crappier food I ate, the crappier food I desired and before I knew it, everything I gained in terms of overall well being with food I ate in the wilderness, was irrevocably lost. Can’t wait to return to the wild again very soon.
To experience life as a recluse, I returned back to my home country of Canada. There were several reasons for it:
Canada Is Safe
I’ve been half way across the world and have seen firsthand how little personal safety means in some parts of the planets. It is a popular thing to say that third world countries are not any more dangerous than most metropolitan areas in North America or Western Europe but this is just the most dangerously misleading statement ever.
I remember vividly when I first returned back to Canada after spending a year in South East Asia. I needed a new passport because I’d traveled so much my old one was out of blank pages, but I also used the trip back to meet with my accountant to file income tax returns and have thorough medical check-up done which after a year in countries with unsafe water and no hygiene standards in food preparation, as well as high prevalence of dangerous diseases, including Malaria, Dengue Fever and AIDS, was long overdue.
While in South East Asia, I had to adapt to omnipresent dangers, inherent xenophobia, corrupt police and criminals ready to kill at the drop of a hat. I learned to live cautiously and remain vigilant at all times to avoid becoming a victim. Just as everybody else, I put up with recurrent verbal abuse without as much as turning my head and stayed put in a hotel room every day after dark. Not that taking the abuse and keeping low profile made much difference, for in many South East Asian countries you don’t have to look for crime – crime will find you.
Needless to say, after spending a year in crime ridden countries, I returned back to Canada with a mindframe which dictated me to always remain aware of my surroundings, put up with continuous abuse and never leave home after dark. But… then I realized that I had never been abused, nevermind victimized in this country, that going grocery shopping at 11pm is normal here and done by many, and that after you’re done midnight shopping, you can safely carry your groceries home through empty back alleys and won’t experience as much as someone making inappropriate sound.
Even in my home city of Edmonton, Alberta – generally considered to be one of the most crime prone cities in Canada – you’ll have young girls strolling home alone late at night after having a few drinks in a bar and it won’t even cross their mind that it could be dangerous in any way. The worst thing that could happen to them is that they would stumble upon someone they’d like to have sex with and end up getting Chlamydia which they then merrily pass on (yep, talking from experience).
Whoever spreads the misinformation that a visit to third world countries is not any more dangerous than life in most first world cities is a delusional liar. I lived in, or visited New York, Los Angeles, Miami, London, Paris, Berlin, and many other western cities and have never experience anything remotely dangerous to every day existence in SE Asia. While living in London, UK at the end of the 20th century, I stayed in Brixton where I socialized every night by going to clubs and returning from them in the middle of the night every night. I also attended many concerts at the Brixton Academy pacing my way through the borough back and forth on foot.
Brixton, for those who don’t know, is what – to be politically correct – is referred to as a vibrant multi-cultural neighborhood. In other words, it’s considered to be a crime ridden area, a ghetto, however crime ridden in the UK is not the same as crime ridden in Thailand or the Philippines. The nearest I got to crime after 6 months of living in Brixton was being offered ecstasy in a club called Panic. Wicked music in that bar – all really heavy house with guest DJs the world over. Wonder if this club still exists. Since I do not do drugs, I just said I didn’t want anything and that was it.
I’m not trying to say that there is no crime in western cities. Crimes do most certainly occur – sometimes serious crimes – however, one must put things into a perspective before making an assumption. A chance of an encounter with a criminal on a mission in New York exists, but is negligent compared to chances of encountering millions upon millions of people going on about their lives, never engaging in criminal behavior. Most back alleys in New York do not have criminals lurking around at night. I wish I could say the same thing about back alleys in Indonesia or Cambodia.
As someone who’s well aware of dangers, I could not possibly consider any third world country for an extended stay in the wilderness. Being generally safe, my homeland of Canada was a solid bet. I would have liked to do it in other safe countries, such as Iceland, Switzerland, New Zealand, Norway, Japan or Ireland, but because of the 21st century world limitations, these options were either impractical or downright impossible.
Lots of Undisturbed Wilderness in Canada
As far as landmass is concerned, Canada is the second largest country in the world (after Russia) but our population is relatively low – only 34 million people, most of whom live within 200km from the border with the USA on the south of the country (which happens to be the longest land border between two countries in the world). With population density at mere 3.4 people per square kilometer, Canada is one of the least densely populated countries in the world.
To put it into a perspective, the population of the United Kingdom is almost twice that of Canada, but their land area is 41 times smaller than that of Canada, which using unrounded figures adds up to 75 times as many people per square kilometer in the UK than in Canada. And since vast majority of Canadians live near the border with the USA, much of the country remains very sparsely populated.
According to the 2001 census by Statistics Canada, 79.4% of Canadians live in urban centres. That means 27 Million Canadians live in the cities which account for less than 3% of total Canada’s landmass, leaving mere 7 Million to occupy the rest of the world’s second largest country.
According to the same census, only 0.3% of Canada’s total population lives in the polar territories (the Yukon, the Northwest Territories and Nunavut), yet they account for 41% of Canada’s total landmass. In mathematical terms, there is on average one person per 50 square kilometers in these territories. With this type of population density, finding undisturbed wilderness should not be a problem.
To offer a better perspective on 1 person per 50 square kilometers population density, consider this: population of United Kingdom is just over 62 Million. If their population density was the same as that of northern Canada, there would be all together 4,872 people in the UK. If Lebanon had the same population density, the country would only have 200 people (population of Lebanon is currently 4.2 Million).
Canada is simply an ideal place for people seeking remote, undisturbed wilderness. What’s better yet – not only is there nature and solitude aplenty, the vast stretches of Canada’s north are still sure to have places where no human foot stepped before. How is that for an adventure?
Canadian Wilderness is Safe
I have considered wilderness recluse in other countries, but since I wanted this to be a positive experience without compromising my personal safety, much of the world was not an option. None of the countries in the tropical regions, for instance, were an option because their jungles are simply as dangerous as their cities (with dangerous wildlife being the least of your concern).
However even if safety could be ensured, unlike Canada, most tropical countries are heavily overpopulated (while people in the first world countries work hard to multiply their wealth, people in the third world countries just multiply) so finding true solitude is difficult with chances of someone walking across you increasingly high.
Canada is also nowhere near as corrupt as many third world countries so should my recluse get noticed, it wouldn’t result in extortion or worse.
Personal safety is a no issue in countries like Iceland, Switzerland or New Zealand as they are both safe (people don’t casually murder those they randomly stumble across) and not overpopulated, but life in a 21st century world makes extended stays in countries you are not a citizen of challenging (more on this in the next section).
I Don’t Need Visa for Canada
A stay in countries other than your own typically involves several restrictions. The length of your stay is usually limited to a couple of months at the most and so are activities in which you are allowed to engage. Self sustaining life in the wild is a perfect excuse for a corrupt police officer to abuse his power and extort money from you so sticking with facilities for tourists is recommended.
Being a citizen of Canada allows me to stay in my own country indefinitely and roam the Crown Land (that’s what we call public land in Canada) freely at my own leisure. I don’t need to apply for visa to stay in Canada for as long as I need nor to explain to anyone what I want to do while I’m here.
I would love to experience life as a recluse in Iceland, as countries don’t get any safer and friendlier than that, plus Iceland is incredibly beautiful, has some of the world’s cleanest and healthiest water and coastline abundant with fish never too far away, but as a non Icelanders I’d have a lot of explaining to do to get through the loopholes and roadblocks that would green-light me for my recluse and I wanted this to be my private, secret mission I could complete without anyone looking over my shoulder. I had to ditch this idea.
Life in the 21st century world is full of restrictions and bureaucracy. We don’t live in the hunter/gatherer society with people free to move anywhere they want and able to choose how they make their living. It makes all attempts to live the hunter gatherer style exceedingly challenging and difficult. I had to make work-arounds with these restrictions in mind which made my options few.
Survivalism in Canadian Wilderness Is Only for the Tough
I did take my shot at wilderness survivalism in tropical jungles and enjoyed it profusely. I was restricted by the above mentioned reasons, but chose a relatively safe area in Malaysian Borneo and made a deal with natives who call it their home so my presence was known and accepted, minimizing any potential of attacks.
I stayed with a community that makes their living collecting bird’s nests in a complex of caves in eastern Sarawak. To make long story short, while jungle survival had its challenges, I found the fact that coconut grows in jungles year round and takes less than a month to grow to full harvest a cheat that made survival there too easy.
With nourishment for your body taken care of, you’ll have a lot of energy left for everything else. Compared to that, survival in Canada is far more challenging and that makes it more interesting. Canada goes through all four seasons, including harsh winters during which survival becomes a real challenge and a test of manness. And I’m not a girl.