This weekend, I took a primitive living skills course at the Aboriginal Living Skills School. The class, called “The Provident Primitive,” started at 8:30 a.m. on Saturday. We returned to the school in Prescott at about 6 p.m. the next day.
Cody Lundin, who you may have heard of from the television show “Dual Survival,” founded the Aboriginal Living Skills School and also taught the class in tandem with a second expert named Mark. Together, they took 10 of us through primitive living skills like traps, making drinking vessels, making a primitive hunting weapon, making fire without modern implements and identifying plants that are edible and useful.
I don’t want to give their methods away in this blog post. But I want to give you an idea of what to expect if you sign up for their primitive-living class … and share some key points from my experience.
This is What Cody is Really Like
We should get this out of the way for fans of the television version of Cody Lundin: Judging from the few episodes I saw, Real Cody and TV Cody are the same guy – intense but sincere. But he’s also more versatile than the show allowed him to be (more on that later). He also has a sentimental side, judging from several walls at the school where he’s posted letters from grade school kids who wrote to tell him that they’re walking around barefoot like him, and interested in learning skills like his.
And I’d be really remiss without mentioning Mark more. He was once Cody’s student, and is now an excellent co-instructor. He has a very relaxed vibe, and actually wears shoes. He knows his craft well, and I was confident asking him for help or getting advice.
Primitive Living Class is not the Same as a Survival Class
No. “The Provident Primitive” is a way to step back 1,000 years to get a glimpse of the skills people living in the Southwest at the time may have possessed. This is about long-term hunting and gathering, plus making use of the environment. The primitive living skills class participants burned tons of calories working on our skills – exactly the opposite of what you want to do in a short-term survival situation. Don’t sign up for a primitive living skills class if you want to know how to survive getting lost in the woods, or want to learn how to survive if all hell breaks loose in society. You can learn about those topics from Cody at the Aboriginal Living Skills School – but in a different class. Cody is capable of teaching topics spanning urban preparedness, self-reliance and survival. This is a point that you may not have picked up from “Dual Survival.”
I May Have Been Drinking Water All Wrong
I consider myself pretty hydration-savvy. I sip water all day long, usually 80 ounces plus on a weekday. And far more if I’m exercising. But I may have been doing it wrong: When we arrived at the “hike in” point to our training area, Cody encouraged us to down a minimum of 32 ounces … even to the point of feeling nauseous. He predicted 30 minutes after filling up, we’d feel great. He was absolutely right, so I established a “drink 32 ounces, refill and start disinfecting” policy. I always had a minimum of 32 ounces ready to drink, and I would fill at the river and start treating immediately after drinking. Despite a lot of sweat and work, I was never dehydrated. My lesson – don’t sip. Drink around 32 ounces, refill, repeat. Even at the office, not just during a primitive living skills class.
Oh, and something else: We treated our water with iodine. I started using cola-flavored Nuun hydration tablets to mask the flavor (but only after letting the iodine work its magic for at least 30 minutes). That was also a great way to tell me which of my bottles was treated and ready to drink.
Burning Calories Like Crazy
I packed what I thought was a lot of food. I had about 1,400 calories in trail mix alone. Add to that two cans of sardines in olive oil, two bagels, a mound of beef jerky, two ProBars and a Clif bar. Sounds like a lot, right? I ate everything except for a handful of trail mix and the Clif bar. I needed more. By the end of the second day, I felt like I’d ridden in an epic singletrack race. That told me I didn’t keep up with my caloric needs for all the hiking, chopping, sanding and cutting of the primitive living skills class.
Speaking of calories, fat and salt are your friends. Fat packs a lot of calories per weight unit. And salt – you need to replace what you sweat out. The Nuun tablets I mentioned earlier are gold. Again, this differs from a survival situation where you often need to dig into carbs.
Bring a Knife You Like
You’ll work a lot of a knife. Get one that you really like for this or any other primitive living skills class. I brought two, both by ESEE. I had an Izula and an ESEE-4. I wound up using the tiny Izula (a 2.5-inch blade) most because its flat back surface works better for batoning, and it just handles a bit better for tasks that require a light touch. The bigger ESEE-4 made short work of chopping tasks, though. I’m glad I had them both.
The school sells Morakniv Classic 2 knives for $20, and they’re pretty impressive. Simple, but sharp, sturdy and easy to handle. I’d recommend, though, showing up with your own preferred knife. That way, you can get acquainted with your knife if you haven’t already. Don’t bring a folding knife or anything like a Swiss Army knife. You need something sturdy and sharp.
Other Gear I Really Liked
I also brought a notebook, which was great especially for the edible plants section … and for writing down random funny things Cody or Mark said (there were many). I also loved having a pair of work gloves for the chopping and sanding. A good hat, some bandannas, a shemagh, two 32-liter plastic widemouth bottles and some eating utensils are also a huge help. I wore an old pair of quick-drying REI pants and a hemp t-shirt the entire weekend. When it was boot-wearing time, I had my Lowa boots and Darn Tough socks. I couldn’t find my Teva sandals, so I brought water shoes. Silly me – I should’ve bought new Tevas … and I hate wearing sandals of any sort. But the water shoes collecting silt and sand, while the Tevas would’ve just let it all flow straight through. Lesson learned. Oooooh … and check out GlacierGel. Handy stuff for the inevitable blisters.
Something That Felt Really Cool
Wallets, keys and cellphones were not allowed on the course. And it was one of the best feelings ever. Obviously, this isn’t something we can do in day-to-day life. But damn, this felt so good.
We also left sunglasses and toilet paper behind. Toothbrushes were OK, though. The Aboriginal Living Skills School sent me a packet all about the course, including the things to bring and things to NOT bring. I imagine that’s tailored to every course in the school’s catalog.
One more very interesting point: The reason for the sunglasses is because Cody gives every student a once-over before leaving. He wants to see what you look like well-rested and topped off (water and calories). After a tough day of work, he wants to be able to gauge your physical and mental state. Sunglasses, he says, allow you to bullshit about your state. He advises anyone who leads hikes to check out the group members without sunglasses on to get a read on them … and to use that as a gauge for how they’re feeling as the day wears on.
Word of Warning
I have multiple blisters on my right hand. I have scratches all over me. And I’m still feeling like I had one helluva busy weekend. This is an intense, hands-on experience. I call it a “class,” sure. But this isn’t algebra or creative writing. You’re going to get worked. Enjoy it!
Wrapping It Up
This is a lot longer than my typical blog post. But I have a lot to say about this primitive living skill course. It’s a really unforgettable experience, and it makes me eager to learn more. You can bet that I’ll practice the skills.
Cody and Mark are an excellent team. The training area is mind-bogglingly scenic. The lessons are completely engrossing. I was never for any stretch of time impatient or bored. I have a feeling that friends and co-workers will soon be sick of all my jabber about it. Sorry, friends, but it was just that much fun for me.
By the way, this primitive living skills class was a birthday present from my wife. And it’s the best birthday present I’ve ever received, hands down.